Once in a blue moon, a score comes along that floors you well and truly. Granted, 1989 was an unusually strong year for film music, but on the battlefield of musical excellence, James Horner arguably carried the day. Even coming up against some pretty stiff competition of his own–1989 also saw the release of Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Dad, Field of Dreams and In Country–Horner made Glory the high point of his output that year (although he undeniably had a special place in his heart for the Oscar-nominated Field too.) He and director Edward Zwick would go on to collaborate on two more feature films, Legends of the Fall (1994) and Courage Under Fire (1996), as well as Extreme Close-Up (1990), a TV movie which Zwick co-wrote and co-produced.
While some fans will favor the behemoth (and even more high-profile) Legends of the Fall, Glory ranks as perhaps the purest example of the “emotionalist” score. Further, of all their collaborative projects, the two artists never worked on a better film than Glory. Kudos must go to Zwick and screenplay writer Kevin Jarre for delivering one of the definitive Civil War movies, full of endearing characters, vivid action scenes which were a touch brutal at the time but still swept us off our feet, and a story about the emancipation of the colored man—a theme which, regrettably, is as pertinent today as it was thirty-two years ago. Not one scene is superfluous in Jarre’s well-articulated script, while Zwick’s direction is assured and wonderfully old-school, with sweeping battlefield shots and some imaginative visual details that I will point out later.
A brief primer for readers not familiar with US history: After the War of Independence in 1776, America had wrested itself free from the British crown. With the overseas oppressor out of the way, the newly united states faced the daunting task of constructing a nation. The Northern states, with their budding industry, faced different economic challenges than the Southerners, who were still a rural society centered around lavish plantations heavily reliant on a black labor force. It is these broader economic differences rather than just the issue of slavery that sparked the Civil War (1861-1865). The Northern states, which wished to both preserve the union of all the states while abolishing slavery, came to be known as the Unionists or Abolitionists. The Southern States, however, were attempting to secede from the Union to form a new nation, known as the Confederate States of America. After the Battle of Antietam (1862), president Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation Emancipation, freeing the blacks and bringing an end, at least nominally, to slavery. Thus the stage is set for Zwick’s epic film.
Being their first collaboration, it took some time and effort for the composer and the director come to agreement on the musical direction for the film. In a 1992 UCLA talk, James Horner had this to say about the genesis of the Glory score: “Because music is so abstract, […] and a director says: I want a Civil War score from you […]Civil War score to me meant what I did for Glory. But when we first started, Civil War score was Battle Hymn of the Republic. That’s where I started with Ed Zwick. He wanted Battle Hymn of the Republic, he wanted all the battle sequences to be scored, it was more like How The West Was Won than what I did. And over the course of eight weeks, you gradually change somebody’s mind, you gently work the situation. But with Glory, I played everything or most everything, most of the themes, on the piano, which is the best I can do for him. One of the themes that I wrote, he thought was in the wrong movie. He thought that it was a love theme. he said: “It’s in the wrong movie. It’s beautiful theme […] it’s in the wrong movie.” And I knew he was wrong. I didn’t see it as a beautiful theme, I saw it as a yearning theme, it was longing. And I said: “Ed, you can’t tell when I play it on the piano, because it does, it really does sound crappy here and it does sound like it should be in Summer of 42 and not in Glory. But he was so unsure that I did three major sequences with an alternate theme that he liked better just in case I got to the scoring stage, the recording stage, and he would have a fit, and he would say: “See, I told you, it should have been in Summer of 42, it shouldn’t have been here.” So I did three major cues two different ways. Now, when we actually got to the recording stage, the very first cue I started with, I started with one of these three, and I started with my version. And it was obvious that that was the way to go, and he came out [of the recording booth] and he said: “That sounds great.” And he went back in, and that was the last I ever heard of Summer of 42.”
By the time the composer and the director finished coming to terms, Horner had decided to put into play three major themes and one motif. Appearing first in the score is the Call to Arms theme, a long line most often performed by the choir and the trumpet. It is the most openly militaristic idea of the score, and Horner set these lyrics to the melody: “Blow the horn, play the fife, beat the drum so slowly. Blow the horn, play the fife, make the drum beat Glory.” One of the main characteristics of the score is the sheer amount of drums and fife, either as source music or as underscore. In the underscore, the fife and drums either appear on their own or as the percussive, punctuating underpinning of major cues. The most frequently recurring drums and fife motif debuts in the second part of Forming The Regiment and is repeated in the cues following immediately afterwards.
The second theme is a proud, malleable, long-line marvel of a melody. It gets a major work-out in the score’s opening cue, which is so elaborate that it acts as something of an overture. The third theme is even more yearning and longing. It shines in cues such as The Decision and Lonely Christmas, and it would go on to influence the lyrical main theme of The Pagemaster (1994). Film music critics have had a hard time trying to point out to what or to whom these two themes refer, exactly. While the score’s thematic interplay is most definitely not modeled on the Wagnerian leitmotif (the practice of linking themes to individual characters), neither does Horner use the melodies indiscriminately or interchangeably. The questions surrounding theme attribution can only be answered if one analyzes the score as it appears in the film, which will be the main focus of this article.
The score’s one remaining building stone is a stern motif most often performed by brass. It appears first on a shot of Morgan Freeman’s Rawlins standing guard one rainy night. In this context, as we will see, the motif speaks to the character’s resolve, and it conveys that meaning again later on, although in the lavish Preparations for Battle, the motif repeatedly acts as a musical bridge between ravishingly beautiful statements of the two main themes.
The single most striking feature of the Glory score is James Horner’s use of the Boys Choir of Harlem, an ensemble of young black singers founded by Walter J. Trumbull. More than any of the score’s other constituent parts, the pure and almost angelic sound of the black boys’ voices, especially when used against battlefields strewn with corpses, is what gives the score its defining transcendent quality. While James Horner would no doubt have agreed that much of the score’s soul lies in these incredibly moving performances, getting the Boys Choir of Harlem involved was by no means a foregone conclusion. Horner addressed this issue in the 1992 UCLA talk:
“We had this boys choir, the Boys Choir of Harlem, which was a real risk because I was told very nicely, with a good sense of humor but you always know that there’s a dagger somewhere, I was told that basically, you know, I was going to have my head handed to me if this didn’t work out because we had to fly this boys’ choir in from New York with their – the guys that watch over the kids during the day. You have to pay them as though they were going to school, you have to provide a tutor for them, there’s a whole thing that works out, you don’t just send a bunch of kids in for eight hours and send them back to their hotel room. It’s a whole thing. So it ended up costing close to seventy thousand dollars just to bring them here and get them back to New York before you paid them anything, just airfares and hotel and food and tutor. And the studio was beside themselves, they thought that if this didn’t work out, this was gonna be a huge disaster. Mind you, on the day of the recording, all the studio executives were down here partaking in the magic, and it was a magical experience having this black boys choir there. It was great, and they are great, and everybody wants to be part of the magic. But what happens at times is no one’s thinking about the magic or the sound, they were thinking about sheer bottom line and you get a lot of middle level management people who say: “Well, can we do it with a choir from Pasadena? Why does it have to be a black boys choir?” When they say: why does it have to be a black boys choir, and it’s Glory, you wanna say: “Hey pal, have you even seen the movie?”
Not all the music heard in the film was included in the 1989 score album. Indeed, several cues have alternates; several more were composed and recorded but dropped from the movie’s final cut. La-La Land’s fantastic new album, a double-disc edition, features all of it. The first disc features the full score as intended by the composer, followed by source material (diagetic music audible in the context of the film’s setting itself). The second disc presents the original album program followed by a selection of alternates.
What follows is a cue-by-cue analysis of the entire score as it appears (or would have appeared) in the finished film.
1 – Call To Arms
The solo trumpet plays the Call to Arms theme over a title card. The Tri-Star Pictures credit gets a drumroll statement, and so does the title card “Glory”. When the rising sun appears on screen, the music erupts. It’s the Call to Arms theme again, but now performed by choir, and backed up by drumrolls and a synthetic drone accenting various movie cuts. The Call to Arms theme is unequivocally linked to the military in general; at this point, it is an interesting mix of organic (representing man) and synthetic (representing weapons), and it sounds both monumental and cold.
In this pell-mell of soldiers preparing thmselves for war, we find captain Robert Gould Shaw. Horner brings in the first lyrical main theme, performed initially by the choir. As best we can tell, it’s Robert’s theme, and Horner’s decision to carry over the choir from the Call to Arms is his way of saying that this character is a cog in the war machine. But then something interesting happens: on the way to Antietam, Shaw meets black people fleeing town and we hear his voice-over account of the negroes as part of a letter he writes to his mother. He speaks warmly of the “men and women whose poetry is not yet written but which will presently be as enviable and renowned as any”. At this point, the lyrical theme returns, but now in warm and (com)passionate strings. At once, the theme stops being a leitmotif. As it turns out, it reflects a much broader issue: emancipation. The theme of emancipation applies to many psychological contexts: the negroes’ emancipation from white oppression, Cabot Forbes’s emancipation from his perceived shortcomings as a leader, Robert Shaw’s emancipation from antiquated social views and from a fear of war after the cruel wake-up call that is Antietam. And so in three elegant steps, Horner uses the choir to link the Call to Arms theme to the emancipation theme as applied to Shaw and he uses the emancipation theme, now in the strings, to link Shaw to the negroes. The link between Shaw and the blacks especially is revelatory: up until now, Shaw has held somewhat abstract abolitionist convictions, but in the events that follow Antietam, abolitionism will become for him a way of life–and death. Please note that even the most luscious statement of the emancipation theme is not without an undercurrent of low strings. Did Horner use them to balance the theme harmonically, or are the low and slightly ominous strings suggestive of the many ordeals that lie ahead?
It is the morning of the battle and the soldiers march to the battlefield. A shot of sunlit army waist bags signals the start of James Horner’s personal battle of Antietam. No score is heard during the battle itself, which plays out in all its rampant brutality without the music providing an emotional crutch of any kind. Instead, Horner moves his action music to the moments leading up to the battle. In doing so, he prepares the audience emotionally for the action to come. And boy, does Horner take his preparing seriously! The lyrical main theme, again for strings, is given its most impassioned statement yet but it is beleaguered by musical elements of war: aggressive drumrolls, clanking anvil, wild brass accents. The composer does not quite harmonize the element of humanity and the barrage of war; the balance sounds a little off; there is a measure of unease. As a whole, the cue’s final section is genuinely and intentionally overwhelming, mirroring the rush felt by soldiers going into battle.
While it makes sense dramatically to pull out all the musical stops on the transition from night to day, the loud section of the cue starts under an Emerson quote in Shaw’s letter. As a result, the music was dialed down, to be dialed back up after the voice-over ends. One wonders: was the Emerson quote laid over the music after the score had been recorded or did Horner naively think the score would be prioritized over the quote? As it stands, the film’s music mix is a bit awkward, but the cue’s raw emotional power remains fully intact.
2 – After Antietam
The Battle of Antietam, also called the Battle of Sharpsburg (September 17, 1862), was the bloodiest day in United States military history, with a combined tally of 22,717 dead, wounded, or missing. Although tactically inconclusive, the Confederate troops withdrew first from the battlefield, which allowed the Unionists to declare victory. On the battlefield, Robert Shaw regains consciousness and is greeted by the gravedigger Rawlins–a wonderfully subtle way to let the audience know where this particular story is headed.
Shaw’s return to consciousness is scored, again, with the emancipation theme but, taking one step back, Horner has the idea performed by the choir. Instead of sounding warm and glowing, the voices are redolent of a disillusionment that has now gotten the better of Shaw. In the background, percussion and brass figures play dissonantly and out of step with the melody–the obvious point of the disorganized musical landscape is that there is only war here and broken dreams.
This cue exists in two versions. The film version surrounds the choral material with tentative and searching strings. It ends when the movie cuts to a field hospital, where a doctor treats Shaw’s ultimately superficial wounds while he watches a less fortunate soldier undergoing amputation without the benefit of anesthetics. Lincoln has just issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The doctor says Lincoln “would have done it sooner, but he was waiting for a big victory, which I guess this is” and that “this might hurt you, captain, I’m sorry”, at which point Shaw realizes there is more than a little painful irony here on multiple levels.
The album version starts with the choir right away and plays through the field hospital scene. Had this recording been used, it would have allowed James Horner to present a very pertinent statement of the cold Call to Arms theme for a distant trumpet over a single and ominous low string sustain. It would have been a subtle but effective comment on the contrast between Shaw’s superficial neck wound and the amputation just a few yards away.
3 – Flashback
Back home in Boston, Robert Shaw attends a party. He tries to blend in and engage in small talk, but the Antietam experience has left him deeply scarred – the popping of a champagne bottle is enough to give him the jitters. This cue is a deft combination of piano source music (“Drei Klavierstücke D.946”) and score, the voices of the choir (no themes) symbolizing the ghosts of the dead haunting the protagonist’s mind, especially when he watches an amputated soldier being wheeled into the room. When Thomas interrupts Shaw’s musings, it’s back to the party source music.
4 – Forming the Regiment
Kudos to Kevin Jarre for coming up with the story’s Catalyst exactly at minute 12. (“The Catalyst” is scribe speak for the event that gets the story going, and in a typical length movie, it occurs about twelve minutes in.) Would captain Shaw be interested in being promoted to colonel and taking charge of the 54th Massachusetts infantry, the first company of colored soldiers? Horner appropriately scores the offer with two statements of the Call to Arms theme, but for a surprisingly distant trumpet and separated by a ten-second pause. It’s deft psychological scoring, because obviously, in Robert’s mind it takes some time for the reality of the situation to sink in. As he goes outside to think it over, Horner supplies searching strings. Only when he is joined by Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes) does the emancipation theme appear again. Through clever orchestration, Horner marks the transition in Robert’s brain from doubt / woodwinds to determination / sympathetic strings. These strings also apply to Forbes, whom Shaw asks to join him. Now promoted to the rank of major, Forbes is deeply moved, as he never pictured himself in charge of anything.
5 – Fife and Drum March (source)
Thomas joins his friends on the terrace. As a colored person, he is overjoyed by the prospect of an all-black regiment. With a beaming smile, he says he is the first volunteer, and the score kicks into its first presentation of the fife-and-drum motif. Rhythmically vivid but emotionally flat, the idea will be used in this and the next two cues for the training of the black recruits. Again, the idea (an arrangement of the fife and drum march “Old 1812”) is vaguely upbeat, but at this point the composer does not seem invest much emotionally.
6 – Fife and Drum March (source)
This apparent lack of emotional investment may have been motivated by the first scene in the tent, where Trip (Denzel Washington) makes it clear to the stammering Sharts (Jihmi Kennedy) that a drum alone doesn’t make a regiment. At any rate, the fife and drums return as the new recruits begin their training in Readville Camp, under the supervision of sergeant Mulcahy, their acerbic but well-meaning drill instructor. At first, the black recruits don’t look like much of anything, and they are ridiculed by the far better equipped white soldiers.
7 – Jefferson and Liberty (full version)
Mulcahy is a hard taskmaster, but the recruits are making progress. The music reflects this beautifully: the drums and fife return, but as Shaw speaks glowingly of his men in another letter to his parents, the purely rhythmic idea is joined by the emancipation theme and for the first time; there’s harmony between the militaristic and the psychological elements. Toward the end of the cue the second theme is briefly hinted at in the oboe. Why here? At this point, there’s nothing to justify its presence, but as we will see in the next two cues, its presence establishes a musical architecture that will continue to develop. (The full version of the cue features a sizeable array of drums, whereas the film mix reflects the far less fewer drums appearing on screen.)
The next scene, at night under sheets of drenching rain, is left unscored. Shaw assembles the men and informs them of a counter proclamation from by the Confederate Congress to return to slavery—or worse, put to death—all negroes who are taken in arms against the Confederacy. All white men found in charge of such soldiers will likewise be put to death. Shaw guarantees that full discharges will be granted to all regiment members, black and white, who decide to leave. It’s a clever decision to leave the scene unscored and it’s a clever decision to put it here. It is the final stage of the screenplay’s Debate section, and it paves the way for the story’s Break into Act Two.
8 – The Decision
The next morning, Shaw is surprised to see that not a single individual has left the regiment. He exclaims: “Glory Hallelujah…”
Director Edward Zwick understands that sometimes, the simplest things are the most effective. Shaw delivered the bad news at night while the rain was pouring down, whereas the redemptive moment occurs on a sunlit morning.
The star of this cue and the next is the second lyrical theme. It is heard in a far wider range of emotional settings than the emancipation theme and this important cue offers a great example of that range: the theme starts in a sad oboe as the men are alone at night pondering their fates. By the next morning, however, Horner allows the theme to reach wholly unexpected lyrical heights when all the soldiers show up at roll call. Developing an orchestration pattern, the next cue returns the theme to the plaintive oboe. As such, we can consider this the ‘fragility’ theme: it reflects the 54th’s changing fortunes, the ups and downs, the small victories and the small defeats – until, of course, the big ones at the end. Thanks to the expanded album, we finally get to enjoy the gorgeous statement of the fragility theme at the end of this cue.
Bookended by these statements of the fragility theme is the first appearance of the stern motif of resolve on a shot of Rawlins doing the rounds at night. He seems to have made up his mind before anyone else, and Horner honors this commitment with a short but proud brass motif. It appears twice here, broken only by a statement of the emancipation theme, a reminder of what this story is all about. One must admire the structure of the cue: two statements of the resolve motif of resolve couched within two statements of the fragility theme, and one statement of the emancipation theme at the very heart of it all. If the cue were a poem, its rhyme scheme would be ABCBA, the emancipation theme like a seedling protectively wrapped up in a double enclosing rhyme.
9 – Second Flashback
The next thirteen minutes play unscored in the film. Marveling at the Enfield rifles they have received, the men use it like boys playing with guns. The gunplay brings back the horrors of Antietam to Shaw’s mind. James Horner composed a short 24-second cue for the moment, combining, or rather opposing, strains from the fragility theme (in dirge-like fashion) and the Call to Arms theme. The two thematic ideas are clearly at odds and the composer makes no effort to harmonize them. As a result, the cue bathes in a darkly unsettling atmosphere.
Shaw is reminded that these people are peasants, not soldiers. If he is to lead a disciplined regiment into battle one day, he realizes the men must see him first as their superior, not their friend. So he decides to be tougher on them and neglect the friendship of Thomas and Forbes, with whom he grew up. What Shaw ends up getting in return in his men’s respect on the battlefield.
10 – Lonely Christmas
However, this road from fraternal bonds to commander of respect is not without its personal toll, and on Christmas day, 1862, Shaw keenly feels the distance he’s purposefully placed between himself and the men. He writes of it in another letter to his parents. Cleverly, Jarre’s script draws correlation between Robert’s perceived failure to connect with his men and defeat in the military campaign (Fredericksburg is lost). Shaw wonders if he will end his days “as an outlaw leader of a band of fugitive slaves? I don’t know these men.” The fragility theme moves from the oboe to the mournful French horn as Robert writes how he misses “Christmas on the Shaw island and the smell of the sea.” Later on, during the massive Preparations for War sequence, Shaw does get to smell the ocean one last time, the many conflicting feelings of that moment reflected in the underscore, both incredibly gorgeous and deeply sad, as we will see.
The motif of resolve returns when Thomas draws Robert’s attention. Like Rawlins before him, Thomas does not lose faith in his commanding officer. After he wishes Robert a merry Christmas (calling the colonel by his first-name), the fragility theme is given to the strings, lending the melody a little warmth and a degree of compassion.
Shaw meets division quartermaster Kendrick and asks when he can expect the 600 pairs of shoes he petitioned. Kendrick lets him know that shoes are for soldiers who are expected to fight rather than just march. Meanwhile, Trip plans to sneak out one night to a nearby farm and help himself to some nice hot food. The next morning, the deserter is apprehended, and sergeant Mulcahy recommends a public whipping.
11 – The Whipping
Shaw is not happy about having to punish Trip so harshly, but he trusts Mulcahy’s judgment. Horner starts the cue with an oppressive ostinato over which he drapes strains of the emancipation theme as the flogging begins. Later, the first part of the fragility theme in the clarinet is followed immediately by fragments of the emancipation theme in the oboe. The almost disorderly presentation of the themes nicely reflects the confusion in Shaw’s mind.
For this scene, which is basically the breaking of Trip’s will, Ed Zwick told his DP to stuff the camera with tape and just let it roll. What was recorded ended up one of the greatest pieces of acting Zwick said he had ever seen. As the whip strikes repeatedly, a crescendo builds as the camera draws onto Trips face, until James Horner releases the tension at the exact moment a single tear rolls down Trip’s face. The musical moment is subtle, not really calling attention to itself such that the audience would consciously be aware of what the music has achieved. Nevertheless, it’s an emotional coup de grace and among the most heartbreaking moments in a score that has no shortage of them.
The cue ends as Shaw asks Rawlins if he could speak to him about the men from time to time. Rawlins answers: “Shoes, sir. The boy was off trying to find himself a pair of shoes.”
12 – New Shoes
After Shaw has gone up against Kendrick, the fife-and-drum motif returns but with a more robust percussive underpinning as Rawlins hands out pairs of shoes to the men of the 54th. Horner brings in the fragility theme orchestrated for a compassionate oboe as Shaw watches Trip’s wounds being dressed. The cue’s last note, tinged with darkness, coincides with Trip turning his head and the two men watching each other.
13 – Worth A Life
The story’s Midpoint and the All Is Lost moment at the end of the second act should be each other’s mirror: if the Midpoint is a false defeat, the All Is Lost moment should be a false victory, and vice versa. In Glory, the Midpoint (comprising this cue and the next) is a false victory: the men have received their coveted blue army costumes and the well-trained 54th Massachusetts march down Beacon Street with pride. A proud statement of the emancipation theme cuts through the diegetic drumrolls of “Hoist The Flag”. James Horner suddenly has the soundtrack all to himself and toward the end of the cue, a cut to Shaw is treated to a proud six-note brass motif that Horner also used in In Country (1989), Norman Jewison’s Vietnam war movie starring Bruce Willis.
14 – The Year of Jubilee
On a river in South Carolina, Shaw is introduced to Edward Peirce of Harper’s Weekly, who is eager to cover the unlikely story of the 54th Massachusetts. Rawlins is promoted to sergeant major and the troops march proudly through the streets of Beaufort.
As the black soldiers are cheered by the townspeople, they realize this is the regiment’s finest moment yet. The score responds in kind, with the drums and fife joined contrapuntally by the emancipation theme in full glory. It’s a beautiful, uplifting moment. Of course, this is also a good time for the fragility theme to make a vigorous appearance, and that occurs when Rawlins talks to a black boy by the side of the street and encourages him to celebrate “this year of jubilee”. The cue returns to the emancipation theme, now in the choir and the strings, and ends with the fragility theme in more, well, fragile mode as the 54th meet black soldiers who make a living as contrabands. They hold up a mirror to Shaw’s proud men: you may think you are big shots, but marching is all you will ever be allowed to do. Horner paints the contrabands as undisciplined glorified slaves, hence the sad fragility theme. This is more explicit in the score than in the film, and the point was certainly worth making. The Midpoint (score cues 11 and 12) is a victory, but it’s a false victory. This cue’s conclusion subtly sets up the next.
15 – Burning the Town of Darien
In June 1863, Shaw finally lands an offer that sounds like a military engagement: the next morning, he and the 54th will join Colonel Montgomery, Shaw’s brigade commander. Montgomery will take his men and Shaw’s foraging for supplies in the town of Darien. Upon arrival, Rawlins announces there are no rebels in the town, but Montgomery sets his black soldiers loose anyway, telling them to “clean the place out”. Since Montgomery thinks black soldiers are “little monkey children”, he lets them loot and destroy but kills a black recruit who harasses a white lady. Finally, Montgomery orders Shaw to burn the town down to the ground. Robert refuses to obey at first, but Montgomery threatens to bring him up on charges of disobedience and put the 54th under his own command. Faced with this dilemma, Shaw orders his men to do as Montgomery wants.
This is when the cue starts, and it is another fantastic example of James Horner’s ability to squeeze every drop of drama out of any given sequence. A single note sustained by the sorrowful choir provides the underpinning for an assortment of sad and anguished strings. Horner references Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis. The strongly emotional string arrangement is very much in the vein of John Williams’s concurrent Born on The Fourth of July score, which also referenced the Ralph Vaughan Williams piece. (The albums for these two scores were released one week apart, so it is unlikely that one influenced the other.)
The second part of the cue underscores the men of the 54th being used as manual labor on the fields. Horner inserts a short statement of the fragility theme (oboe again) but scores mainly for the emancipation theme, which is odd until you realize that the choir arrangement here bears more than a fleeting resemblance to the score’s penultimate cue, An Epitaph To War. This just might be James Horner setting up the end of the story. In the moment, however, it is clear now to the soldiers that they are unlikely ever to see any real action. All Is Lost, but defeat is only temporary.
16 – Our Time (unused)
Three cues were dropped from the movie’s final cut even while the scenes for which they were composed remain entirely intact. The first unused cue starts during a tense confrontation between a cynical Trip and a vulnerable Thomas, the former reminding the latter that in the eyes of the white people, he will never amount to anything but a monkey in a blue suit. The confrontation is scored for tense rhythms and eerie strings. Wisely, Horner holds back on using any of the themes (and thus fleshing out the drama) until Rawlins separates the two men. After a brief and intentional pause (being a single cue, not two arranged two brief cues concatenated together in suite-like form as is often done for album presentations), Trip rages on until Rawlins slaps him in the face and reminds him that this cannot possibly be “our time” unless the men actually care enough to make it so. To reflect both the disillusionment caused by the Darien episode and the nearly extinguished spark of determination that must nevertheless be rekindled, Horner presents a full statement of the Call to Arms theme interspersed by tentative fragments of the fragility theme. The tone of the cue is a wonderful fit for the moment but, more importantly, it bears testament to the composer’s talent for turning the conflict of a scene into a musically meaningful narrative.
17 – The Battle of Grimball’s Landing (unused)
Shaw and Forbes pressure General Harker (Bob Gunton, deliciously sanctimonious as ever) into giving the 54th a combat operation. The ensuing James Island battle was scored as The Battle of Grimball’s Landing. The action starts right at the end of the previous scene, when a vindicated Shaw salutes Harker, the insistent ostinato carrying us into the battle itself. For many fans, this will be one of the major attractions of the 2021 expanded edition, which manages to save a genuinely fantastic Horner action cue from oblivion. And while this is an action set-piece that comfortably stands on its own, the composer makes sure to carefully integrate it into the larger fabric of the score by slipping in fragments of the sweeping line that appears twice in the climactic Charging Fort Wagner cue. Again, this cue is not stitched together for the album; there is a purposeful, short pause in the music during the brief moment the 54th is lulled into thinking they have achieved victory. Soon, however, they realize that the enemy has merely regrouped in the fog, only to launch a second attack, this one decidedly more intense. Horner sticks to the tactic that proved so successful during the build-up of the Battle of Antietam: after whipping up a frenzied crescendo, he exits the sequence at the exact moment the 54th and the enemy come to blows. The ensuing hand-to-hand combat is left unscored. The non-diegetic music returns for the aftermath, which is always far more interesting from a dramatic point, offering the composer an opportunity for meaningful contemplation. Not until the movie’s third major action sequence will Horner allow the score to cut into the proceedings, and by then, Charging Fort Wagner feels truly earned. As is so often the case with great scores, it’s all about architecture.
18 – Promise Me / When Do You Want Us (unused)
Only when the battle of Grimball’s Landing is over (and the 54th are victorious) does the score return. As we see Shaw’s feet (and blood-stained sword) stepping over corpses strewn across the countryside, Horner returns to the Ralph Vaughan Williams-inspired strains from Burning The Town of Darien. It’s the composer’s way of reminding us that win or lose, war is an ugly business. It’s a splendid case of the composer commenting on a scene, injecting new meanings into it.
Thomas saves Trip’s life but ends up wounded and unsurprisingly Horner reverts to the fragility theme to score the moment. When Thomas begs Shaw not to be discharged, Horner slips in the stern motif of resolve.
During a superbly acted tête-à-tête, Shaw asks Trip if he would be interested in bearing the regimental colors. The two men agree that the war stinks. Trip says it would be nice to get clean, to which Shaw replies: “How do we do that?” Trip’s answer reflects the long psychological road the character has taken as well as the little end he still has left: “We ante up and kick in, Sir. But I’m still not gonna carry your flag.”
19 – When Do You Want Us? (unused)
On the beach, Shaw attends a strategic meeting with his superiors. To take the harbor town of Charleston, a ring of protective forts must first be neutralized. One of them is Fort Wagner. However, access to the fort is just a narrow strip of sand between the sea and the marshes, where only one regiment can be sent in at a time. The casualties in the first regiment undoubtedly will be very high. Shaw volunteers: even though he realizes his men will be little more than cannon fodder, he hopes that their sacrifice will resonate widely, thus furthering the black cause. With a short musical swell, the story breaks into act 3, which is scored almost continuously.
20 – Brave Words and Deeds
On the morning of the charge, Shaw gets dressed in his tent. A despondent French horn intones the fragility theme, a percussion ostinato playing underneath. This subtly unsettling atmosphere unfortunately makes sense primarily in the context of what would have followed immediately afterwards in a deleted scene that survives only on the DVD and Blu-ray editions. During his crisis of conscience, Cabot Forbes says he understands all about the cause, but he does not understand why people must dress up in costumes and kill for it. Lest we forget, the story of the 54th is one of victory and defeat, and while it was probably dropped to tighten the pace of the narrative at this point, this scene is another meaningful reminder of the futility and absurdity of war. Also, it is demonstrably a point the composer makes more strongly than the director, as evidenced by a thoughtful examination of the music’s commentary nature presented here.
Shaw rightly objects that things have been set into motion, the only realistic option being to let it all play out. As he reminds Cabot of the elation they felt during the parade in Beacon Street, Horner brightens the sound palette and brings in strains of the emancipation theme. However—and this is crucial—the subtly oppressing ostinato persists. Existing both as a film version (Brave Words and Deeds) and an album version (Brave Words, Braver Deeds), the cue uses three building stones and a shift in orchestration to embody the two faces of this particular war story. As he did so often during his career, James Horner uses musical simplicity to convey dramatic complexity. This is a talent he deserves to be remembered for.
21 – Preparations for Battle
In some ways, this lengthy scene (and cue) is the conclusion of the story: by leading the charge on what looks like an impregnable fort, the black men of the 54th finally win the respect of their white comrades. This is the 54th’s defining victory, for which they will be remembered and honored. If you think of the regiment as the movie’s protagonist, this is the moment of redemption, both the pinnacle and the end of the character arc. Relative to this, the charge itself and the epilogue, while a bitter defeat, are just an afterthought. They are merely the way the defining choice, once it has been made, plays out. From an emotional point of view, Horner pulls out all the stops and delivers a cue that I believe belongs in every serious film music anthology. The cue parades every one of the score’s building blocks, often in their definitive musical incarnations.
As Shaw leaves his tent to muster the men, we hear the emancipation theme in a fragile flute over strings that softly tremble with anticipation. A little later, the fragile flute gives way to a proud and lush string arrangement of the theme as the men march onto the beach. A particularly moving moment occurs when they are cheered by the white soldiers and Horner moves to a soaring horn-and-string statement of the fragility theme. After this emotional high, Horner uses the stern motif of resolve, now in the strings, for Shaw’s last beach encounter with the journalist Edward Peirce, who is asked to deliver a last few letters to Shaw’s family and to “remember what you see here today”. The motif of resolve acts as a bridge to the Call to Arms theme in the trumpet when Forbes relieves the boys beating the drums.
Perhaps the cue’s finest moment comes when Colonel Robert Gould Shaw watches the ocean one last time. Horner quickly slips in a quote of the lyrical melody that will characterize the next cue, Charging Fort Wagner, but soon works his way back to the fragility theme, which builds and builds and builds until it reaches its most heartbreaking performance while Shaw watches the ocean. Here, the theme brilliantly captures the overwhelming mêlée of pride, resignation, doubt, and fear that rush through the character’s mind.
Shaw dismounts and sends his horse off. The motif of resolve returns as he joins his regiment. Proud and elated, the men shout his name and Horner seizes the opportunity to present a massive choir-led statement of the emancipation theme. It is no coincidence that emancipation follows fragility: on his own by the beach, Shaw felt nostalgic and alone; now, among his men, he is reminded that his life has acquired a strong sense of purpose. Horner goes the extra mile, slipping the fragility theme in between the various sections of the long-lined emancipation theme. This is by no means an over-intellectualization: if the fragility motif was the thesis and the emancipation theme the antithesis, having the two melodies intersect allows the composer to create a wonderful and bittersweet synthesis: the victory is part of the defeat, and the defeat is part of the victory.
When Thomas volunteers to take the flag should the flagbearer fall, we hear another superb statement of the fragility theme for flute and strings.
After the last appearance of the motif of resolve, the charge, proper, starts. Cymbal crashes accent the cuts between the soldiers quickening their step over busy percussion, but again, the melodic content is where the brilliance of Horner’s psychological scoring shines through: on this side of the elaborate action finale, focus is asserted on the fragility theme; on the other side of it, as will be evidenced in An Epitaph To War, Horner honors the fallen soldiers with the emancipation theme. There is purpose, direction, and meaning to James Horner’s musical storytelling.
22 – Charging Fort Wagner
The score remains reticent for the first five to six minutes of the charge but suddenly and startlingly comes to bear when, at a crucial moment, Shaw encourages his men to continue the charge and is shot down in a ditch. He has led by example, and this gives his men the courage to carry on. The flagbearer goes down and both surprisingly and poetically, Trip is the first to take over, before falling on the battlefield himself. Rawlins leads the men to the best of his abilities and near the very end of the charge, the music becomes so exhilarating that you think they just might make it. However, after the triumphant end of the cue, they come to face with a wall of guns and are all cut down as the screen fades to white.
During the 1992 UCLA talk, James Horner commented on the sequence:
“The director had put in temporary music, Carmina Burana, which most of you all know. And it’s certainly a big classical warhorse, so to speak. It’s been used everywhere, on movies, in concerts, and it’s a very popular piece. He put it in for the sequence and he fell in love with it. He knew he couldn’t get it. He knew he couldn’t license it, he knew he couldn’t have it. Literally, but he asked me to write it sideways. And as a composer, as an artist, you say: Right, well, if it’s over here [Horner places his right hand on one side of the desk], you’ll start over here [he places his left hand on the other side of the desk]. I know what he wants, I know what he’s after, it has to be done with chorus and orchestra, it has to have drive, and I would play for him. And gradually, over the course of the three weeks prior to the recording sessions, he wasn’t happy, he wasn’t happy, he wasn’t happy, he wasn’t happy [Horner gradually brings his left hand closer to his right], until it was very close to where I was uncomfortable with it legally, that I felt he had forced me into a position that I could either refuse to do the piece of music or apprise everybody that we had a legal problem and do it anyway. Which I did. But it’s …, when you know how to work the system, I knew that if I got too close to it legally, he would be really screwed, because he wouldn’t be able to not only use my piece of music that I recorded, he still wouldn’t be able to use the Carmina Burana. What would happen is that legally, I would be forced to record a third piece of music for the sequence and the lawyers would be telling him: you can’t have what you want, let James do the score, legally he has to do this. And Ed Zwick, the director, left me alone, I did a new sequence that was original music, and put it in, and he ended up liking it much better than any of the stuff that we had done before. But we never would have gotten to that point unless I had forced the issue by actually going legally too close to Carmina Burana, where we would have been sued by the estate.”
These are the Latin lyrics of the cue as well as the English translation. Note how the lyrics speak to the inevitability of death in the context of war. The second disc of La-La Land’s new album closes with an alternate take of the cue. Interestingly, it sounds somewhat more aggressive and unpolished.
Recordare. / Remember
Judex est ventusurus, / The Judge will descend from Heaven
cuncta cuncta stricte discusurus! / All, All will be closely judged (examined)
Tuba tusi tremor turus quando / The trumpet trembles and shakes when
judex stricte est venturus / The Judge closely judges!
resti quantus tremor turus quando / The remainder will be shaken when
stricte stricte est venturus respa / He has descended upon us!
judex est venturus / The Judge will descend from Heaven
cuncta stricte discusurus sundex / All, All will be closely judged (examined)
Tuba mirum spargens sonum / The trumpet will send its wondrous sound
per sepulchra regionum / Amongst all the world's sepulchers
coget. / To gather all.
Liber scriptus proferetur / The Written Record will be brought forward
continentur, unde mundus. / In which all deeds of the world are contained.
Judex ergo cum sedebit / Therefore when the judge sits [in judgement],
apparebit, nil in ultum. / All the appear before Him, none will be exempt.
Tuba tus sum ego turus quando / The trumpet will call me forth when
judex est venturus coget / The Judge descends to gather all.
respa tura unde, tura unde / The remainder, each one,
rati respa sula judex / The remainder, each one,
respi quantus situ, / Judged only when He sits
turus stricte discusurus! / To examine each and every one!
Spargens ante, libera me, / Scattered [before thee?]; free me,
libera me, ante therne / free me, before your Throne
Spargens ante, libera me, / All are scattered, free me,
libera me, omnesi / free me, Knowing me
Quantus tremor est futurus / Great Trembling then will be
quando judex est venturus, turus / When the Judge has come
quanda stricte est venturus / To examine all before Him!
cuncta stricte discusurus! / All, All will be closely judged
23 – An Epitaph to War
The 54th lost half its number in the assault of Fort Wagner and the fort was never taken, which means the sum of their efforts was utter futility. However, Congress at last authorized the raising of black troops throughout the Union and President Lincoln credited these men of color with helping turn the tide of war.
The epilogue is elegiac yet also quietly disturbing. The camera pans across the battlefield after the charge: the Confederate flag is raised and every single one of our heroes is dead. The Boys Choir of Harlem bid them adieu with an a capella rendering of the emancipation theme, never more serene and dignified than here. As we see the bodies of Shaw and then Trip rolled into a mass grave, the boys’ voices are joined by the adult choir and the image fades to black. The two final title cards are scored for the Call to Arms theme for choir and trumpet, bringing the score full circle. This is the sobering part of the epilogue: when all is said and done, the score ends how it started, with a reference to the cold and indifferent nature of war. James Horner reminds us that all the endeavors of man, bravery, emancipation, hard-won respect, are all swiftly erased by the clatter of arms.
24 – Closing Credits
The outstanding end credits cue presents moving and often spectacular statements of the emancipation, fragility and Call to Arms themes. The final half of the cue is of particular note, since it shows Horner at his most personal. Gone are all the shiny orchestrations and grandiloquent statements of theme. The composer strips the music down to its bare essentials. The first four notes of the emancipation are answered five times by a drumroll motif accompanied by ominous brass–the element of repetition is intentional. The composer presents one more unadorned statement of the Call to Arms theme for boys’ choir and trumpet, then tacets the choir, tacets the trumpet and lets the drumroll figure echo off into the distance. James Horner loved finishing his scores with a moment of meditation and introspection, often a deliberately stretched-out series of three concluding cadenzas or, as is the case here, a perpetuum mobile drifting off into silence. There is something fundamentally modest about incorporating silence into the architecture of a musical work, and no other film composer has done this more often and with more integrity than James Horner. The composer arguably wanted the highly distinct nature of his score endings to provide a window to his soul. (Not surprisingly, this window does not open until after the narrative, proper, has concluded and most of the audience have left the theater or switched off the TV.)
At a little under an hour, Glory is by no means James Horner’s lengthiest score. When it does appear, however, the music is so incredibly effective that an unsuspecting audience might think the movie is scored wall-to-wall. In fact, I recall one Belgian movie critic at the time going out of his way to tear the score down: it was way too loud and overpowering, and its composer should be fired immediately! Fortunately, things turned out quite differently: the score landed both Golden Globe and Grammy nominations, quickly became a fan favorite, and has been lavished with praise in each and every album review ever published since its release. In fact, some feel that Glory is one of the pinnacles of the digital age of film music. Like the film for which it was composed, the score has aged exceptionally well. James Horner put emotions on center stage in pretty much everything he did, but even so, this score is almost in a class of its own.
Blow the horn, play the fife, make the drum beat … James Horner’s Glory.
English translation of Charging Fort Wagner: https://www.elyrics.net/read/j/james-horner-lyrics/charging-fort-wagner-lyrics.html
Many thanks to MV Gerhard and Neil S. Bulk for giving us the opportunity to write this article.
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