OMNI PUBLISHING’S STUNNING RELEASE OF HORNER’S WILLOW
It is no secret that Horner was an exceptionally studied musicologist and while studying in academia and beyond, was exposed to and analyzed a lot of music. Horner used this vast knowledge in creating his score for Willow. As the newly published score’s analysis mentions in regards to the background and inspiration of the themes, Horner paid homage to Bulgarian folk music, as well as composers Robert Schumann, Bela Bartok, and Sergei Rachmoninoff. Even with these influences, as the analysis states, “the application and execution of the material to the screen image is authentically Horner.” He based the main theme (simply titled Willow’s Theme in the book’s analysis) on the Bulgarian harvest song Mari Stanke Le, though Horner extended it and altered it to create his own beautiful melody (see our article: WILLOW: BETWEEN QUOTES). The analysis also discusses Horner’s use of “Horn Fifths,” a technique used by composers in the Baroque era when brass instruments did not have valves and could only produce certain pitches. (Early brass instruments were only able to play along the overtone series fundamental to that instrument. Valves were added in the 19th century, and composers started writing music with more chromatic passages with the new enhancements.) This is another way that Horner effortlessly brings the listener (and film-viewer) back to a time long ago.
Something that really stood out for me as I started looking through the score was length of the cues and how Horner wrote his music to span and transition from cut to cut, scene to scene. It's just stunning! The first cue, for example, lasts a total of 216 measures, which is about the first 10 minutes of the film. Throughout this time, we are introduced to several main characters, and there are several scenes which lay the groundwork for the unfolding plot that Horner weaves in and out. Personally, I have always found that transitions are always the toughest – both to craft in a composition and also to perform (for both myself and the students I teach). Horner moves around so effortlessly; it's just another tangible bit of proof of his musical genius.
Omni Publishing’s release of Horner’s Willow is a must-have for any score collection. Having recently received a copy of this stunning publication myself, I look forward to diving deeper into the score and learning even more about the craft of composition from the masterful mind of James Horner.
“The story of Willow stemmed from the mind of legendary filmmaker, George Lucas. He enlisted the directing talent of Ron Howard. James Horner was given the task of creating the music, and while relatively young, his reputation was gaining respect in Hollywood in the 1980s. Willow was a creative breakthrough for not only the composer, but also the visual effects team, who pioneered the early use of computer technology. Nearly every possible dramatic element is represented through the music, whether it be adventure, romance, fantasy, or the otherworldly. He created music for epic moments with as much care as those of tender reflection.
Horner instinctively knew that the musical landscape would need to be a familiar one to Western audiences. Yet, the story, while seeming to take place in medieval times, existed in an alternate land where witches and evil sorcery existed. To accomplish this, Horner anchored the score with a traditional-sounding orchestra, and layered on top of it the sounds of various pan pipes, didgeridoo, hammered dulcimer, the South American quena, and also an instrument from the Renaissance period known as a shawm, an early double-reed precursor to the oboe.
With this musical palette at his disposal, as well as conjuring memorable themes and motives, Horner was able to create an original sound for the film Willow. It was the highest budget for a motion picture score at the time, and Horner put it to great use. It included the King’s College Choir of Wimbledon, 2 Alpine horns, no fewer than 40 different percussion instruments, and the shakuhachi, the use of which would influence many other contemporaries to include in their own film scores.
Now musicians, music students, conductors – any music lover – can study Willow in this durable, high-quality edition, carefully reproduced and edited from the original handwritten manuscript.”