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Lincoln by John Williams

Lincoln

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Lincoln (Soundtrack) by John Williams
Lincoln (Soundtrack) by John Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lincoln (Soundtrack) by John Williams

Lincoln
Composed by John Williams
Sony Classical (2012)

Rating: 8/10

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“There is a heightened level of professionalism, precision and finesse in theme, orchestration and emotional effect here that is unique to WILLIAMS,...”

A Linc to the Past
Review by Edmund Meinerts

 

Having hunted vampires earlier in the year, Abraham Lincoln now turns to the rather more serious matter of the abolition of slavery in STEVEN SPIELBERG’S acclaimed biopic LINCOLN. Having gone through a slew of rewrites in the pre-production stage concerning just which portions of Lincoln’s turbulent and eventful presidency to cover, the final product eventually honed in on just the last four months, dealing with the struggle to pass the slavery-banning 13th Amendment, the wrapping up of the Civil War, and ultimately the fateful visit to the theater on the night of April 14th, 1865 (spoilers?).

It being a SPIELBERG picture, and one concerning a prominent figure of American history no less, there was never even a shadow of a doubt that JOHN WILLIAMS would return to grace the production with his usual respectful sense of Americana. Listeners familiar with the maestro’s career will find absolutely no surprises in LINCOLN – it sounds exactly the way you would expect it to. And in a way, that is a comforting fact considering that the octogenarian’s legendary career is slowly but surely coming to an end; there is only so much new WILLIAMS music we’re going to be hearing, and each and every score is to be treasured.

The orchestration for LINCOLN is predictable but effective; woodwinds carry the melodic lines throughout much of the score with weighty strings underpinning and/or taking over to lend gravity at times. Warm brass appears for the more noble moments, such as the opening cue “The People’s House” (1), which was also used in the film’s trailer. An occasional solo trumpet (e.g. the first half of “The Southern Delegation and the Dream” (8)) is a faint reminder of the ongoing Civil War, though used less starkly than in WAR HORSE a year previously. Also representing the war in a more reflective fashion are occasional, elegant solo piano performances, such as that at the outset of “The Blue and Grey” (5).

A number of stylistic, often source-like departures throughout LINCOLN prevent it from becoming too stale (or else interrupt the otherwise smooth listening experience, depending on your perspective). “Getting Out the Vote” (3) and “The Race to the House” (10) are spirited detours highlighted by fiddle, banjo and percussion; the former maintains an orchestral presence whereas the latter is the more authentic entry. WILLIAMS pulls out the fifes and drums in “Call to Muster and Battle Cry of Freedom” (7) before launching into a full vocal performance of the traditional Civil War song “Battle Cry of Freedom” used by Lincoln in his re-election campaign; an appropriate inclusion, but somewhat distracting. The choral element only makes one brief contribution in the score proper, in a tragic interlude in “Appomattox, April 9, 1865” (15). Likewise, a crescendo of dissonance in the middle of “The Southern Delegation and the Dream” (8) represents the only unpleasant material on the album.

Thematically, LINCOLN can be a bit nebulous, which could ultimately lead to its downfall for casual listeners who might write the entire affair off as pretty, but dull WILLIAMS wallpaper. No less than half a dozen separate themes exist in the score, but their generally restrained and respectful tone is so similar that it may take a few listens to identify them. None of them appears frequently enough to be considered the “main theme”, though the expansive melody in the first half of “The People’s House” (1) perhaps comes closest. A secondary theme starting at 2:15 in that cue has a definite, intentional hymnal feel to it (though its opening six notes are surprisingly identical to the main theme from RANDY NEWMAN’s A BUG’S LIFE).

A warm and inspirational theme for the 13th Amendment, perhaps more memorable by its distinctive underlying bass string progressions than by the actual melody, is introduced in “The Purpose of the Amendment” (2) at 0:55, and reprised in “Father and Son” (9) and victoriously at the end of “Equality Under the Law” (11) before being reduced to bare-bones piano in “Appomattox, April 9, 1865” (15). The aforementioned reflective theme for the Civil War receives piano solos at the outset of “The Blue and Grey” (5) and in “Remembering Willie” (14). A pretty, slightly folksy violin solo in the first minutes of “Freedom’s Call” (12) is a clear callback to THE PATRIOT, and explores yet another long-lined melody before the cue gives way to satisfying renditions of first the hymnal and then the 13th Amendment themes.

The obvious standout cue of the score, unsurprisingly, is the eleven-minute “The Petersen House and Finale” (16), which sweeps through pretty much all of LINCOLN’s thematic material in as neat a fashion as you would want. From a full reprise of the grandeur of “The People’s House” (1), it transfers via exploration of the 13th Amendment theme to the Civil War piano material, which brings the lengthy cue to the inevitable downbeat conclusion as Lincoln succumbs to the gunshot wound given to him by John Wilkes Booth (again…spoilers?). One last piano coda flips the score back into the major key, ending the score on a respectful, reflective note.

By no means is LINCOLN a transcendent work. Because of its generally restrained nature, don’t expect to be blown away by sheer force here. Even compared to his two scores of 2011, it lacks both the flashy technical brilliance of the action cues of THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN and the broad, sweeping romanticism or variety of WAR HORSE. Knowledgeable collectors will be reminded of the Americana spirit of previous works ranging from BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN to any number of the composer’s concert pieces. But there is simply no denying the effectiveness of WILLIAMS’ tried-and-tested sound for a subject such as LINCOLN. There is a heightened level of professionalism, precision and finesse in theme, orchestration and emotional effect here that is unique to WILLIAMS, and that fact alone will be enough for most film score fans to wholeheartedly recommend the album.


 

Rating: 8/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 The People's House 3:42  ****
2 The Purpose of the Amendment 3:07  ****
3 Getting Out the Vote 2:49  ****
4 The American Process 3:58  ****
5 The Blue and Grey 3:01  ***
6 With Malice Toward None 1:51  ****
7 Call to Muster and Battle Cry of Freedom 2:18  ***
8 The Southern Delegation and the Dream 4:44  ***
9 Father and Son 1:43  ****
10 The Race to the House 2:42  ***
11 Equality Under the Law 3:13  ****
12 Freedom's Call 6:09  *****
13 Elegy 2:36  ****
14 Remembering Willie 1:52  ****
15 Appomattox, April 9, 1865 2:39  ****
16 The Petersen House and Finale 11:00  *****
17 With Malice Toward None (Piano Solo) 1:32  ****
  Total Running Time (approx) 35 minutes  

 

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