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  • Composed by John Williams
  • Quartet Records / 2013 / 80m (score 36m)

An expensive adaptation of the classic children’s book by Johanna Spyri made for American television in 1968, Heidi was a return to television by director Delbert Mann.  Mann was a bit of a directorial journeyman, the Oscar-winning Marty sandwiched between episodic television in the mid-1950s, the 1960s spent flitting from one genre to another with mixed results.  He had worked with several top composers by the time he made Heidi, including Elmer Bernstein on Desire Under the Elms, Jerry Goldsmith on A Gathering of Eagles and John Williams on Fitzwilly; and Goldsmith was the first choice to score this television movie, but when his schedule couldn’t accommodate it, Williams – who had very recently moved from his original “Johnny” moniker – was hired.

It’s an enjoyable score in many ways – old-fashioned Hollywood without a doubt, full of glitz and schmaltz – but while there were still seven years until the switch was flicked and the enthusiastic pre-Jaws Williams became the pre-eminent film composer of his time, post-Jaws Williams, actually this score does feature more of the trademarks and mannerisms of the more familiar Williams than a lot of his more pop-orientated earlier scores do.  The main theme itself, if you get over the schmaltz of its initial presentation in the main title piece, is actually a really charming one – the Alpine flavours and the childlike innocence of it combine very nicely.

John Williams

John Williams

The theme is actually heard in virtually every track in one guise or another, and whereas sometimes you hear a theme over and over and it begins to lose its charm, in this case the reverse is probably true – it’s easy to build up a little early resistance towards it but by the time the score closes, most will have shrugged their shoulders and gone along with the exuberance of it all.

Some playful scherzi – so typical of this composer, almost certainly more so than any other film composer – add yet more charm in cues like “Reflections I” and part of “Shadows”.  The occasional diversions into more dramatic areas are welcome, too – “The Alm” a delightful portrait of the mountain life, “The Old Man and the Child” a touching, anguished piece for Heidi’s grandfather (played by Michael Redgrave).  “The Sleeping Child” is one of the more powerful pieces, rather moving and with a feeling of the losing of innocence.  The strongest cue by far is the concluding “The Miracle”, which slowly builds to a sweeping finale, one of the most dramatic and memorable pieces this composer wrote in his earlier years.

The original soundtrack album of Heidi featured a combination of tracks from the film score recording and a separate album recording session in London – all placed under a narration by Redgrave, which intrudes over all but a couple of tracks.  This new release from Quartet marks the first time the music has been released without that narration – and it is lovely music indeed, one of the finest of Williams’s early scores.  It’s no Jane Eyre, which Williams wrote for Mann a couple of years later, but there’s much to admire, even if the lighter tone which is such a hallmark of this period of his career does ultimately dominate.

Rating: *** | |

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