More Giant Movie Themes

(Above: Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in ‘Out of Africa’)

In the second of a two-part series, The Savvy Screener looks at some of cinema’s most memorable musical themes — and their composers.

Yesterday’s article explored Max Steiner’s King Kong and A Summer Place, as well as the team behind the James Bond theme — Monty Norman and John Barry — and the perhaps lesser-known Dave Grusin, who composed the title sequence for My Bodyguard.

Today we return to Barry, who also scored the Out of Africa theme, and James Horner, who wrote the music for Glory.

Out of Africa (1985) John Barry

Two major love stories unfold in Out of Africa.

First, there’s the chemistry between aristocratic Karen (Meryl Streep) and adventurer Denys (Robert Redford).

Denys gifts Karen with several Mozart records — played on a whirring, wind-up Victrola — which in turn underscore dialogue, help pinpoint the story’s timeframe, and remind us that these people are both cultured and upper-class.

Additionally, the period song, “Let the Rest of The World Go By” is deployed as one love theme, presented first as live dance music at a hotel party and later freely spun by Karen on her Victrola.

Second, there’s the two paramours’ love affair with the African plain itself (British Kenya, circa 1919) and its unspoiled vastness.

Barry’s score ultimately superimposes a bittersweet love affair over the lovers’ relationship to the African continent.

In one highly charged moment, Denys invites Karen for a ride in his small, single-engine plane. They fly high into the air, sharing an extraordinary view from the open cockpit.

It is here, approximately two-thirds into Out of Africa, that Barry’s indelible and sweeping love theme appears. It represents –through expansive use of contrasts in orchestral range — both the sprawling African landscape and the intimate connection between the film’s ill-fated lovers.

In the clip below, the love theme starts at the two-minute mark:

You can rent Out of Africa starting at $2.99 from Amazon and other providers.

Glory (1989) James Horner

James Horner’s magnificent score for Glory supports two large, thematic ideas, just as Barry did in Out of Africa. In Glory‘s case, however, the setting is the American Civil War.

Glory is the true story of Colonel Robert Shaw (Mathew Broderick), who led the Union Army’s first all-African-American unit. Shaw prepares his soldiers to take their place alongside their white brethren on the lines, while struggling to obtain for them fair pay, equal treatment and proper recognition.

Horner’s score is epic in scope, but often intimate in its evocation of the church choir, dramatizing the ascension of former slaves who make the ultimate sacrifice.  Glory’s main musical theme supports the nobility of their cause for freedom, while employing military cadences that stirringly bestow heroic honor on scenes of death and destruction.

The final music for the charge against Fort Wagner, off the coast of South Carolina, deftly transitions from the spiritual (with a wonderful assist from the Boys Choir of Harlem), to an exuberant military charge. Upon the defeat, it returns to the eulogistic main theme.

You can stream Glory for free, with ads, on Crackle. You can rent the film, sans ads, for $2.99 and up via Fandango Now and other services.

About Charlie Greenberg

Charlie Greenberg is a NY-based theater and instrumental composer.

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