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Legends of the Fall
Album Cover Art
1995 Epic/Sony
2020 Intrada
Album 2 Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:

Orchestrated by:
Thomas Pasatieri
Don Davis

Performed by:
The London Symphony Orchestra
Labels Icon
Epic Soundtrax/Sony Classical
(January 10th, 1995)

Intrada Records
(April 21st, 2020)
Availability Icon
The 1995 Epic/Sony album is a regular U.S. release with regular repressings through the years. The 2020 Intrada album is limited to an unknown quantity and available initially for $30 through soundtrack specialty outlets.
Nominated for a Golden Globe.
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Decorative Nonsense
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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you're looking for the weightiest, most tragically melodramatic score in James Horner's career, a symphonic masterpiece of thematic beauty and elegance.

Avoid it... if you have no interest in hearing Horner adapt the broad, simplistic strokes of John Barry's Dances With Wolves into his own templates.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 9/24/96, REVISED 4/13/21
Legends of the Fall: (James Horner) The 1994 film Legends of the Fall is for the big screen what romance novels are for old ladies. It is limitless, brute romanticism against the painted skies of Montana, primordial in its appeal and doomed by those who are not swayed by tear-jerking character dramas. If anyone doubted that director Ed Zwick was trying to yank at the emotional chains of audiences with his 1989 stunner Glory, then Legends of the Fall is proof that you can succeed at it not just once, but twice. Heroic and tragic, honorable and sorrowful, Legends of the Fall combines the most potent elements of a British period production with the vast expanses of Big Sky Country circa World War I. Its cast is remarkably strong, led by a headstrong and painfully humorous performance by Anthony Hopkins as the father of three adult sons split by ideals, ambitions, and one woman. Deep respect for Native American culture and a distrust for government highlight the undercurrents of the plot, Zwick not afraid to fill the family cemetery by the end of the film as well. As he had accomplished for Glory, composer James Horner matched Zwick's engrossing melodrama with an unashamed powerhouse of a score, and while the music for Legends of the Fall doesn't quite equal the ethereal qualities of Glory, it excels at supplying an greater excess of more consistent emotional weight. The early 1990's were a time of few hits and numerous misses for the highly productive Horner, who found himself scrounging around in the trash bin of video-quality animated films and failed light dramas more often than any of his listeners had hoped. With Legends of the Fall came a sudden and overwhelming resurgence to popularity that launched the composer into a year of incredible success in 1995, led by Apollo 13 and Braveheart. These three scores together yielded two Golden Globe nominations and two Academy Awards nominations, and yet none would win either award. Still, these three scores together, along with the more-than-decent Casper and Balto in the middle of that timeline, represent one of the greatest periods of production that any Hollywood composer has ever enjoyed.

As the first in line during this remarkable period for Horner, Legends of the Fall caught listeners by surprise with its sheer weight of performance and rich variety of themes. Horner reveled in his fair share of dramatically melodic scores, but never before or after Legends of the Fall did he accomplish the same level of immense gravity, not even with Titanic or Avatar. The symphonic palette is familiar to Horner's largest scores, his orchestral tones joined by familiar percussive flair, puffing shakuhachi flute, and subtle electronics. That ensemble is brought to life by several major themes for the film, all given significant development and repeated statements and each resounding with the majesty of the landscape. It's a score that may have Richard Wagner and Aaron Copland in a distant corner of the conscience, but rather than relying on the plethora of classical influences that plague many of his other scores, the most direct connection this score draws from, surprisingly for Horner but unsurprisingly for the genre, is John Barry's Dances With Wolves. The highly popular, straight forward, simplistic romanticism of Barry's trademark sound for major dramas in the 1980's and 1990's seems to be a guide by which Horner built Legends of the Fall. The pacing is slower, the counterpoint is held to a minimum, and the players of the orchestra burst forth with magnificent string performances aided, as with Barry's work, by supplemental horns. And it's the strength of the themes in Legends of the Fall that leads to its success. The meaning behind Horner's several ideas for the film overlap in conceptual use on screen, the composer content to constantly intermingle phrases from his ideas in such a way as to move fluidly through a sequence without actually stating the totality of any one theme in its formal presentation. The main theme, introduced immediately on trumpet and in full during the latter half of "Legends of the Fall," is the broad representation of the story's overarching mores and location. It accompanies the beauty of the land and serves the soul of the score. One could argue that this main theme is actually a representation of Hopkins' Colonel Ludlow himself, as that character is the bedrock of the Montana homestead, and the trumpet in the opening cue may recognize his military service. Perhaps not coincidentally, the theme recedes after the character's debilitating stroke.

The main theme for Legends of the Fall is the anchor that draws attention to the expanses of Montana at the outset of "Susannah," the middle of both "The Ludlows" and "Off to War," and early in "Coming Home," diminishing as the situation at the homestead slowly deteriorates over the course of the plot before returning in full for a lovely and extremely deliberate performance in the finale portion of "Alfred, Tristan, the Colonel, the Legend" as the Colonel surprisingly blows away the family's enemies despite his physical ailments. Equally positive in the major key and representing the family as a unit is the Ludlow theme, slipping into a slight waltz movement and applied occasionally by Horner as the story reminds the viewer of the early bond that culminates in bitter vengeance and sweet victory at its conclusion. This theme receives the same string-dominated weight as the primary theme for the landscape, and the two swap phrases in a few places, most notably in "The Ludlows" and "Off to War." The application in "The Ludlows" is particularly vital in the film, as the family assimilates the newly arrived Susannah to their way of life, the music front and center during the family's wholesome and humorous interactions. These passages are as happy and proud as the family will ever be, so it's not surprising that later performances of the Ludlow identity are only a shadow of what you hear in these two remarkable cues. Horner carefully restrains the full weight of the idea in "Descent Into Madness" and "The Wedding," the latter properly denoting that the bond suffers significant familial strain, only allowing one final nostalgic performance in full at 1:38. This cue is also highlighted by the pleasant, melancholy identity for Susannah over its first 100 seconds, partially transposed to Isabel here. The theme is initially heard at the outset of "Susannah's Arrival" and flourishes best in "Alfred Moves to Montana," where it eventually succumbs to the Ludlow theme. Because the character is so grief stricken for much of the film, questioning and eventually killing herself, Horner intentionally understates the presence of theme for her, failing to even allow it a performance in "Susannah Stays On." In later conversational scenes with the brother most alluring to her, Tristan, her theme is completely superseded by his. It is no coincidence that her husband, Alfred, is the only main character to never receive any thematic presence of significance, his role comparatively boring by design in the story and Susannah not truly loving him. Horner thus does not elicit a romantic response for the character.

Horner's theme for the doomed youngest son of the Ludlow family, Samuel, is a presence that mostly haunts the score after his death at war, but it does debut in song form during the film during the cue "Twilight and Mist," the character performing over piano for the family. As Hopkins' narration completes the scene, the piano continues without the singing at the beginning of "The Ludlows." Thereafter, the theme is most frequently performed by a pair of fiddles, as at the end of that cue and in the gravesite moment during "Tristan and Susannah." The theme is fleshed out with better depth in "Recollections of Samuel" before returning to the fiddles in "A Moment Alone" and opening and closing the end titles in "Alfred, Tristan, the Colonel, the Legend." Despite all the attention garnered by the romantically-inclined major-key themes of Legends of the Fall, the most influential identity on the narrative as a whole is the one for Tristan, the Brad Pitt character that largely weaves the story together and, most ironically, outlives the rest of the cast. Horner applies this impressively malleable theme throughout the score as its lone minor-key representation of savagery, lust, and mystery, foreshadowing The New World at its most buoyant. The character's wild emotional ride places this theme in many realms, but most vital is its use as a connection to the Native American element via the shakuhachi. This idea's two main phrases are touched upon early in "Legends of the Fall" and again at the start of "Off to War." The theme becomes an anthem for war by 0:50 into "To the Boys," its percussive accompaniment foreshadowing Avatar. The theme likewise informs "Samuel's Death" with a combination of fear and heroism over clicking effects destined for Apollo 13. The strident performance of the theme in the latter half of the cue combines militaristic percussion with the shakuhachi to represent Tristan's two influences, yielding to a rare choral moment of devastation near the cue's end. The final minute of "Tristan and Susannah" exposes the truly mystical side of Tristan's theme, a gorgeous rendition for traditional woodwinds and the shakuhachi that represents the romantic element in the character's allure, and this demeanor continues over pulses of Glory's snare in "The Calf and the Bear." Horner returns the theme to agony several times in "Farewell/Descent Into Madness," allowing the shakuhachi to trail off the melody in one of this most memorable instrumental techniques. The idea interrupts the Ludlow theme with abrasive Willow-like percussion blasts (and, yes, the famed 4-note danger motif) late in "Descent Into Madness."

Ratings Icon
Average: 4.24 Stars
***** 5,180 5 Stars
**** 2,812 4 Stars
*** 1,079 3 Stars
** 362 2 Stars
* 340 1 Stars
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Holy crap, it's awesome!
Richard Kleiner - June 5, 2010, at 11:44 p.m.
1 comment  (2437 views)
Tombstone   Expand >>
CS_TBL - August 21, 2007, at 2:47 p.m.
3 comments  (6390 views)
Newest: December 20, 2020, at 8:54 p.m. by
Richard Smugley
The BEST Instrumentals!Legends of the Fall
Paige - September 15, 2006, at 9:53 p.m.
1 comment  (5023 views)
Excellent music
Sheridan - August 30, 2006, at 1:06 p.m.
1 comment  (3767 views)
This is my all time favourite score
Hornerfan2006 - May 5, 2006, at 12:31 p.m.
1 comment  (3214 views)
Legends of the Fall
tonius - April 18, 2006, at 9:37 a.m.
1 comment  (3839 views)

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
1995 Epic/Sony Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 75:15
• 1. Legends of the Fall (4:17)
• 2. The Ludlows (5:40)
• 3. Off to War (5:55)
• 4. To the Boys... (2:49)
• 5. Samuel's Death (8:24)
• 6. Alfred Moves to Helena (3:01)
• 7. Farewell/Descent Into Madness (8:13)
• 8. The Changing Seasons, Wild Horses, Tristan's Return (5:11)
• 9. The Wedding (3:06)
• 10. Isabel's Murder, Recollections of Samuel (3:58)
• 11. Revenge (6:20)
• 12. Goodbyes (3:12)
• 13. Alfred, Tristan, The Colonel, The Legend... (15:09)
2020 Intrada Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 133:35

Notes Icon
The insert of the 1995 Epic/Sony album includes the note below from the director. That of the 2020 Intrada product contains extensive details about the film and score.

"At the heart of every story is a sound - something so deep that it resonates like a pressure in your chest. It is this feeling that the film composer seeks to make heard; not merely to underscore the chases, clinches, climaxes, or to smooth over the directorial inadequacies of soft cuts and shaky transitions, but to give voice to an inner life - it's soul, if such a thing can be said of film.

I first worked with James Horner on Glory. What he evoked with the piping voices of the Harlem Boys Choir endowed its images with a grace and tragedy no dialogue could ever express. As we began work on Legends of the Fall, we talked a lot about its atavistic nature - the dark and bloody heart, a love both overwhelming and destructive, the struggle of brothers for their birthright. We also talked a great deal about the melodies of the "old" place (Cornwall, England) from which these people had come; and the sounds of the "new" place (Montana, its native rhythms, its wildness) which had come to represent family and the ties that bind.

All I can say is that somehow James managed to distill all these lofty conversations into a score that is at once brooding and lush, redolent of both love and loss, and that touches that secret place of awe I had experienced only once before - upon my first reading of Legends of the Fall.

I wish to add my thanks to two soloists who joined James in the performance of this score: Jay Unger, whose fiddle solos so elevated Ken Burns' documentary The Civil War; and Kazu Matsui, perhaps the world's foremost interpreter of the Japanese wood flute, the shakuhachi." -- Ed Zwick
Copyright © 1996-2021, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from Legends of the Fall are Copyright © 1995, 2020, Epic Soundtrax/Sony Classical, Intrada Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 9/24/96 and last updated 4/13/21.
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