Glory (1989)

Composed by James Horner

Edward Zwick’s 1989 historical drama Glory tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black regiments of the Civil War. It might be the best Civil War film out there, with the emotional hook of seeing blacks overcome prejudice by proving themselves men through military service. The battle scenes are among the most accurate in Civil War films (thanks to the director’s careful attempts to select extras and reenactors that look like actual soldiers). This film is also held up by some top-notch acting from the likes of Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, and a wide range of talent. It definitely put a lot of eyes on Denzel Washington and got him an Academy Award. It’s not entirely accurate, as most of the characters are fictional. In fact the 54th Massachusetts was mostly made up of free Northern blacks, but the movie put in a lot of ex-slaves both for dramatic effect and to represent the wide spectrum of the 200,000 black Americans who fought in the war. Another strong aspect of the film is James Horner’s score.

James Horner’s music for Glory is both highly reverential and deeply emotional. The music is dominated by sweeping strings, military drumbeats, and bugles and trumpets for more dramatic military scenery. This is not a brassy war score. Of great importance to the score is the Boys Choir of Harlem. It was traditional for composers to seek out highly respected English boy choirs, but Horner believed this film should have an American one. The kids got a paid air ride to California to work on the music and reportedly their scoring sessions with Horner left many of the crew members (including director Zwick) in tears. Horner implements the choir frequently, usually to underscore the noble purpose of the 54th, but also to give “Charging Fort Wagner” a climatic, epic feel. Horner incorporates pieces of period music, usually in the form of fife-and-drum marches. Reviewers have pointed out, sometimes in an accusatory manner, that Horner borrowed classical pieces of music for this score. However, Horner infuses his recreations of classic music with so much of his voice and passion that they still stand out in his own voice. I’ll get to these as I run through the themes and album. The commercial album is a tight 42 minutes. There is some missing material, but most of it is source music and the original compositions are already well represented on album. There also isn’t much in the way of action music which is actually standard for many modern war films but is different for Horner, who would later give the likes of Windtalkers and Enemy at the Gates lengthy and melodramatic action pieces. Continue reading