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Flight
  • Composed by James Horner
  • ASB Records / 2010 / 16m

For a James Horner fan, listening to Flight – his rousing, glorious celebration of flying – is a truly bittersweet experience. Flying was one of the great passions of his life, along with composing – but of course it was ultimately what cost him his life so prematurely. Such was his enthusiasm for it, he actually performed on occasion with an aerobatic display team, known as the Flying Horsemen, and this piece was originally written to accompany their displays (and is still used to do so today).

The piece was originally released as a short CD along with a DVD about the Horsemen and Horner’s relationship with them back in 2010. Back then the main piece was known simply as “Flight Demonstration Music”; the CD also included a shorter track, “The Fourth Horseman”, presumably a reflection of the composer’s own experience with the group (it was his nickname amongst them). Such was the relatively obscure nature of the release – and indeed the relatively high price – it didn’t really attract all that much attention. This was partially remedied when it was released (under the curious title of “Write Your Soul”) on iTunes a few months later, but frustratingly was only available for a limited period before mysteriously being pulled. Finally, it took on a new life as a concert piece under the altogether more satisfying title of “Flight” and received its premiere in Los Angeles (in the composer’s presence) in 2014.

James Horner

James Horner

The main event is twelve minutes long and features three primary themes.  The first of them appears immediately and is an arresting, thrilling fanfare designed to make the hairs on your neck stand on end, and it does so with little difficulty.  From there Horner segues into the primary theme, a long-lined, romantic melody heard usually from sweeping strings with frequent swells from brass and cymbal, little trumpet figures darting in and out from time to time.  It’s stylistically cut very much from the same cloth as some of his other most stirring themes, a warm piece of Americana (not dissimilar actually to Jerry Goldsmith’s main celebration of flying, the wonderful Soarin’).

Horner’s film music often found him scoring flying of one form or another, most notably in the case of The Rocketeer and the third theme which emerges in this piece (shortly after the three minute mark) is a very close cousin to that score’s wonderful main theme, an understandable and – given how good it is – entirely forgivable facet to the newer piece.  The composer gives it if anything an even more magical feel here thanks to the way he utilises the piano, though the variation on the melody isn’t quite as memorable.

After that, he explores each of those three themes several more times, adding some interesting bridging material including one lovely passage where a repeated piano figure darts playfully over the top of the strings with accompaniment from a synth choir, leading seamlessly into another performance of the primary theme all the while with the piano and synth continuing unchanged.  Everything is brought together into the most joyful, romantic, truly beautiful whole and inevitably leads up to a finale as grand and as rousing as you like, almost going into that glorious ending from Star Trek II and The Rocketeer and Pas de Deux (and others) nearly two minutes before the piece actually ends – just as you think you’re hearing the trademark closing chords, the main theme swoops up and soars once more, Glory-style chimes come in, the orchestra explodes into a cacophony of power and joy.  It’s just magnificent.

The shorter piece “The Fourth Horseman” is essentially an elongated arrangement of the primary theme – the narrower focus makes it a lovely, concise experience, but it’s very much like an appetiser rather than the sumptuous feast offered by the main event.  I can’t imagine why this music doesn’t appear to be commercially available at all any more and can only hope it emerges again some day, because there isn’t a James Horner fan anywhere who wouldn’t immediately fall in love with it.  He (almost uniquely) managed to write elongated cues within films that somehow managed to hit all the right dramatic points without slavishly adhering to click track and streamers like most Hollywood composers, but freed from any such constraints whatsoever there is an even greater sense of fluidity and flow to Flight that makes it simply float on air.  The grand gestures, the glorious melodies, the romanticism – everything that made me love James Horner’s music so much is here in abundance.  It’s simply not to be missed.

Rating: *****

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  1. ghostof82 (Reply) on Thursday 23 June, 2016 at 04:47

    Well I certainly hope to get the opportunity to listen to this someday. Yesterday (the first anniversary of Horners tragic death) was a sobering experience. A year has passed already. Tempus fugit indeed.

    Very nice and timely review.