- Composed by James Horner
- Intrada / 2009 / 43:09
A highly-regarded film, The Journey of Natty Gann is a live-action Disney adventure about a girl who travels across America in search of her father. It did only modest business on its release in 1985, but has gone on to become a firm family favourite. Elmer Bernstein was originally hired to write the score but his music was mysteriously removed and James Horner – still very young at the time, but by then firmly established – provided the replacement, which is bizarrely similar in its approach. Quite what happened I don’t suppose we will ever know, but it’s unusual to have a score replaced by one which is so similar – and unusual to have both scores available on CD – but the latter is great news!
Varèse Sarabande released Bernstein’s rejected score in 2008 – and now Intrada has released Horner’s replacement, which was perhaps the ultimate unreleased holy grail for Horner fans, owing to it being one of his very finest works. It’s a completely lovely work, featuring delightful themes, most especially the main theme, heard in full in the opening title piece. It’s one of those beautiful pieces of orchestral Americana which film music has delivered so well on occasion – somehow folksy and charming despite also being wonderfully evocative of those glorious wide open spaces. The film is set in the 1920s, but the music is timeless.
“Leaving” is much more small-scale; there’s a motif in there which is taken from Bernstein’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, which Horner weaves very effectively into his own melodies. “Freight Train” is probably the score’s highlight – again there’s a nod to Bernstein, this time The Magnificent Seven, but you’d never mistake this music for anyone’s but James Horner’s. It’s an exciting orchestral romp, full of childlike innocence, the sort of warm adventure music that attracted many listeners to film music in the first place. “First Love” is (unsurprisingly) another lovely gem of a piece, with more low-key variations on the main theme leading into a passage of heartmelting, lilting guitar music.
That core of themes and ideas introduced in the opening four tracks goes on to form the basis for the rest of the album – simple, heartfelt, lovely music. In “The Forest”, Horner even uses some of the kind of vividly expressive music he would later use to stunning effect in The New World. Then there’s the expansive, thrilling “Getting There”. I could never tire of listening to this sort of thing – so what a delightful surprise it was when Intrada announced its release. While I said above that it’s a bit mysterious that Bernstein’s score was removed, I have to say that Horner’s is even better – and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. *****