WILLOW EXPANDED EDITION: OUR EXCLUSIVE REVIEW
While there is much to be said on the creation of this score and its references to the pre-existing body of classical music, we are not going to discuss the music already available on the generous original album. We shall thoroughly explore the creation of this score, a symphonic challenge for the venerable London Symphony Orchestra written by a perfectionist composer, in a 12,300-word essay to be published in the book James Horner: The Emotionalist, currently targeted for publication in 2023. We also covered the classical references scattered throughout the score in our 2013 article on this topic. A more-in-depth look into the already available music can is available in an article written by Kjell Neckebroeck and published in 2016, featuring an extensive analysis of the cue “Elora Danan”.
Dispensing with topics covered elsewhere, we’d like to share with you our observations on the newly available music. The previously unreleased cues run to 35 minutes, divided into three blocks, and all of them can be found on CD 1. The second and third blocks are 10 and 16 minutes long. Collectively, they constitute a breath of fresh air, as if big windows on Willow's universe were opening in front of us for the very first time.
The second cue,“The Nelwyns No. 2”, appears after the ceremony that sees the great Aldwin choosing his new apprentice. However, only around ten seconds of the cue are present in the film before the party is interrupted by the arrival of one of Bavmorda’s death dogs. This new edition is an opportunity to discover the entirety of the cues; James Horner was tasked with giving basic indications to the musicians, and then letting them express their improvisational talents.
The first unreleased traditional orchestral cue is “Death Dogs”, which concludes the first block. In the film, the cue accompanies the scene where the dog causes panic in the village. It is looking for a baby before Nelwyn warriors slay it. James Horner delves into his action palette, taking elements from Aliens (1986) with the anvil, the timpani soloist and then the cellos and double basses playing col legno (with the wood of the bow striking the strings) and thus resembling a percussion instrument. The composer unleashes his trademark four-note death motif, shakuhachi and alpine horn adding a touch of savagery. The rhythm played by the piano in the low register will later turn up in “Wolves Attack the Horses” (Wolf Totem, 2015). The two statements of the evil theme representing Bavmorda and her army further enhance the menacing atmosphere. The cue concludes with a burst of strings expressing Willow's concern as he rushes home to make sure his wife and Elora are safe. The four notes bring the short but intense cue to a subtly oppressive close.
The second block of unreleased tracks begins with “Bavmorda's Castle”, an exploration of the witch queen’s dark lair. In the film, this cue appears as an insert halfway through the cue, “Willow's Journey Begins”. It plays when Bavmorda asks General Kael to help her daughter Sorsha find the baby. Of course, the evil queen’s theme enjoys extensive airtime. The playing of the trumpets is reminiscent of the prelude to Bernard Herrmann’s Citizen Kane (1941). Right from the first seconds, oboe, horn, trumpets and trombones scream the four notes, which are then played in the very low register by the cellos and double basses.
Scored for percussion, didgeridoo, shakuhachi and sampled guttural Tibetan voices, “Airk's Army” starts with restrained oppressiveness before the horns and trombones appear at the 36-second mark. The next ninety seconds are absent from the film, having been replaced by repeating percussion sounds and Tibetan voices. The cue as originally composed features Elora Danan's theme at the appearance of Airk's face. The bright theme would have expressed Madmartigan's hope for freedom and Willow's hope of finding help. After this, the mood would have darkened when Airk decides to leave Madmartigan in chains. Finally, the four notes would have appeared when Airk rides off. The second part of the cue (from 2:06), however, does appear in the film. Flute and organistrum play Willow's theme followed by a few seconds of harp and dulcimer. The theme is then taken up by the English horn and the horn with a clarinet in tow. These beautiful and delicate colors seem to announce the sweet moments of Karate Kid (2010). Finally, the flute performs the first statement of Madmartigan’s theme. For now, it appears in mischievous form, supported by celesta and pizzicato strings.
The third and final cue of this second block of new material is the wonderful “Enchanted Forest”. The cue goes through different moods, a little journey full of adventures. It begins with Willow's theme performed beautifully by solo horn Hugh Seenan, quickly joined by the pan flute, with the shakuhachi lending delicate support throughout. This is the moment Willow is separated from Elora Danan, who is carried away by Madmartigan. A sliding harp marks the change of scene and leads to a beautiful burst of strings playing the second part of Willow's theme. Madmartigan's theme returns in a playful form reminiscent of Prokofiev's more lighthearted moments. It is interesting to note that this heroic theme appears when Meegosh, Willow's best friend, pronounces the word “hero”. As we touch on in greater detail in the book, the themes are malleable and easily reconfigured to suit the vagaries of encounters and emotional shocks, much as Richard Wagner had done in Der Ring des Nibelungen (1857). This makes it difficult to attribute them unambiguously to particular characters. A flute plays Willow's theme when suddenly the colors of the Brownies appear, whose music was completely omitted from the first album. James Horner assigns these miniature forest beings a series of disjointed notes for saxophone, bagpipes, and muted trumpet, three instruments with a nasal timbre that is a perfect fit for the likeable but bumbling characters. The composer adds musical mockery through ocarinas, conches, and an assortment of small percussion instruments (temple block, Chinese block, bongo). The woodwind instruments recall the colors John Williams used for the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi (1983), another George Lucas production. Williams would revisit these woodwinds in Hook (1991), where he applied them to lost boys, who also live… in the forest. The music picks up pace: the more arrows the Brownies shoot, the more the music accelerates. After falling into a trap, Willow and Meegosh find themselves tied to the ground. Night has fallen. When Willow sees the Brownies and, more importantly, a mysterious light streaking across the starry sky, James Horner echoes the harp effect of the “Magic Trick” from the first tableau of the young Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka (1910-1911). (The French composer Debussy, 20 years older than Stravinsky, actually expressed his admiration for the orchestration of this trick directly to the Russian composer.) James Horner, for his part, revisited the idea on the piano in 1995’s Jumanji during each roll of the dice. Finally, Simon Franglen would revive the idea at the beginning of “Magic Trick” in The Magnificent Seven (2016).
The last part of the cue gives way to a female chorus for the appearance of Cherlindrea, the fairy queen. James Horner repeats the theme heard in the introduction of the film when Elora Danan goes down the river and into the forest. It is a quote from Cantata Profana, subtitled The Nine Splendid Stags (1930), a work for tenor, baritone, choir and orchestra composed by the Hungarian Béla Bartók, which tells the story of a hunter who loses his nine sons. They are transformed into deer and begin a new life in the forest. At the end of the cue, the choir fades away, repeating notes heard at the end of Gustav Holst's “Neptune”. James Horner also revisits the idea he had introduced in the very first bars of the score, the horns using only their mouthpieces to make a sound that resembles the wind sweeping across a plain (a technique used as early as Jerry Goldsmith's Planet of the Apes, 1968).
And now we come to the last block of new material, where the fireworks are.
The first forty-five seconds of “The Island” feature the sounds of flute and mark tree for the love powder the Brownies use in the cave. Cells of this material will return later in the story, when Willow introduces Elora Danan to Fin Raziel and when Madmartigan sees Sorsha sleeping in her tent.
The next twenty-five seconds (up to 1:10) feature pan flute and synthesizer effects playing over the campfire scene, when Willow learns about the wand and finds himself thrown onto a tree branch. The remaining four minutes (from 1:10 to 5:10) accompany the scene on Fin Raziel's island in the middle of the lake. The sound space is initially dominated by the flutes of Tony Hinnigan and Mike Taylor recorded in the large Abbey Road studio. Ian Underwood's Fairlight then makes its appearance, giving the pleasant impression of listening to an augmented and further fleshed out version of Where The River Runs Black (1986). During the last minute, the first notes of the Willow theme repeat on the synthesizer when our diminutive hero meets Fin Raziel.
In the short cue, “Willow Captured”, the arrival of Sorsha's troops is logically underscored by the theme of Bavmorda's evil forces. The music for the dialogue between Madmartigan and Sorsha is reminiscent of the Klingons in Star Trek III (1984). A desperate statement of Willow's theme is heard during the capture of the heroes. Bavmorda's theme plays simultaneously, acknowledging the victory of the evil forces over the young Nelwyn. The cue ends with the sound of the Brownies, alone and forlorn.
“The Trek” is a short montage cue that accompanies the journey to the mountain camp of Nockmaar's army. The film prominently features this music, as it does not have to compete with dialogue or loud sound effects. The death motif sounds many times, especially when the redoubtable Kael arrives.
“The Sled Ride” is the last previously unreleased cue, arguably the most anticipated unreleased music that fans have been clamoring for. This eight minutes cue cover the entire camp sequence from Fin Raziel's transformation attempt to the sledding descent, including the recovery of Elora Danan from Sorsha's tent. At the start, Horner wonderfully revisits the woody colors of the Brownies, but Madmartigan’s theme gradually takes hold. At first, it sounds clumsy, as the hero is under the effect of the magic powder. The idea turns heroic when he finally grabs hold of a sword. In the meantime, when the hero declares his love to Sorsha in the tent, James Horner has the horn and then strings perform an exquisitely beautiful theme that he would go on to develop at greater length in A Beautiful Mind (2001). Note that when Madmartigan sees Sorsha, the flute and the mark tree return. The instruments are associated with the love powder and were added to the sound mix after the score had been recorded. As a result, they are absent from the album.
In our assessment, the thirty-five new minutes are incredibly interesting, and fans will be overjoyed at discovering them on Intrada’s new album. They present new shades of Willow’s musical universe, especially the music for the Brownies and Fin Raziel’s island. This variety of colors is an impressive addition, especially since the original album leaned more heavily on the purely orchestral material.
And while CD 2 does not present any new material, it is remarkable that, in featuring just only five tracks, it spans a total duration of 55 minutes. It’s a veritable symphonic whirlwind.
The sound quality of this new edition offers greater overall clarity and is reminiscent of the recent expansion of The Land Before Time. Even the smallest performance details come vibrantly to life.
Frank K. DeWald authored the liner notes, referencing the analysis and score published by Tim Rodier of Omni Publishing and providing precise comments on the main lines of the score.
We must note that, while a gorgeous expansion on the original, a small handful of snippets of music are missing from this new edition: the source music (fanfare and percussion) during the ceremony of the great Aldwin, the percussion during the passage of Airk's army at the crossroads, the source music in the tavern, and the 20 seconds of the scene where Bavmorda slaps Kael. Fortunately, these few seconds are not essential. When asked about the absence of the slap cue, Roger Feigelson of Intrada replied: “We're aware the slap is missing, which is why we don't claim this release is 'complete' but rather 'expanded’. As it turns out, what you hear on the CDs is everything that exists. The original sessions have long since vanished. All that could be found was a Genex that Horner had compiled of print takes… as if he was originally planning on a 2-CD set and then culled things back for the Virgin album. So… that's all folks!" Our natural inclination is to reply, “Thank you, that's more than enough.” 99.7% of James Horner’s score is present on this magnificent new edition, and the result is nothing short of breathtaking. Thank you to the whole Intrada team.
Purchased immediately then came here to read the review. Awesome work on providing analysis. Looking forward to listening to some of Horner’s best! Cheers!
This is a fantastic article and an excellent overview. Thanks.
I am currently listening to a Tim Burden’s SoundCloud interviews regarding this release with the lead Horn player, as well as many others, and it is sublime.
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