Whenever we stumble across new recordings of James Horner music, we wonder: why bother? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Re-recordings have invariably been a mixed bag, ranging from the good (Collage: The Last Work) to the not-so-good (the 2011 Silva Screen album). Now Dan Redfeld and BSX bring us a new compilation for solo piano.
Right off the bat, it is impossible to compare full symphonic recordings and interpretations for solo piano. No fewer than 15 of the Maestro’s scores are on tap here, and as explained by Dan Redfeld, it was obviously necessary to set aside such luxuries as counterpoint and secondary lines.
Moreover, James Horner’s music is nothing if not a story told in color, and to limit oneself to just one instrument inevitably means to expose oneself to the risk of musical impoverishment. On the other hand, it also means melody can be placed front and center. All things considered, this compilation allows for a fresh stab at music we all know so well and love so much and, if nothing else, proves once again that James Horner was a fantastic melodist.
Braveheart: The Film Music of James Horner for Solo Piano is an enjoyable listen for those preferring emotionality rather than virtuosity. The re-recordings exude a sense of sincerity, not sensationalism. The album is a fine way to while away an hour, whether actively listened to or playing in the background.
JHFM) How did you decide which pieces to perform?
DR) The whole project started off when I recorded Darby’s Theme (from The Pelican Brief) and Mask of Zorro as stand-alone tracks for Buysoundtrax. We (EP’s Ford Thaxton and Mark Banning) were happy with how they translated to the piano and we started talking about doing a whole Horner album. This was in early 2014.
We then put together a list – I knew we had to do Star Trek, Braveheart and Rocketeer. I adore all three so they were musts. We decided to hit the most famous stuff and then I mentioned doing Krull. Ford really wanted Battle Beyond the Stars but no sheets existed. So I did a takedown but realized the track was really short. So we all opted for me to create more of a fantasy and expand the tune in a variation form. We recorded whenever I had free time between conducting and writing gigs.
After James’s passing, we were all kind of hollowed out and knew we had to include Willow and Field of Dreams. So I created new arrangements for those and we recorded them exactly a month after he left us. The lump in my throat recording Field of Dreams was tremendous and we had to do about 5 takes before I could hold it together. Obviously that movie has incredible resonance with so many of us, as does the score. And the metaphysical aspects are clearly embedded in his magical themes.
JHFM) In the process, you studied some of the original full scores. What discoveries did you make when reading the notes on a page versus hearing the recordings?
DR) For me, personally, my love for James’s work only increased because it was apparent he had indeed been schooled in 300 years of concert music. The voice leading, the use of counterpoint, impeccable orchestration and above all the key relationships from cue to cue or even within a single piece were beautifully crafted. Willow, for example, starts in A major and works its way around various keys before landing back in the relative minor, F# minor at its conclusion. You see these kinds of key relationships in major symphonic works or opera but not in much current film music. Like Williams, Goldsmith, Barry and others of that schooled generation, you see these kinds of things in the full scores and it shows how film music has degenerated with the influx of non-trained musicians attempting to write for an orchestra. It soils 300 years of highly developed craftsmanship and James Horner should be revered for displaying this mastery of developed composition.
JHFM) How much creative license did you give yourself in re-appropriating the music for solo piano? To what extent did you feel you had to respect the original compositions?
DR) I didn’t change harmonies or anything. Sometimes I stitched together cues and I had to create a bridge based on existing music (Field of Dreams being a good example). Braveheart was where I took the most “liberty”, putting cues together and then utilizing the Sons of Scotland music in a couple of places in keys you don’t hear it in – the pipes and whistles dictate the keys for a lot of music in Braveheart or Titanic.
Otherwise, I stayed close to the originals as much as I could using ten fingers. Obviously, because of the limitations imposed my two hands I had to leave out certain bits of counterpoint and secondary lines – which hurt. But they wouldn’t sound good on the piano because the instrument lacks the variety of colors supplied by the orchestra.
JHFM) You have studied a lot of music. How would you characterize James Horner's? What did you learn about it during this project? Has this project changed your understanding of it?
DR) This project only confirmed what many of us already knew – James was a brilliant composer with an uncanny ear for melody and the sure hand of a master craftsman. He was a true composer in the purest sense, especially as he broadened beyond the concert hall and included world, folk and popular elements in his music rather effortlessly.
For me, the key relationships again were quite astounding. It’s something you see in Williams or Goldsmith or Rozsa but it’s infrequent in contemporary scoring. Obviously it’s seen in everything from Mozart or Haydn to Britten, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, etc. It’s part of the reason his music has often transcended the screen and can truly be appreciated in the concert hall. And we’re taught in music school that certain keys produce certain effects, ranging from warmth to sadness, some sounding fuller than others, etc. That kind of understanding of music is slowly eroding and it only makes me appreciate James Horner more.
What I hope this album does is honor his work and memory but also in some small way make the public appreciate his profound output and genius. He deserves to be remembered alongside the greats in cinema.
JHFM) What is in the future for you? Any more Horner-related projects? Anything else you would like to add
DR) No Horner projects at the moment. I’m currently conducting Peter Pan in Los Angeles and then I moving on to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat this fall along with conducting a new piece at the LA Opera. There are a few concert commissions to fulfilled and a movie to be scored in the winter. We have talked about a second Horner disc, so we’ll see if that happens and what we’ll tackle!
BRAVEHEART THE FILM MUSIC OF JAMES HORNER FOR PIANO SOLO
Dan Redfeld Official Website: http://danredfeld.com/
Specials thanks to Dan Redfeld, Ford A. Thaxton and John Andrews.