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Gabriel Yared's Troy Reviewed

By David Coscina

Troy *****

Gabriel Yared

UNRELEASED Excerpts of 18 tracks on - 32:53

Listening to Gabriel Yared's unreleased music for Wolfgang Peterson's sprawling epic Troy, I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if Mosfilms had ordered Eisenstein to remove Prokofiev's music from Alexander Nevsky. How would it have affected the lineage and development of film scoring, much less the influence that that music had on Hollywood scores over the past 30 years. A bold supposition comparing Yared's music to a benchmark in the history of film composition perhaps, but the unreleased score to Troy is closer to a cantata in its style, tone and scope than anything that's come out of Hollywood in years. The fact that it was tossed on account of being heralded as too "old fashioned" is more a sad statement on the lack of sophistication of contemporary audiences combined with the MBA mentality that pervades in Hollywood, making reckless decisions in favor of the all powerful dollar.

Every track from Yared's unreleased score offers something of interest and an evocation of classical composers such as Prokofiev, Ravel, Holst, Mahler and Debussy. But make no mistake; there are no "danger motifs" here. The music is wholly original. Yared's compositions have been crafted in a way that bears some stylistic similarities to the works of the aforementioned composers but there has been no pillaging of melodic or harmonic material. Think of the scene in Amadeus where Mozart is playing a little tune on a clavier taking requests from the audience: "play it in the style of Bach" or "in the style of Handel." This is what Yared has done with his material from Troy. In order to achieve a sense of the old, he has crafted his multi-movement score in a way that approximates classical pieces yet contains original melodic and harmonic material. A novel approach in today's film score climate, but then again, Yared is as comfortable with classical forms and the concert hall as he is with dramatic underscoring for the film medium.

A great example of this approach can be found in "Approach of the Greeks," a standout track. The piece begins with a distant three-note chromatic ascending motif in the trombones that is imitated by the horns in a semi-canonic manner. As an aside, the motif is one of a series of phrases that's recapitulated throughout the score. The music develops with a male chorus singing forcefully as percussion emphasizes the invasion with strong accents on the downbeat of the bar. Although there is an expansive quality to this music, with its strong rhythms and fortified choral scoring, Yared clearly intersperses low woodwind utterances of that same three-note motif. The piece builds, adding female choir so that the entire chorus is singing fortissimo while trombones take up the motif contrasted by strings and trumpets playing a Holst-like asymmetrical ostinato in the upper register. Obviously Holst's "Mars the Bringer of War" has been proliferated throughout our society and the associations between that rhythmic figure is very strong. Yared conjures up a great battle by applying this within the fabric of his original material and thus powerfully suggests a great conflict is impending.

Another delight of Yared's score is the inclusion of classic forms found in "Priam's Fugue." The subject, sung by basses in the choir, is a long melody that has some interesting chromatic turns. On its own, this theme suggests an aged, slightly demented figure. Yared introduces the answers that successively enter in up the register so that the four-part fugue is ultimately being sung by the full range of the mixed chorus. Because of the chromatic nature of the theme, the counterpoint that is achieved between the parts creates harmonically unstable music, effectively underscoring the titular character of the track. On its own, it's an exciting piece to listen to especially at its conclusion in which the chorus ends on a major chord (a resolution to the dissonance) while the low brass once again enunciates that foreboding three-note Trojan motif.

Yared's Troy is remarkable in its orchestration. There are plenty of action packed moments but unlike the ubiquitous action cues in contemporary Hollywood scores of late, every instrument line is audible and musical. This music is not pitched sound effects or aural wallpaper. "D-Day Landing" is a fine example of this. It balances the percussion with low brass phrases, trumpet calls, and Shostakovich-styled martial string lines in an almost pointillistic fashion. Everything happens sequentially rather than all at once thereby making the action coherent and immediate. It recalls the days of Empire Strikes Back when one could walk away whistling action cues such as "The Asteroid Field." As the cue develops into the main theme in the trumpets, Yared leaves room in between the phrases for horns to play a countermelody that is imitated in the string section. The dramatic effect of this piece, with its urgency, evokes the funeral marches of Mahler symphonies and the impending dread of his 10th Symphony (1st mvmnt) in particular. Once again, this is evocation rather than plagiarism.

While the score features plenty of heart pounding action cues, it's balanced by slower, more somber pieces that Yared's style has long been associated with. "Hector! Hector!" begins with tentative rising strings. In fact, the Yared's phrasing in this cue is masterful, incorporating ritardandos and pauses to allow for a dramatic arc. Once he's set the tone, Yared develops the piece into an impressionistic work featuring incandescent choral/string unisons that move toward a haunting bi-tonal conclusion played mezzo pianissimo.

 "Achilles and Brisies" also contains some beautiful written slower material. Beginning with a string rendition of Achilles theme, this track is more overtly melodic than "Hector! Hector!" It benefits from great phrasing, especially when Yared thins out that orchestration whereby the violas and horns answer the violin theme with four-note chromatic passage. It's a great way to re-invent the theme and color it in a different light without abandoning the essence of the thematic material. In fact, this cue features Achilles theme in its most melodically developed form. Somewhat akin to the development section of a sonata form found in a symphony.

Speaking of which, Yared's Troy has exquisite development and continuity of both motivic and thematic material. A prime example of this can be found in "The Flurry." Achilles' theme is played in the trumpet section and is contrasted by a variation of "Priam's Fugue" in the trombones along with the Trojan motif added in for good measure. And let's not forget the addition of that Holst-like ostinato which can also be heard in the strings. Once again, everything is clearly scored. This kind of clever use of existing themes isn't just great music but effective underscoring because it contains a culmination of material that the audience has heard leading up to this moment in the film…that is, if the music was retained for this particular film.

I haven't mentioned the "End Credits Song," featuring the vocals by Tanja Tzarovska that develops upon the melodic material found in "Paris and Helen" and underlines the tragic elements of the film. Nor have I detailed that exceptional use of brass in "The Armies Approach" that recalls Alex North's Spartacus. Or the percussive "Hector and Achilles" fight featuring anvils to evoke the sound of a clanging sword fight. There's simply too much great material to expound upon within the confines of a review.

In truth, Yared's score harkens back to the days of old, when film scores bristled with overt melodicism, expansive harmonies, and themes that were truly developed throughout the score. And let's not forget music that didn't just function as aural wallpaper, something that is endemic to scores nowadays. Point in fact is, it's impossible to say how Yared's music would have worked within the narrative because it's not in the finished film. On its own, it stirs up enough visceral wallop to suggest great battles, tender character moments and the tragic consequences of war.

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