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  • Composed by James Horner
  • Film Score Monthly / 2011 / 30:57

An intimate film about the after-effects of nuclear war, Testament is a highly-regarded 1983 film starring Jane Alexander and William Devane.  It’s based on a three-page short story by Carol Amen and attracted much acclaim upon its release.  James Horner was near the beginning of his journey to Hollywood glory at the time (this came between his two Star Trek scores).  His music is as cheery as you might expect from the score for a film about a woman who has lost her husband and two of her children in a nuclear explosion and is watching herself, her other child and her friends die of radiation poisoning.  A cheeky brigade of kazoos here, some Goldsmithian fart synths – no, of course not.

In fact, that flippant comment is beneath me and certainly unworthy of Testament, which is possibly Horner’s most intimate score (written for ten players and consisting almost exclusively of solo lines with the most minimal accompaniment) and one of his most genuinely affecting.  The score’s main theme is extremely beautiful and moving – there is a sweetness there, a childish innocence, which is absolutely heartbreaking.  In fact, the way Horner conveys this childlike quality throughout is the score’s greatest asset – the knowledge of what it’s accompanying has a somewhat devastating effect even for one who hasn’t seen the film.  There is an elegance which comes from the simplicity – the cello line in “Carol Consoles Liz” is stunning, ditto the wordless female vocal of “Carol Bathes Scottie”.  I’m not sure Horner – one of film music’s masters of emotional manipulation – has ever come across quite as sincerely as he does here.  This is music with meaning.  It’s not exactly uplifting (in fact frequently is the opposite), but seems to be a glimmer of hope in the music throughout.  Occasionally it reminds me a little of the larger-scale The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas, one of the composer’s finest.  This brief album is an essential purchase for Horner fans.  ****

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