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House of Cards
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Intrada / 2009 / 59:18

One of the more obscure entries in James Horner’s filmography, House of Cards was released in 1993 – one of ten Horner-scored movies released that year – though it had actually been completed a couple of years earlier and sat on the shelf.  It’s about a young girl who completely withdraws from life after the death of her father, and develops an inexplicable penchant for climbing up to high places – and building structures from cards.  It sounds absurd – and most reviews of it written at the time agree – so it doesn’t seem hugely surprising that its total US box office gross was $300,000.

This didn’t stop James Horner from being inspired to write a very lovely score.  He’s always been able to write particularly expressive music for winds, and this score is very notable in that regard.  There’s a magical quality to the flute writing – like wind fluttering through the trees – and a delightful, childlike innocence.  It’s a technique he has since used in The Spitfire Grill and The New World – two of his strongest albums of music, though of course the latter was largely unused in the film – and this is very nearly on that level.

James Horner

There are numerous excellent themes here.  While it may be the case that some sound familiar from other (more recent) Horner scores, that doesn’t make them less good.  Horner is such a fine tunesmith – able to craft such memorable melodies, and orchestrate them beautifully.  But for all the gorgeous lilting tunes here, my favourite is the darker “Processional” which opens the album.  Again, it does remind me of something else (Beyond Borders, I think) and again I don’t really care.  There are none of the histrionics Horner’s detractors sometimes mention – it’s subtle, beautiful, powerful music.

Previously considered little more than a sidenote, really, in James Horner’s career, House of Cards is actually a superb album.  Intrada’s release, it almost goes without saying, sold out very quickly, so if you didn’t happen to be glued to your computer at the time it was released, you’ll probably have to pay a fortune to get your hands on it now.  It’s an incredibly frustrating way of releasing film music but unfortunately at the moment it seems to be the only way; and those of us who were glued to our computers have an absolute treat.  Horner does have his detractors, but his music is just so interesting, so well-composed, so well-considered; I hope the over-saturation of the limited edition soundtrack market didn’t lead to people missing out on this but purchasing some of the completely bizarre recent releases instead, which seem to have come out simply to test the theory that you can sell a thousand copies of anything – this one really is worthy of the “Special Collection” banner.  ****

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  1. Ian Smith (Reply) on Tuesday 10 November, 2015 at 18:54

    I just listened to this again today, for the first time in awhile. Its a really lovely score, indeed, one of my favourite scores by Horner. And I have never seen the movie. I bought the score when it came out really on something of a whim, but the samples clearly indicated it was my kind of Horner score- thoughtful and delicate. I don’t really go for his bombastic stuff- I really think the emotional scores are where the ‘true’ genius of Horner lies.

    And this is really wonderful. Some lovely orchestrations and melodies.The first track is so good, I think its one of the very best pieces of music Horner ever did. Its great. Intrada had quite a spell back then releasing Horner scores, so glad I managed to pick them up. Pity scores like this cannot get an unlimited release though., it really deserves a wider audience. So sad to think Horner is gone now, hearing albums/scores like this, I begin to realise just what has been lost with his passing.