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Section Header
Saving Private Ryan
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

Performed by:
The Boston Symphony Orchestra and The Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Brass Solos by:
Tim Morrison

Orchestrated by:
John Neufeld

Dreamworks Records

Release Date:
July 21st, 1998

Also See:
Band of Brothers
Medal of Honor
Seven Years in Tibet
Schindler's List

Audio Clips:
1. Hymn to the Fallen (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (241K)
Real Audio (150K)

4. Finding Private Ryan (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

8. High School Teacher (0:31):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (245K)
Real Audio (152K)

10. Hymn to the Fallen (Reprise) (0:42):
WMA (265K)  MP3 (336K)
Real Audio (209K)

Regular U.S. release.

  Winner of a Grammy Award and nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award, and an Academy Award.

Saving Private Ryan

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Buy it... only if you are a true John Williams collector, for Saving Private Ryan is among the maestro's least enjoyable stand-alone listening experiences.

Avoid it... if you expect the dramatic weight of the music for Schindler's List or the dynamic, engaging appeal of Williams' other famous scores for Steven Spielberg's films.

Saving Private Ryan: (John Williams) Director Steven Spielberg's two World War II masterpieces of the 1990's unanimously rank among the top war films of all time, but whereas Schindler's List used the greater concepts of good and evil to jerk your tears, Saving Private Ryan did so with the terrifyingly realistic depiction of the lives of common soldiers. The film easily swept through 1998 with the most consistently positive critical reviews seen in years, and only the brutal and gory nature of the story's execution (which almost gained the film an NC-17 rating) deterred audiences enough to quell the overwhelming popular interest that usually accompanied a Spielberg film. Robert Rodat's screenplay, Spielberg's direction, and an ensemble cast that acts with subtlety cause a compelling tale of the American military's attempt to return one soldier home from France to convey a level of respect rarely seen on film. The emotionally powerful production left Spielberg's usual collaborating composer, John Williams, in a difficult position. Williams' scores for Spielberg films, including Schindler's List, were a sure ticket to dramatic success, and yet, Saving Private Ryan presented a number of unique challenges for the maestro. First, the film's major scenes of action would be absent any music, allowing the explosively impressive sound effects editing to more accurately represent the atmosphere of combat. Secondly, the music that Williams provided would amount to less than an hour in length and was to be mixed during only transitional scenes that allowed audiences a temporary break. As such, the score's presence was not dominant enough to allow for significant thematic development for the plethora of characters in Private Ryan's unit. At best, Williams could only provide an overarching representation for their struggle together, and within the short confines of his occasional synchronization points, any development of those ideas would be minimal. Finally, the film had used the dramatic theme to Marc Shaiman's The American President over its highly popular trailers, and that music is about as far from the restrained approach that Williams would take with the film as possible.

Overall, Williams succeeded in providing Saving Private Ryan with an appropriate score, but at a distinct cost. As is customary (and almost mandatory for a Williams project of this magnitude), a concert piece serving as a tribute to the soldiers who perished was written and used over the end titles of the film. Undoubtedly, "Hymn to the Fallen" is the highlight of the score, especially given that the theme from this cue is only developed with hesitation throughout the actual underscore of the film. Even amongst Williams' solemn tributes to previous subjects of considerable importance, this hymn is somewhat pedestrian. Gorgeous in its respectful statements, it follows the pattern of the rest of the score by exercising much restraint. Without the fanfares, the banging chimes, and the bold harmonies that extend throughout the full range of sonic spectrum, the hymn resides mostly in the lower registers outside of some meandering violin, woodwind, and xylophone movements above the brass and choir. There is nothing about the hymn to suggest the sharp edges of conflict or patriotism. No pronounced snare or lofty trumpet solos as in JFK and no overwhelming layers of strings as in Born on the Fourth of July are evident here. As a companion to a score with the typical dramatic gravity of John Williams' writing, the hymn would be a fine accompaniment. But the remainder of the score suffers in its entertainment value because of its solemn duty to accompany the grim environment of the film. Williams has always stated that his scores are not aimed at enjoyment outside of the context of the film, and from his career of promoting and conducting his music around the world, that statement seems more than suspect. But in the case of Saving Private Ryan, he indeed produced a rare soundtrack that does not function at any level outside of the film. The album is a product of the popularity of the composer, director, and the quality of the film. Most listeners would have been served just as well with a ten-minute single containing the primary hymn and a combination of the commercial album's second and third tracks. For a film that runs almost three hours in length, that's a surprising statement in and of itself.

Still, hardcore film score fans will find some merit in Williams' underscore for the film's transitional scenes of movement and rest. Unless you can appreciate the delicately sequenced solos for woodwinds and especially French horn and trumpet, then the album could very well translate into a boring, eventless 50 minutes of a meandering and thematic void. So melancholy and subdued is Williams' touch here that even the lightly tapping snare is mixed far at the rear to avoid any sense of patriotic defiance. The lack of thematic integration, action sequences, and even any significant suspense cause an abundance of low, rumbling, horn-dominated solos and dull, repetitious sequences of aimless strings. Outside of a few distinct moments of accentuation in "Revisiting Normandy" and "Omaha Beach," the eight tracks in between the identical concert performances of the hymn feature no individual flavor. Parts of the score are practically inaudible, which raises memories of the feathery touch that James Horner utilized for some of Glory's more somber moments of reflection. But in this case, there's nothing in the surrounding material to salvage an engaging listening experience. Only in "Defense Preparations" do fragments of action rhythms from the previous year's The Lost World: Jurassic Park provide a contribution. This cue alone, ironically enough, would likely function better if separated from the rest of Saving Private Ryan and placed with your library collection of Jurassic Park music. Otherwise, the slight and hopeful swing towards the positive, harmonic structures of the hymn in the first half of "High School Teacher" represents the most robust thematic statement in the latter half of the album. On the whole, the score requires a devoted appreciation of the film and its subject matter to float your interest in the underscore in between hymn performances. The mix of the score is among its better qualities; Williams returned to the ensemble and location with which he recorded Schindler's List, and the recording of this Boston group and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus is precise.

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In early 1998, there were reports that a few of the musicians in the Boston Symphony Hall broke down in tears during the recording of Saving Private Ryan. Unless this occurred during the hymn's performance, then it's far more believable that the tears were caused by a screen with the rough edit of the film's visuals. Speculation will inevitably continue about whether or not the extremely restrained technique managed in this score was the most effective use of Williams for Saving Private Ryan. Ironically, the same debate would arise for another Tom Hanks film a couple of years later, Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away, which also strikes an odd balance between an absence of score and the music's sometimes intrusive return to the mix in later scenes. Most of this speculation about Saving Private Ryan's score comes from fans of extremely powerful war films such as Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, both of which enhanced by thematically strong and independent music. The trailers for Saving Private Ryan only fueled the debate further, because Shaiman's theme for The American President is as flamboyantly dynamic as the composer always tends to be in such circumstances. And, frankly, the sound worked to give the combined visuals of the trailer an extremely heroic edge. In the end, though, you have to chalk up Williams and Spielberg's decision as one of necessity and move on. The entirety of the score will be a slow, boring, and sometimes painfully lackadaisical listening experience for many collectors, but the hymn remains a welcome addition to any assembly of Williams' best themes. Re-recordings of this hymn have often been quite successful, with stunning results sometimes coming from various singing groups, and if you own one or two such re-recordings, then those should represent the Saving Private Ryan score well enough to bypass the soundtrack for the film. As its own product, the Saving Private Ryan score ranks among the last of Williams' digital scores to be recommended for enjoyment outside of the film. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Music as Written for Film: ****
    Music as Heard on Album: **
    Overall: ***

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 337,530 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

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 Track Listings: Total Time: 64:12

• 1. Hymn to the Fallen (6:10)
• 2. Revisiting Normandy (4:06)
• 3. Omaha Beach (9:15)
• 4. Finding Private Ryan (4:37)
• 5. Approaching the Enemy (4:31)
• 6. Defense Preparations (5:54)
• 7. Wade's Death (4:30)
• 8. High School Teacher (11:03)
• 9. The Last Battle (7:57)
• 10. Hymn to the Fallen (Reprise) (6:10)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes the following note from Steven Spielberg:

    "With Saving Private Ryan, John Williams has written a memorial for all the soldiers who sacrificed themselves on the altar of freedom in the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944. Pay particular attention to the cue entitled 'Hymn to the Fallen,' which never appears in the main text of the film, only at the end credit roll. It's a piece of music and a testament to John Williams' sensitivity and brilliance that, in my opinion, will stand the test of time and honor forever the fallen of this war and possibly all wars.

    In all of our 16 collaborations, Saving Private Ryan possibly contains the least amount of score. Restraint was John Williams' primary objective. He did not want to sentimentalize or create emotion from what already existed in raw form. Saving Private Ryan is furious and relentless, as are all wars, but where there is music, it is exactly where John Williams intends for us the chance to breathe and remember.

    As with Schindler's List, John Williams chose the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the deeply resonant qualities of Symphony Hall to record the score for Saving Private Ryan. I would like to give special mention to Tim Morrison, Thomas Rolfs (trumpets) and Gus Sebring (French horn) for their heartfelt solos, and to Kenny Wannberg, who has been a close collaborator of John Williams and mine from almost the very beginning of my career."

  All artwork and sound clips from Saving Private Ryan are Copyright © 1998, Dreamworks Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 7/21/98 and last updated 3/11/08. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1998-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.