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Comments about the soundtrack for The Amazing Spider-Man (James Horner)

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Is Horner intellectual?
• Posted by: Hyun21K   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2012, at 9:16 a.m.
• IP Address:

I start with a disclaimer: my only experience of Mr. Horner's score for Spider-man is only from the small clips that Mr. Clemmensen has conveniently posted for us.

I have recently just read Hans Zimmer's Dark Knight Rises review, and now that I read this review, it is clear that Mr. Clemmensen is making a point that this is the film score that he wishes that more film composers would write.

I am not going to defend Zimmer's score. I'll say it out loud: Zimmer's score has a uniform sound throughout, but Horner's score is well orchestrated. Zimmer's score has simpler melodic blocks, while Horner prefers lyrical themes. But is this to say that James Horner is smarter?

Here are some revealing comments on what Mr. Clemmensen's definition on what he thinks is intellectual music (before I ruffle some feathers, I shall say that I'm glad that Mr. Clemmensen provided these definitions).
1) "His major themes have intellectually appropriate variations that transform into their own somewhat autonomous entities in consistent fashion." That is not really hard to do. You take a theme, and take out a note, or and two new ones. Transfer a heroic theme from trombones to solo violin. Horner simply varies on the main theme. But it is something that good composers should do.
2) "The most interesting observation to make about this music is the de-emphasis of the lower strings; the celli and basses do not chop in the ostinatos so prevalent in this generation and are never even tasked with affording the mix a heavy melodramatic presence." I think, with the start of Zimmer's scores, Mr. Clemmensen has looked on the bass region with a negative critical perception. Now, I know that Zimmer's mixes are somewhat ridiculous, but I have now qualms of other composers trying to make powerful music. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, Horner's musical sound has always been feminine, avoiding bombast in favor of ethereal sounds (on that note, the score to Avatar surprised me with its volume). And, judging from the clips, while there may not be a loud cello sound, there is sure a lot of thumping drums. That is equivalent to a low bass section.
3) "because there's an extensive mix of variations and singular motifs that aren't as well defined in terms of their purpose." I have singled this one out because I disagree with Mr. Clemmensen's assumption that every melodic material must have a leitmotif-like connection to the plot. Must every variation describe another aspect of the main character's psychological makeup. Horner is the composer of the score, so he probably thought a variation sounded nice and put it in.

Having thought about it, I will concede that Horner definitely has some good compositional craft, definitely talent, and a musical voice that can tell a story all by itself. But Horner's music is not what I consider intellectual music. It is classy music, a music with considerable refinement and know-how, but not music that tests your very strength in taking and organizing as much musical information as possible (or as little). Also, Horner's music is more and more sounding like popular music, with intent of being easy to listen by audiences (which is sort of the whole point of film music anyways).

By the way, Horner's plagiarism knows no bounds. The "infamous four-note motif" is in fact taken from Rachmaninoff's 1st Symphony. I have listened to a concert work of his (which sounds pretty similar to his film works) and he actually took a section from the Richard Strauss opera Elektra, the very section when Elektra walks down the stairs and all the celestas twinkle. James Horner is quite the music scholar!

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rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. Scoreboard created 7/24/98 and last updated 4/25/15.