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Soundtrack review: Legends of the fall (James Horner – 1995)

legends

“Legends of the Fall” is a 1994 American epic drama film directed by Edward Zwick and starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond and Henry Thomas. Based on the 1979 novella of the same title by Jim Harrison, the film is about three brothers and their father living in the wilderness and plains of Montana in the early 20th century and how their lives are affected by nature, history, war and love. The film’s time frame spans the decade before World War I through the Prohibition era, and into the 1930s, ending with a brief scene set in 1963. Edward Zwick is a master of epic movies and the scores are just as impressive. This one was written by James Horner and remains for me one of the pinnacles of his career.

It’s almost unimaginable to me that this score and Braveheart came out months apart. Two of the most stunningly beautiful and emotional compositions in the history of film music, written by the same wonderful composer almost in the same time. Yes, there are similarities because that’s how James Horner worked but who cares when the music is so amazing. “Legends of the fall” is one of those scores that show us what a sensitive soul this composer had. The beautiful and touching theme for “The Ludlows”, showing nothing but love… the flute echoes which mark the sparks of violence and insanity in the movie and the sound of turn of the century Americana with the violin motifs all paint an unforgettable musical canvas.

I must admit that as much as all the elements of a James Horner score get to me, there’s nothing more touching or close to my heart that that flute. No other composer knew how to use the flute as well as James Horner. His flute motifs are haunting, heartbreaking, inspirational and the surest way to make me cry. As much as I love Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard which I rank higher than Horner in my personal list, there is no other composer who knows the straightest path to my heart and soul. James Horner’s music hypnotizes me and goes right to my very core. I feel stripped and often my eyes get misty whenever I hear one of his themes. After I listen to “Legends of the fall” I feel emotionally drained because of how intense this score is to me. There are many compositions of film music which reach their climax with the epic and spectacular end credits. “Legends of the fall” is a collection of end credits lever cues. There is no down time and every single second has an emotional depth that’s barely reachable in other conditions.

And just like any other score this one too had to have its own epic conclusion, one theme to trump all the others and start the flood works. The final 10 minutes of the movie are among my favorites ever and the music that plays over that bloody and just conclusion was the only cue I could listen to when I heard that James Horner had died. To me the grieving process that day (arguably the most I’ve felt for a death which wasn’t in my family) mirrored the construction of one of the best themes ever written, the 15 minute show stopper “Alfred, Tristan, The Colonel, The Legend…”. This theme symbolizes everything I love about film music. Film music should be about emotions and reaching people’s hearts and there’s nothing as honest and heartbreaking as this theme right here. How I wish I could have been in the room when they recorded this one…wow… this is pure orchestral bliss.

The moment when I get the most goosebumps and have to fight hard not to burst into tears comes in steps starting with the flute at the 05:45 point. That’s just a warning. My hearts start trembling and I choke up. Then 45 seconds later comes the tsunami of emotions that I count among my five favorite film music motifs ever. I close my eyes and I can also see the movie images that underline this motif and it’s just…bliss…

Thank you James Horner for this. You are immortal.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 75 / 75

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:

Legends Of The Fall

The Ludlows

Off To War

To The Boys…

Samuel’s Death

Alfred Moves To Helena

Farewell / Descent Into Madness

The Changing Seasons, Wild Horses, Tristan’s Return

The Wedding

Isabel’s Murder, Recollection’s Of Samuel

Revenge

Goodbyes

Alfred, Tristan, The Colonel, The Legend…

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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