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  • Composed by James Horner
  • Virgin / 43m

By far Ed Zwick’s best film, Glory is a moving film following the African American 54th Regiment during the American Civil War. Matthew Broderick (who is not now, nor was in 1989, African American) plays the commanding officer Colonel Shaw with an excellent cast also including Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes and Alan North (replaced by George Kennedy in the various sequels).

Four of Zwick’s movies were scored by James Horner and two of them produced genuine masterpieces of film music – Legends of the Fall and this. Thematically it is fairly straightforward – there are three main themes used throughout, two of them blatantly lifted from very famous earlier works – all of them are great.

James Horner

The first we hear is at the very start of the opening piece “A Call to Arms” – ironically this one sounds like it’s an actual old Civil War song but as far as I know it is a Horner original. It’s often heard by trumpets, but here in its opening guise it is given vocals (sung by the Harlem Boys’ Choir); quickly it segues into the score’s main theme, which is as utterly, ravishingly beautiful as it was when Sergei Prokofiev wrote it for Ivan the Terrible. But that is what it is – any fan of James Horner will have come to terms with such things a long time ago, so I won’t labour the point. Almost always, he managed to make such lifts sound like his own music and make them fit seamlessly into the broader film score, and that is certainly the case here. It really is an incredible piece of music, whether heard in its wordless choral form as initially (and in the moving second piece, “After Antietam”) or in a more chaotic action setting, as in the second half of “A Call to Arms”, with the cacophony of brass, bells and snares running behind it somehow serving to only accentuate its beauty.

The other theme is introduced in “Lonely Christmas” and again is very familiar, coming from Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” (which Horner would adapt even more successfully into Braveheart). Again, regardless of its heritage, nobody could deny how amazingly effective and indeed moving the music is – here heard initially on solo oboe, later horns and then strings within this initial track.

“Forming the Regiment” opens with a lonely trumpet solo of the call to arms theme, which appears again after a moving (non-thematic) passage for strings, before a subtly powerful version of the main theme and then a marching song with the fife and drums you’d expect, eventually giving way to a more stirring performance of the main theme.

A pair of much more challenging pieces follows. “The Whipping” is a very dark variant on the RVW theme, then “Burning the Town of Darien” features an elegy fairly similar to material written by another Williams around the same time for Born on the Fourth of July (the films were released one week apart so it is difficult in this case to accuse Horner of anything!) – it’s very sad music but also extremely beautiful, so emotionally affecting.

There’s a real sense of nobility to “Brave Words, Braver Deeds” – it’s a slow-builder but another emotional powerhouse of a cue. Both main themes are heard as Horner brilliantly conveys the heroism of these men. The fife and drums are back to open the magnificent “Year of Jubilee”, which transforms into one of the most expansive and beautiful performances of the main theme from the strings and choir.

“Preparation for Battle” is in many ways the score’s centrepiece – accompanying scenes of the regiment about to go into a battle they know will cost many of them their lives, with Horner managing to convey this and their in-built heroism without going syrupy, covering so much ground (as he so often did) during the piece’s seven minutes, including all three of his themes. This leads into the music for the battle itself, “Charging Fort Wagner”, which as everyone says is rather clearly modelled on “Carmina Burana” (although it’s not quite as verbatim as its other famous, uncredited use in a 1989 film score). It’s a stirring piece of music in any case and becomes even more powerful when it transitions from Orff to Prokofiev.

There’s an amazingly powerful a capella choral version of the main theme in “An Epitaph to War” which is another moment of Horner magic, and then comes the outstanding end title piece, which bizarrely opens in the style of Philip Glass’s Powaqqatsi – at odds with the rest of the score, but somehow fitting in – before rousing performances of the big, emotional themes to bring a perfect album to a perfect conclusion.

James Horner absolutely relished films that allowed him broad scope to write emotionally sweeping music and his most popular scores of the 1990s were often in that vein; while Glory wasn’t the first of them, it was probably the first time that he combined the big emotions with a huge dramatic sweep as well. If you can forgive the classical kleptomania (which I know is a problem for some) then you are left with a genuinely outstanding album of music, one of Horner’s very best and an essential part of any film music collection.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. Ian Smith (Reply) on Sunday 15 March, 2020 at 18:41

    Funnily enough, I was listening to this again this past week, for the first time in awhile. The memories of back when this came out, and of the period when every new score by James seemed so exciting, came flooding back. I miss those days. The Glory score seems so fresh and full of energy and passion. I miss this kind of soundtrack music, and of course James’ music. We rather took him for granted, and the way movies were back then.

  2. Mike (Reply) on Thursday 19 March, 2020 at 00:45

    Good score. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the Harlem Boys choir only performed on the cd- in the actual film it’s a professional choir?