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Titanic by James Horner

Titanic

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Titanic (Soundtrack) by James Horner
Titanic (Soundtrack) by James Horner
Titanic Anniversary Edition (Poster and Memorabilia)
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Titanic (Soundtrack) by James Horner

Titanic
Composed by James Horner
Sony (1998)

Rating: 9/10

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“When a piece of music has a moment of merely 6-seconds that is more seductive than entire symphonies, you know you are onto something special. ”

The Inescapable Score
Review by Richard Buxton


 

 

For some, 15 years can be likened to the blinking of an eye, and for others it is almost a lifetime. One thing is for certain however, that 1997 was a milestone in filmmaking. Receiving unprecedented acclaim and experiencing equally unprecedented box-office success, JAMES CAMERON’S TITANIC is a film not easily forgotten, regardless of one’s stance on its many facets. Since TITANIC’S startling domination of the film world, the director, primary cast and composer have all gone on to experience equal, and in the case of AVATAR greater, success. Not wanting to let an obvious cash-in pass by, PARAMOUNT and 20th CENTURY FOX have chosen the film’s 15th anniversary and the ship’s 100th anniversary as an appropriate point in time for a re-release.

It’s not often that a film score threatens to transcend the film it was crafted to accompany, but JAMES HORNER’S score for TITANIC was one such score. With more than a little help from the voice of CELINE DION, TITANIC soon went on to become the highest selling film score album of all-time, a feat somewhat unsurprising when looking at the incredible popularity of the film. It was to be HORNER’S finest moment, winning two Academy Awards (Best Original Score & Best Original Song), in a career already full of monumental highs. In years to come TITANIC will surely be remembered as the score that defined JAMES HORNER’S career, something any composer would be proud of.

Regardless of your opinion of the film or the music, it’s hard to argue against how pure the effect TITANIC’S music has. As someone who enjoyed but never became overly enamoured by the oceanic romance, HORNER’S score is something of a mystery. Unlike many of HORNER’S other scores and those from other great composers, it might be hard for someone, who is in a similar position, to form any sort of music-to-character/event connection outside the context of the film. Yet, such is the power and feeling of HORNER’S music, those connections have somehow autonomously formed, as if the music had achieved sentience the moment it rippled the airwaves with its hauntingly familiar warmth. The lyrics and melody of “My Heart Will Go On” (14) will remain forever ingrained in the mind of those old enough to remember the peak of TITANIC’S popularity, but the remainder of HORNER’S score has somehow managed to form memories and feelings, all these years later, that potentially were never there before. The emotions formed when listening to TITANIC from such a perspective make the score something beyond an enigma and further enhance the reputation of HORNER as someone who can seemingly construct emotion and connection from the thinnest of air.

Like any other score release, TITANIC has those moments that demand repeat listens. Those moments tend to come when the major themes of TITANIC are given time and space to be fully explored, as opposed to appearing in momentary statements. “Rose” (4) is a prime example of such a moment. The track could be interpreted as the origins of the CELINE DION release “My Heart Will Go On”, and is arguably superior through its slowed pace and organic feel as opposed to the more processed nature of the single release. Not needing lyrics to convey the emotion, the breathtaking vocals glide effortlessly alongside the gorgeous instrumental half of the piece. When a piece of music has a moment of merely 6-seconds (00:40-00:46) that is more seductive than entire symphonies, you know you are onto something special. Those 6-seconds come in the form of an arresting ascension of string plucks that are powerful enough to create entire worlds within their sound waves. “Rose” is the template for the film’s romantic theme and as such is frequently echoed throughout. Appearing in the misty, suppressed opening of “Hard to Starboard” (7) before it launches into cacophony, and a heart-wrenching vocal performance towards the end of “An Ocean of Memories” (13), the theme is nothing less than stunning. Rose’s theme is never more moving than when its soothing tones are performed by the angelic voice of SISSEL. TITANIC is of course largely a JAMES HORNER work, but a great deal of that infinitely memorable sound the film has become known for is down to that unforgettable voice.

The other main theme of the film comes in the form of the ship itself. The launching of the maiden voyage for the timeless ship is set off by the theme heard primarily in both “Southampton” (3) and “Leaving Port” (5). The former rises into the theme with majestic horns and surfaces with high-paced synthetic vocal leads and bass. The theme loses some of its potential majesty through the dated sound of the choral performance, a drawback that is soon rectified in the glorious “Leaving Port”. The reduction in tempo of the piece does the vocal performance a great favour and allows the sound to truly permeate with its infinite optimism. “Leaving Port” is among the highest points of the score. The opening string plucks; the evocative vocals, and the sweeping percussion effects do wonders for the now relentless serving of nostalgia. The sporadic percussion is employed brilliantly in epitomizing the sheer stature of the RMS Titanic, something that “Southampton” fails to truly convey. As is to be expected from the title of the film, the ship is a character in itself and something would be amiss had HORNER not elected to attribute such a fine theme to it. There’s something magical and hauntingly reminiscent as the strings wind up in the early moments of “Leaving Port”, a feeling that is confounded continually as the cue continues. From the moment the ship graces the screen, it’s clear JAMES CAMERON felt the ship deserved treatment beyond that of a normal vessel, giving it an aura of prestige, grace, power, and opportunity. It’s hard to imagine any other hulking beast of engineering uniting such features, but Titanic manages it, and a great deal of credit must go to HORNER’S musical interpretation of the awe-inspiring ship.

“Take Her To Sea, Mr. Murdoch” (6) reignites the ship’s theme almost immediately, although never attempts the sweeping statement of “Leaving Port”, instead comprising itself of various twists and turns in its interpretation.

The other key component of TITANIC’S music is of course the demise of the ship and so many of its passengers. The signs of change are almost immediate in “Hard To Starboard” (7) which, after brief but breathtaking reprise of “Rose”, steers into all-out action territory. The change is almost jarring after the enduring optimism of almost the entire first half of the score. The duel of brass, fervent strings, and crashing percussion is relentless in its charge. “Sinking” (9) takes a more structured and melodic approach to the chaos, with Rose’s theme occasionally interrupting to provide brief respite. “Death of Titanic” (10) follows suit, charging the romance and action with rolling snares and ascending brass.

The action sequences of TITANIC are a welcome addition to the music that precedes them, but HORNER’S score is clearly at its greatest when the majesty of the oceanic romance is exploited. “An Ocean Of Memories” is a breathtaking journey through the themes heard elsewhere and passages of original material. The poignant vocal performances in the second half of the piece are particularly noteworthy.

Of course, a review of TITANIC would be incomplete without recognition of the chart-dominating CELINE DION single “My Heart Will Go On” (14). It’s unlikely that anything said now could change anyone’s opinion on the track. It’s either as stunning or as annoying now as it was back then. Regardless, it still remains one of the quintessential film score songs and one of the most evocative. Surely that means mission accomplished.

TITANIC remains as the most commercially successful score, for what was once the most commercially successful film. Commercial success can often disguise the true quality of something, perhaps leading to assumptions that it is somewhat undeserved. There’s no question here, as TITANIC was a towering achievement in 1997 and still is today. JAMES HORNER will never escape TITANIC, but who’d want to when it sounds this good?


Rating: 9/10


Track

Track Title Track Time  Rating
1 Never An Absolution 3:05  ****
2 Distant Memories 2:24  ****
3 Southhampton 4:01  ****
4 Rose 2:52  *****
5 Leaving Port 3:26  *****
6 "Take Her to Sea, Mr. Murdoch" 4:31  ****
7 "Hard to Starboard" 6:52  *****
8 Unable to Stay, Unwilling to Leave 3:56  ****
9 The Sinking 5:05  ****
10 Death of Titanic 8:26  ****
11 A Promise Kept 6:02  ****
12 A Life So Changed 2:13  ****
13 An Ocean Of Memories 7:58  *****
14 My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from Titanic) 5:10  ****
15 Hymn to the Sea 6:25  *****
  Total Running Time (approx) 72 minutes  

 

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