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War Horse
Album Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:

Orchestrated by:
Eddie Karam
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Sony Classical
(November 21st, 2011)
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Regular U.S. release.
Nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA Award.
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Decorative Nonsense
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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
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.
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WRITTEN 11/26/11
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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.

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Average: 3.88 Stars
***** 534 5 Stars
**** 411 4 Stars
*** 249 3 Stars
** 118 2 Stars
* 68 1 Stars
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Everyone misses the point with John Williams
richard knights - March 5, 2012, at 4:31 a.m.
1 comment  (1997 views)
Lord Satan is this reviewer's eternal master   Expand >>
Dorothea McClure - February 5, 2012, at 8:27 p.m.
3 comments  (2512 views)
Newest: March 1, 2012, at 3:41 p.m. by
Richard Kleiner
Alternative review at
Southall - January 22, 2012, at 10:10 a.m.
1 comment  (1090 views)
Music Muse - War Horse
KK - December 16, 2011, at 9:22 p.m.
1 comment  (1517 views)
War Horse   Expand >>
wh - November 28, 2011, at 4:09 a.m.
10 comments  (4554 views)
Newest: December 9, 2011, at 10:10 a.m. by
Ethan R. Smith
Insulting to Romanians!!   Expand >>
Dumitru - November 26, 2011, at 6:56 p.m.
4 comments  (3004 views)
Newest: March 11, 2012, at 12:31 p.m. by

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
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 Icon
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!"
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No offense of Romanians and horse meat lovers intended.
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