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War Horse
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

Orchestrated by:
Eddie Karam

Sony Classical

Release Date:
November 21st, 2011

Also See:
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Far and Away
Born on the Fourth of July
The Patriot
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
War of the Worlds

Audio Clips:
1. Dartmoor, 1912 (0:29):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

13. No Man's Land (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

15. Remembering Emilie, and Finale (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

16. The Homecoming (0:30):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

Regular U.S. release.

  Nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA Award.

War Horse

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Buy it... if a strong taste of John Williams' trademark melodrama is your desire, especially if it resurrects the adventure of Far and Away and stature of Born on the Fourth of July.

Avoid it... if you approach Williams scores looking immediately for a dominant theme or two in an obvious concert arrangement, a feature from yesteryear increasingly absent from the maestro's later works.

War Horse: (John Williams) British author Michael Morpurgo had attempted unsuccessfully to translate his acclaimed 1982 novel "War Horse" into a screenplay for many years until, oddly enough, an adaptation into a successful 2007 stage production finally proved it possible. His story had been originally told through the perspective of a horse which managed to survive World War I and return to its English owner, a rare feat considering how many millions of horses died in the conflict. The play proved that the concept could indeed be conveyed through traditional narrative means, and after resumed attempts to write a screenplay in 2009, famed movie director and producer Steven Spielberg decided very swiftly to pick up the rights to War Horse and direct it for DreamWorks. The story remains one of hearty family spirit, targeted at Christmas audiences ready for tear jerking PG-13 drama. The titular horse, Joey, begins his journey on a farm in Devon, England, bonding with the young man of the Narracott household. When the war requires the horse to be sold into service, Joey's traumatic departure develops into a series of trials working for both the British and German armies on the front. Eventually separated from the conflict and befriended by sympathetic handlers, the horse makes the inevitable return to his origins in sappy Spielberg fashion (before you scream "spoiler," what exactly did you think was going to happen in this plot? Would Joey really be slaughtered, canned, and fed to dogs as part of the celebration of the Great Union in Romania?). Spielberg assembled his usual collaborators for the $90 million production, including composer John Williams, who, while nearing the age of 80, was resurrecting his film scoring career in late 2011 with two concurrent Spielberg films. Although War Horse had long generated significant interest from Williams enthusiasts eager for another taste of the maestro's dramatic sensibilities, the project was preceded by The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. The Spielberg animated movie received music from Williams that not only serviced its concept with flourishing humor and excitement, but proved that the composer was still at the top of his game even at his advancing age. The technical marvel that exists in the composition of The Adventures of Tintin yields to a more pastoral approach by Williams for War Horse, though with little diminishment in quality.

The pair of The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse confirms that Williams' unique voice in the world of film music remains intellectually superior to his peers in the industry. In the 2000's and beyond, computer software has allowed a fair number of mediocre composers to excel and has caused talented composers to spin their wheels, and to hear Williams in action in 2011 is a powerful reminder of why he took the world by storm during the Bronze Age of film music. Between these two Williams works, you hear nearly the full spectrum of the composer's capabilities called upon for duty (except for choral writing), and War Horse in particular focuses on extending the composer's prior successes in storytelling involving nature, perseverance, and family. It was widely stated at the time of War Horse's debut that Williams was clearly influenced by the English tones of Ralph Vaughan Williams, though while this is indeed the case, listeners may be struck to an even greater degree by how much the score resembles John Williams' earlier achievements. The American composer infuses the English undertones with two somewhat controversial but arguably acceptable and effective sounds: Celtic and Americana. The former exists in the jaunty expressions of joy heard early in War Horse, as well as in the shadows of Williams' music for the natural setting of England. It's a somewhat curious move that does occasionally distract, though for untrained ears it will be of little concern. More expected, perhaps, is Williams' infusion of his own American sensibilities into the score. The composer has become synonymous with modern American classicism, writing flowing orchestral identities for nearly every venue in American life, from the Olympics to national news themes, presidential inauguration music, and even an American football theme. It's not surprising, therefore, that a touch of The Patriot and Born on the Fourth of July both bleed through in places during War Horse. At many times, and especially when the slight Celtic influences are applied, it's hard not to ponder the glory of Far and Away, one of Williams' most lasting (but sadly unheralded) music for a great journey. The tone of War Horse is playful and stark when necessary, but you will ultimately be drawn to its straight dramatic expressions of heart and grandeur, especially in its opening and closing thirds. Whereas The Adventures of Tintin lacks the long-lined string themes of elegant sway from Williams' best years, War Horse contains them in abundance. In fact, almost too much so.

When you look back at Williams' last year or two of production before his shift away from movies after 2005, you will note that the composer strayed from writing scores dominated by extremely memorable sets of themes during that period. In his pair of 2011 works, he seemingly overcompensates in the other direction, gracing The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse with a plethora of ideas so finely developed and spread through their scores that both become extremely melodically dense. It's somewhat ironic to ponder the fact that these Williams scores can develop and maintain upwards of ten themes apiece but not allow any one of them in either score to establish itself as the resounding concert hall identity for the years to come. In the case of War Horse, you once again have a circumstance in which there really is no dominant main theme. There are four themes that carry the majority of the load, with several secondary ideas branching out of those constructs, but none of them is applied in such a way as to clearly represent the whole. As such, you have a score, like The Adventures of Tintin, that is a complex tapestry of very precise individual motifs that eventually blend together to form a more general tone of Williams drama that will, in a more nebulous way, define the work. For those lamenting Williams' absence from this genre for the better half of a decade, that stew of gorgeous and respectful ingredients will alone suffice. A perfectly balanced 65-minute presentation of War Horse on album conveys a solid narrative flow that shifts effortlessly through Williams' themes and asks only for you to be encapsulated by its demeanor, not inspired by the prowess of its melodies. In these abstract appreciations, the score will certainly merit five stars from many of the composer's collectors. When you dissect the sometimes redundant and meandering thematic associations, however, and take into account the skittish ethnic element and the sometimes reduced presence during the middle sections of war, the analytical listener will likely peg War Horse as a solid four star effort. It's tough for anyone not to be carried away by the abstract beauty of this score, but the unnecessarily complicated thematic associations in the score (and therefore lack of overarching identity for casual movie-goers) do need to be addressed. For the purposes of this review, tackling the score by its themes will be more beneficial than by its major cues as presented on the album. Only in sour, understated, and at times dissonant middle section cues like "The Desertion" and "The Death of Topthorn" does Williams fail to really develop one of his many themes.

Of the four primary themes and additional four or five secondary ideas in War Horse, there are two from the former grouping that compete to be called the "main" theme. In the original music that Williams wrote for the trailers to the film, he referenced both prominently, and they also feature in obvious, dramatic performances during the first and final thirds of the score. What Williams likely intended to be that main identity is a friendship theme heard only after the man and the horse begin to bond and, logically, when they reunite. This theme represents the most pastoral, major-key heartiness in the score's duration, the tear-jerking tool of melodramatic loveliness carried by the usual Williams' techniques of solo French horn and layered strings. You don't hear the theme until the solo horn statement at 3:18 into "Bringing Joey Home, and Bonding," strings swirling around it shortly once again at 0:30 into "Learning the Call." A pair of brief reminders in "Plowing" includes the full ensemble formal announcement of the theme at 3:33. After another short reprise on strings before the score sharply changes focus late in "Ruined Crop, and Going to War," this friendship theme is absent from the work until several expressions in the last trio of major cues. Williams' placement of the theme's full ensemble performances late in "Remembering Emilie, and Finale" and "The Homecoming" likely denotes its status as the score's main identity, though even in these passages, the theme is flanked and obscured by Williams' supporting ideas. The other candidate to be the "main" theme of War Horse is the one most likely representing the purity of innocence that comes in the landscape of the farm's locale. This broad theme for the English countryside (and perhaps Dartmoor in particular) is an anchor of the score's pre-war sequences, raising the most vivid memories of Far and Away. It's also the most resoundingly "Williamsesque" in its obvious ensemble expressions, beginning with its full announcement at 2:09 into "Dartmoor, 1912." A pair of flute performances of this theme in the middle of "Bringing Joey Home, and Bonding" leads to another satisfying ensemble reminder at 2:25 in "Seeding, and Horse vs. Car." The usage of the theme in several places during "Plowing" culminates into a tired but noble timpani-pounding rendition at 3:57 that highlights the entire score. Unfortunately, this theme disappears by necessity until a pair of less dramatic performances in the middle of "The Homecoming" ultimately diminishes the theme's importance. Not since Patrick Doyle's Thor earlier in 2011 has such a powerfully potent secondary identity dominated an early portion of a film score only to fade unceremoniously away into the larger fabric of the rest of the work.

Mirroring the narrative arc of the theme for Dartmoor and the English location in general is the one simultaneously developed by Williams for the farming action in War Horse. Doubling for the Narracott family, this farming theme is a rhythmic woodwind identity over pulsating brass and swirling strings that contain much of the English sensibility in the score. Heard alternating with the more noble Darmoor locale theme in "Dartmoor, 1912" starting in the middle of the second minute, this optimistic, rollicking idea provides a light-hearted break from the toils of the story's drama in numerous places during "Learning the Call," "Seeding, and Horse vs. Car," and "Plowing," the pulsing brass rhythms a highlight. The theme then disappears until the very opening of "The Homecoming" and a brief reminder of the idea later in that summary cue. It some regards, the farming theme is simply a brightly colored offshoot of the more dramatic Dartmoor location theme, the two often adjoined in performance. Likewise, the main friendship theme has its own secondary motif that grows out of the deeper affection earned in the last trio of cues. Heard in the waning moments of "The Reunion," this relative grows out of a piano solo in the middle of "Remembering Emilie, and Finale" to redemptive heights later in that cue and with even greater emphasis near the end of "The Homecoming." Another interesting motif that connects a concept early and late in the picture is a woodwind identity at 2:15 into "Bringing Joey Home, and Bonding" that is reprised only on harp at the outset of "The Reunion," perhaps reflecting the meeting process between the man and horse. Similarly tied to the beginning and end of the film is an almost mystical, slightly Celtic theme again reminiscent of Far and Away that is led by solo flute and seems to serve as the foundational canvas for the entire story, maybe as a representation of fate. Opening "Dartmoor, 1912" and closing "The Homecoming," this elusive theme is suggested on strings in a couple of early cues before signing off during the tale at the end of "Plowing." Yet another theme also follows the same path, growing out of the motif of fate to represent the spirit of the horse. Opening "The Auction," this idea seemingly bridges the themes for fate and the farm, receiving extended treatment only during almost two full minutes early in "The Homecoming." As you probably can determine by now, War Horse is a completely different score in its first third than in the remainder, only shadows of the multitude of early themes reprised in the more mature, battle-weary versions at the redemptive end. In between these sections, the middle of War Horse is largely defined by the final of its four major thematic identities, that of war.

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There is an undoubtedly pronounced shift that takes hold in War Horse when the trumpet call for war is first heard at 2:30 into "Ruined Crop, and Going to War." The tone of this lonely trumpet identity will, along with its supporting passages on strings, strongly suggest connections to Williams' Born on the Fourth of July. Despite the aggressive battle material in the middle of "The Charge and Capture," with challenging layers of brass and percussion over troubled beds of string rhythms that will recall War of the Worlds, the war theme remains static in its solo trumpet statements on either end. The tortured horn material later in "The Charge and Capture" resides closer to the tumultuous portions of realization in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. The most appealing war-related cue in War Horse is certainly "Pulling the Cannon," which follows a trumpet call of the war theme with an agonizing sequence that finally pulls the full weight of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith out for an extended period of adversity. The war theme is finally juxtaposed with this rhythmic action material late in "No Man's Land," which explodes in its latter half with impressive snare-ripping action. Williams poignantly closes out "Remembering Emilie, and Finale" with a final echo of this theme. Overall, these themes produce consistent lyricism and maintain listener interest in all cues during which they perpetually intermingle. A distinct maturation process exists in War Horse by necessity, but those seeking the enthusiasm and playfulness of the early sequences, the ambitiously rhythmic battle portions in the middle, or the grand sweep of the redemptive melodrama at the end will be left concentrating on only those parts of the score. The lack of one overarching, truly dominant thematic identity causes these thirds of the score to feel strangely disconnected despite Williams' best efforts to carry over half a dozen identities from the first act to the third. Thus, from a thematic standpoint, War Horse is a slightly disappointing, overly-complex package of pinpoint precision that loses general appeal at some points. Had all the themes for the English location (including fate and farming) been merged and offered alongside the friendship, bonding, and affection-related themes as two definitive answers to the war theme, War Horse would likely have benefitted greatly. Still, being a Williams score, this music relies on the intelligence of its constructs to succeed, and in that regard, the composer continues to prove that he is at the top of his game. Rather than worry about the difficultly he faced when being forced to abandon all of his many themes halfway through the picture, enjoy each portion of War Horse for its inherent saturation with Williams' trademark sensibilities. While not among the best from the composer's storytelling capabilities, it is satisfyingly close to that level. **** Price Hunt: CD or Download

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 337,529 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

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 Track Listings: Total Time: 65:28

• 1. Dartmoor, 1912 (3:36)
• 2. The Auction (3:34)
• 3. Bringing Joey Home, and Bonding (4:42)
• 4. Learning the Call (3:20)
• 5. Seeding, and Horse vs. Car (3:34)
• 6. Plowing (5:10)
• 7. Ruined Crop, and Going to War (3:29)
• 8. The Charge and Capture (3:21)
• 9. The Desertion (2:33)
• 10. Joey's New Friends (3:30)
• 11. Pulling the Cannon (4:13)
• 12. The Death of Topthorn (2:45)
• 13. No Man's Land (4:36)
• 14. The Reunion (3:55)
• 15. Remembering Emilie, and Finale (5:08)
• 16. The Homecoming (8:06)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes very limited credits, a list of performers, and the following note from Steven Spielberg:

    "The dramatic countryside of Dartmoor has inspired John Williams to compose a score of such beauty and quiet majesty that one might think the earth was speaking through him, much as the heavens have done for nearly five decades. When I first heard John's sketches of the four central themes for War Horse, I didn't need my memories of the film to underscore the feelings I was having. The music was a stand-alone experience and it affected me deeply, as have so many of John's scores during our nearly 40-year collaboration. I feel that John has made a special gift to me of this music, which was inspired not only by my film but also by many of the picturesque settings of the poet William Wordsworth, whose vivid descriptions of the British landscape inspired much of what you are going to hear. I'm not sure what I can give John in return, other than a promise of more films to come... for as many more years as we both can imagine!"

  All artwork and sound clips from War Horse are Copyright © 2011, Sony Classical. 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 11/26/11 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2011-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved. No offense of Romanians and horse meat lovers intended.