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 Posted:   Jan 20, 2014 - 10:52 AM   
 By:   music4film   (Member)

I thought in this thread we could discuss the compositional and orchestration techniques of James Horner. As a short preface, Mr. Horner has been my favorite composer since my childhood. I am a film composer and music educator, who has been inspired by his music to follow in his footsteps, and I have his music to thank for where I am today.

I would like to request that we please only engage in positive discussion in this thread. To the many James Horner detractors/haters/etc. out there – please leave your jokes and snarky comments at the door. There's plenty of other threads for that type of content. I hope we can avoid the negativity for once, as the purpose of this thread is to focus on the many interesting and positive aspects of Mr. Horner's music.

I would like to begin with a track from one of my favorite scores: Legends of the Fall. We will be looking at the first few pages of the final cue marked "End Titles." Note that this cue begins at 1:21 of the final track on the OST titled "Alfred, Tristan, The Colonel, The Legend..."

The discussion I am about to offer is a bit technical, and may not be completely intelligible to those unfamiliar with basic music theory and score reading skills, but I do hope that all interested readers will be able to gain some sort of insight on the subject.

WARNING: TECHNICAL DISCUSSION AHEAD!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The first three pages of our cue are found below. What we get at this exact moment is a tense buildup driven by stepwise movement in the string section. This type of linear movement, which results in nonfunctional harmonies as a byproduct of the stepwise voice leading, is a favorite technique of Horner. However, he uses to an even greater extent than usual here, with the final "harmony" consisting of a cluster chord of 17 different notes in the violins, violas and cellos!



You can see the harmony is created through an additive process. We begin in measure 1 in A minor, with our tonic A pitch doubled in the Violin I and Cello I. The upper violin part is going to simply rise three octaves by step, moving through the A aeolian (natural minor) scale.

However, after each Violin I note is played, it is sustained by a supporting voice in the string section, adding to the growing and dissonant "super chord." For example, we can see that as the violin line ascends though A – B – C (the first three notes of the aeolian scale), a single cello each sustains each one of these notes, creating a dissonant backdrop to the violin line. The violas extend this pattern, for as the violins play through D – E – F – G, the violas continue to sustain these notes in measures 2-3.

To add a bit of complexity and counterpoint, the ascending violin line is accompanied by contrary stepwise motion in the bass. We see the beginning of this movement when the lowest cello voice descends from A to G in measure 2. However, to recover the A lost by this movement and maintain the integrity of our "super chord," the lowest viola picks up this A in measure 3. Thus, by the second half of measure 3, we have all 7 notes of the A minor scale (A – B – C –D – E – F – G) sounding simultaneously in a condensed cluster (along with the additional G in the bass, which then moves to F). The violas alone are already divided into five distinct parts (a5).

Horner continues to add thickness to the texture, with the second violins entering in measure 4, echoing what the cellos played in measure 1, but an octave higher. By measure 6, the second violins are playing in five parts (a5) as well, which is necessary in order to sustain all the notes of played in the violin "melody." By measure 7, we have a full two-octave A aeolian scale sustained in the cellos, violas, and second violins (14 notes). This dissonant wallpaper of sound harmonizes the ascending/descending scales in contrary motion found in the first violins and bottom cello part.



Note that the descending "bass line" (in the bottom cello) moves at a slower, somewhat staggered pace in relation to the first violin line. By the end of the gesture, it has descended just a minor seventh down to B in measures 9-10.



This B is very significant. If the descent continued along its logical path, one would expect it to continue down to A, where the harmony could perhaps resolve to a tonic A minor chord. But instead, at this pivotal moment, Horner modulates to E minor (the dominant [v] key of A minor). Hence, the B functions as the dominant bass note of E minor, smoothly assisting the modulation.

Thus, even though our final harmony is a tense, dissonant, nonfunctional cluster chord of 17 different notes clashing amongst themselves, an A minor "super chord" containing every note of the A aeolian scale sounding simultaneously at multiple octaves, the B bass note ensures that the sonority serves as a type of substitute dominant chord, with the B – E bass movement cementing a V – I progression in our new key of E minor.

But wait, we don't get the E bass note in measure 11, you might say! Yes, the strings drop out suddenly and dramatically, but instead we get our tonic E in the French horns. The E – G in the brass implies E minor; play it on the piano, and feel free to add a B to the sonority – the sound and function of the chord does not change.

Well then, why didn't Horner include the B (the fifth of the chord)? Once again, voice leading (along with textural) concerns. Check out the voice leading – the horns descend stepwise (E – D – C), while the first trumpets ascend stepwise in contrary motion (G – A – B). But that's not all, the second trumpet emerges to add additional harmony. The trumpets are doubled on G in the first half of the measure, but then they diverge to create a suspension on beat 3. By the next measure, we have a C major seventh chord with three of four tones (C – G – B). Again, we are missing one note, the third (E), whose absence occurs because of Horner's very particular voice leading. Note that this sonority, as played by the horns/trumpets, sounds very effective with a more "open" sound.

You can try playing these chords on the piano yourself, adding some of the missing notes and changing the voice leading, but in the end, Horner (along with his excellent orchestrator Thomas Pasatieri) chose the best possible option (IMO). It is very elegant voice leading and effective brass voicing cementing our new key of E minor with a descending progression of (I – VII – VI7).

On the next page (not pictured), we repeat a version of the phrase again. This time around, Horner does add the fifth of the E minor chord through a moving trumpet line.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Well, that concludes my rather detailed analysis of the first three pages of this cue. There is of course much more I could talk about, but at the risk of being long-winded (and some thinking that I'm long, long past that!), I'm going to just conclude there. I now invite your comments, and hope for further examples and discussion from the rest of you!

However, let me just wrap things up by saying this cue is quintessentially "Horner" in every way. Smooth stepwise voice leading, clear orchestration, interesting harmonies, strong melodies (which are obviously heard later in the cue), and a keen dramatic sense – these are some of the elements you'll see across James' entire body of work. I look forward to reading some of your own observations.

 
 Posted:   Jan 20, 2014 - 6:16 PM   
 By:   Sigerson Holmes   (Member)

. . . I am a film composer and music educator, who has been inspired by his music to follow in his footsteps.


Hee, hee.

I think that if any criticism of Mr. Horner's most famous "technique" is to be regarded as "hating," then you are needlessly, arbitrarily handicapping the seriousness of this "Study Thread." What do you hope to gain by putting "blinders" on the participants, or "tying one hand behind our backs" in this discussion? I'm a Horner fan too, but I don't believe any serious study of his work can plausibly ignore the elephant in the room.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 20, 2014 - 6:25 PM   
 By:   dan the man   (Member)

May I ask what is the elephant in the room?

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 20, 2014 - 6:44 PM   
 By:   music4film   (Member)

. . . I am a film composer and music educator, who has been inspired by his music to follow in his footsteps.


Hee, hee.

I think that if any criticism of Mr. Horner's most famous "technique" is to be regarded as "hating," then you are needlessly, arbitrarily handicapping the seriousness of this "Study Thread." What do you hope to gain by putting "blinders" on the participants, or "tying one hand behind our backs" in this discussion? I'm a Horner fan too, but I don't believe any serious study of his work can plausibly ignore the elephant in the room.


Please, I have asked very kindly. For me, there is no elephant in the room. I am very educated in the field of music. I am well aware of countless borrowings, plagiarisms, etc. in the work of James Horner, as well as the work of most historically-relevant western composers since the Baroque. This is a very valid and interesting topic that has indeed been discussed ad nauseum in any one of the countless threads on this forum.

And make no mistake, there is plenty of vitriol and subjectivity that is thrown around as "fact" around here, and I have no desire to bang heads and run around in endless circles on such a tired topic. That is not the goal of this thread. The topic has no place here. This is about score study. If you want to point out a historical influence or source from an excerpt of a score, then that's fine, but the main focus is score study and appreciation. Let's try to stay focused on the topic at hand, and keep the discussion friendly and positive.

You can call it "blinders" or "tying one hand behind our backs," or whatever else you like. However, if you feel that way, and you don't like the goals or topics of my posts, feel free to leave and/or make your own topics where one will not have to deal with such "blinders" or "hand ties."

Thank you for understanding.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 20, 2014 - 6:46 PM   
 By:   music4film   (Member)

*Sorry - Double post!*

 
 Posted:   Jan 20, 2014 - 8:48 PM   
 By:   Khan   (Member)

. . . I am a film composer and music educator, who has been inspired by his music to follow in his footsteps.


Hee, hee.

I think that if any criticism of Mr. Horner's most famous "technique" is to be regarded as "hating," then you are needlessly, arbitrarily handicapping the seriousness of this "Study Thread." What do you hope to gain by putting "blinders" on the participants, or "tying one hand behind our backs" in this discussion? I'm a Horner fan too, but I don't believe any serious study of his work can plausibly ignore the elephant in the room.


Wow, it sure didn't take long for someone to crap on a potentially very interesting, unique thread. Way to go.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 20, 2014 - 9:13 PM   
 By:   ChristianKühn   (Member)

Cool thread. I do wonder if/how long it can be kept going, because, well, the negativos seem to lack the basic understanding of "Don't like, don't post". It would help if we had effective moderating, but that's another can of worms.

* * * *

Anyhoo... From the score excerpts you've provided (always love seeing that kind of stuff), is there any way to estimate how much of it is Horner's "initial sketch" and how much additional orchestration by Pasatieri?

 
 Posted:   Jan 20, 2014 - 9:18 PM   
 By:   Sigerson Holmes   (Member)

I would like to request that we please only engage in positive discussion in this thread. To the many James Horner detractors/haters/etc. out there – please leave your jokes and snarky comments at the door. There's plenty of other threads for that type of content. I hope we can avoid the negativity for once, as the purpose of this thread is to focus on the many interesting and positive aspects of Mr. Horner's music.


Nobody's "crapped" on anything yet. I've suggested this in other Horner threads to little response or effect, but the idea is this: why should honest assessments of Horner's "influences" necessarily/automatically be regarded as "negative"? If we can identify and compare other pre-existing music with Horner's scores, without using language like "crap," or even "plagiarism," shouldn't it be possible for clear-headed Horner fans like ourselves to evaluate his music impartially for what it is? Can't we have an open, honest, intelligent discussion? Do we have to devolve into "bronies" and go into "attack & counter-attack" mode?

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 20, 2014 - 11:31 PM   
 By:   music4film   (Member)


Nobody's "crapped" on anything yet. I've suggested this in other Horner threads to little response or effect, but the idea is this: why should honest assessments of Horner's "influences" necessarily/automatically be regarded as "negative"? If we can identify and compare other pre-existing music with Horner's scores, without using language like "crap," or even "plagiarism," shouldn't it be possible for clear-headed Horner fans like ourselves to evaluate his music impartially for what it is? Can't we have an open, honest, intelligent discussion? Do we have to devolve into "bronies" and go into "attack & counter-attack" mode?


With all due respect, I think you're still misunderstanding the premise of this thread. What you suggest is a perfectly valid topic of discussion (although I find it surprising that you say there has been "little response" in the past, as I've seen this be discussed a great many times and with plenty of "honest" takes in the past, ad nauseum). However, as legitimate as the topic may be, it is not the appropriate topic of discussion for this particular thread.

Quite bluntly, such a discussion is off-topic (OT) for this thread. If you'd like to have this type of discussion, I encourage you to create your own thread. For myself, I've lost interest in that discussion a long time ago, and I'm taking this thread in an entirely new and positive direction.

So with that being said, as previously stated, the purpose of this thread is to discuss the unique and interesting aspects of James Horner's compositional technique and orchestration through intensive score study. I've already started us off with just a sliver of one cue, and honestly I could go all day and all night if need be, but instead I am more interested in opening it up and hearing some different takes from anyone interested in sharing their insights on Horner's music. Thank you.

 
 Posted:   Jan 21, 2014 - 12:13 AM   
 By:   Sigerson Holmes   (Member)

What you suggest is a perfectly valid topic of discussion (although I find it surprising that you say there has been "little response" in the past, as I've seen this be discussed a great many times and with plenty of "honest" takes in the past, ad nauseum). However, as legitimate as the topic may be, it is not the appropriate topic of discussion for this particular thread.


What I meant by "little response" was, very specifically, the idea of a positive discussion of the "forbidden topic." The knee-jerk reaction has always been "That's negative," or "Stop picking on Horner." The assumption has been that such observations are always meant as accusations or attacks, and the implication has always been that in order to remain "pro-Horner," one must be prepared to ignore what our own ears make plainly obvious. Wouldn't a new direction of positive discussion (in some other thread, obviously) be to make note of the similarities we hear without moral judgment, or without argumentative bickering?

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 21, 2014 - 1:23 AM   
 By:   Ian J.   (Member)

Just a quick sanity check - do you have copyright permission to provide images of the scores?

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 21, 2014 - 1:59 AM   
 By:   johnbijl   (Member)

music44film (as I call you with the lack of a name wink ),

I enjoyed your insightful and analytic post. I do not read music, so parts are hard to understand, and I will probably read again for a couple of times to better comprehend how you 'unravel' Horner's technique.

For now, I thank you for it. And applaud your effort.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 21, 2014 - 5:08 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

Kudos to you for starting a thread like this, music4film!

Unfortunately, I'm not a musician, so I can't comment with any meaningful insight on this issue -- at least not with the musical terminology currently being employed -- but we need more in-depth stuff here, whether it's from a musicological or film-analytical viewpoint (in the latter, I may be of more use).

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 21, 2014 - 6:21 AM   
 By:   WJF   (Member)

I thought in this thread we could discuss the compositional and orchestration techniques of James Horner. As a short preface, Mr. Horner has been my favorite composer since my childhood. I am a film composer and music educator, who has been inspired by his music to follow in his footsteps, and I have his music to thank for where I am today.


Thanks for the analysis. A little difficult, certainly, to follow, but interesting enough.

Are those Horners's own full score pages that you are using? Clearly, not all that much for an orchestrator to do on this score, as it seems to be all there.

I love the "Legends" score a lot, and listen to it frequently, so I already have an interest in
learning more.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 21, 2014 - 3:27 PM   
 By:   music4film   (Member)

What you suggest is a perfectly valid topic of discussion (although I find it surprising that you say there has been "little response" in the past, as I've seen this be discussed a great many times and with plenty of "honest" takes in the past, ad nauseum). However, as legitimate as the topic may be, it is not the appropriate topic of discussion for this particular thread.


What I meant by "little response" was, very specifically, the idea of a positive discussion of the "forbidden topic." The knee-jerk reaction has always been "That's negative," or "Stop picking on Horner." The assumption has been that such observations are always meant as accusations or attacks, and the implication has always been that in order to remain "pro-Horner," one must be prepared to ignore what our own ears make plainly obvious. Wouldn't a new direction of positive discussion (in some other thread, obviously) be to make note of the similarities we hear without moral judgment, or without argumentative bickering?


Once again, these types of observations are largely off-topic in this thread, unless they pertain very specifically to score study. I again encourage you to make a new thread if you wish to have a discussion of "positive similarities." It sounds like an excellent topic, but alas, that is not the focus of this particular thread.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 21, 2014 - 9:51 PM   
 By:   music4film   (Member)

Cool thread. I do wonder if/how long it can be kept going, because, well, the negativos seem to lack the basic understanding of "Don't like, don't post". It would help if we had effective moderating, but that's another can of worms.

* * * *

Anyhoo... From the score excerpts you've provided (always love seeing that kind of stuff), is there any way to estimate how much of it is Horner's "initial sketch" and how much additional orchestration by Pasatieri?


Agreed on your first point! However, I think we will be OK in this thread. I've made the expectations very clear, and hopefully people will respect that. And if not, that's what the ignore button is for. ;-)

To answer your question, there's no way we can tell just by looking at the score. But since the ideas are so clear and concise, it leads little doubt that the work that we're looking at here is mainly Horner's, who often does his own orchestrations to begin with. Usually these things come down to time - when Horner doesn't have time to do everything himself, he needs to enlist the help of one or multiple orchestrators to get things done in time.

Jean-Baptiste Martin's interview with John Kull lends more insight on what Horner's sketches are like:

http://jameshorner-filmmusic.com/jon-kull-honor-the-composers-intent/

"With Horner...he has definite ideas about what he wants to hear, coupled with an impressive command of the orchestra, so I stick to what he's given me, keeping things pure and not too embellished."

"I do think the makeup of his orchestral palette is settled for him the moment he first sees a film. And since he sketches directly to orchestral score paper there's little doubt about which voice goes where."


That second quote highlights an interesting difference between Horner and say, John Williams. We all know that Williams produces very detailed sketches; however, he chooses to sketch on condensed score paper (8 staves), whereas Horner evidently sketches right onto a full score (and probably not just any full score, as Horner tends to use very LARGE, oversized scores). Personally, I've done it both ways, and I prefer Horner's method if there is enough time. I just like looking at a full score.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 23, 2014 - 10:26 AM   
 By:   music4film   (Member)

music44film (as I call you with the lack of a name wink ),

I enjoyed your insightful and analytic post. I do not read music, so parts are hard to understand, and I will probably read again for a couple of times to better comprehend how you 'unravel' Horner's technique.

For now, I thank you for it. And applaud your effort.


Thanks for the kind words, glad you enjoyed it! If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 23, 2014 - 5:22 PM   
 By:   GoblinScore   (Member)

I think its a terrific thread & hope it lives on.
Horner's music is very important to me as well!

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 24, 2014 - 1:21 AM   
 By:   Graham S. Watt   (Member)

music4film - I too applaud your efforts. It's one of those rare threads which may initially turn people off, because this is the Internet and people have even shorter attention spans than usual when looking at a computer screen. It really does deserve to be read slowly and carefully on the printed page under a lamp.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 24, 2014 - 1:22 AM   
 By:   Graham S. Watt   (Member)

(slow loading created duplicate thread: //mensaje automático: plan espía: código secreto "callar"//)

 
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