Composer reflects on 10 scores

Daily Variety chose 10 James Newton Howard scores — an eclectic mix of his most popular, the Oscar nominated and his most musically distinguished — and asked the composer to reflect on each:

The Prince of Tides (1991, Oscar nominee)

“Working with Barbra (Streisand) elevated my work ethic. It was on this film that I started doing multiple versions (of cues). The scope of that score, and its romantic quality, required a certain kind of polish and elegance that I aspired to. (Orchestrator-conductor) Marty Paich took some fairly mundane musical ideas that I had come up with and elevated them, gave them a more sophisticated feeling.”

Grand Canyon (1991)

“There were so many different events to score and ways of scoring them. It was like five scores in one: the ambient electronic approach that was just this mantra that ran through the movie; a certain bleakness about life in Los Angeles (expressed) in a jazz idiom; and the last cue, a fanfare where I had nine trumpets, six trombones and 10 French horns.”

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

“(Music producer) Tommy LaPuma thought that a jazz approach would be a good way to go, which is very funny, because it would seem that a jazz score and a David Mamet screenplay are completely at cross purposes. The dialogue never stops, and it’s one of the busiest scores I ever wrote. I think it added to the sense of chaos, unpredictability and edginess.”

The Fugitive (1993, Oscar nominee)

“An exercise in terror for me. It was my first big blockbuster thriller. I regarded half of that score as a failure. I didn’t know how to make an orchestra do the things I wanted an orchestra to do. I would listen to Jerry Goldsmith’s action scores — which were to me the greatest ever written — and I would think: How did he do that?”

Wyatt Earp (1994)

“The greatest musical opportunity of all time. I took a decidedly un-Western approach to it. There was a big romantic epic quality to the music, which I think was OK. (It features) the best love theme I ever wrote, my favorite one still. I was on it for six months, (and at that time) I was doing all my orchestrations by hand.”

My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997, Oscar nominee)

“My favorite romantic comedy score since ‘Dave.’ It was such a good indication of P.J. (Hogan)’s depth as a director: He managed to make the Julia Roberts character not despicable. One of my more touching compositions (occurs) toward the end, a solo piano piece when she admits that she wishes she would have been with Dermot Mulroney.”

Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)

“I’m very proud of that score. It probably sounds the least like me of any score I’ve ever written — a really good example of a director pushing me to come up with alternate solutions to situations. It was an extraordinarily beautiful movie that I was very close to. It seems that the ones that matter the most to you get the least attention.”

Dinosaur (2000)

“That was such a learning experience, working in animation. It required that I work in so many idioms in a confident way, and do virtuosic things with an orchestra, that by the time I finished it I felt I’d improved substantially. I think I did a better, more polished job on ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire’ (2001).”

Signs (2002)

“Probably the best score I ever wrote for a Night Shyamalan movie. It was (all based on) a three-note device. I was very happy with its evolution from being something wildly threatening to something that could be so beneficent and gentle. “

The Village (2004, Oscar nominee)

“(Classical violinist) Hilary Hahn took a good idea — the solo writing for violin — and elevated it. She was the reason that it sounded so great and was so effective, and that it received the recognition it did, which was a shock to me. A remarkable performance.”

– as told to Jon Burlingame

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