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Danny Elfman is back. That's all I have to say. It seems that the films of Tim Burton bring out the best in Elfman's unique compositional abilities, and Burton's latest movie, based on the Colonial American legend, definitely inspired him more than any other movie he's scored in the last few years. He combines a huge orchestra, in excess of 100 players, 2 choirs - the Metro Voices and a boys choir (the London Oratory School SCHOLA), pipe organ, and solo voices into a hugely dark, sometimes dissonant, but utterly fantastic score that stands not only as one of the best of the year, but as one of Elfman's best ever. The action cues sound like some of his earlier work in Batman, but much more atonal and chaotic, and without the strong theme. That's not to say there's no theme - upon multiple listens you'll find several binding motives, as well as a main theme that sounds like a fascinating take on the ancient Dies Irae plainchant that serves the movie well. It's extremely flexible - its uses range from unearthly choral chants and more tender moments to an all-out weapon used amidst the atonal dissonance. That final example could very well describe the entire score - although there are a few quieter sections, the majority of the score is a smorgasbord of action cues utilizing the full choir, sometimes screaming atonally, and percussive dissonant orchestral attacks. The movie, of course, is one of the most popular of the year, and somehow it almost beat out the new James Bond movie  (Bomb. James Bomb.) in its opening weekend. Although the ending was somewhat cartoonish, overall it served as a macabre, sometimes horrific picture that surely stands with some of Burton's best. Another fascinating aspect of the score is the way Elfman sometimes uses orchestral textures to signify various people and events instead of the typical leitmotif or theme. An example of this is the Colonial American violin, which usually plays dances, used here as an atonal texture signifying the occult sections of the film. I guess the other Elfman score which this is most akin to would have to be Batman Returns, with Nightbreed a close second. However, there are none of the boring ambient parts found in Returns or his idiotic goofy parts. Finally, I must praise Hollywood Records for the CD's length - over 68 minutes. Overall, if you're looking for a return to Elfman's earlier dark writing style, Sleepy Hollow is the answer.

Track by Track Analysis:

1. Introduction (4:15)
Elfman begins his score with this lengthy overture, which serves as something of a "teaser" before the main titles. He promptly sets the tone of the disc with his typical array of minor chords, now joined by a huge cathedral organ. For the introduction of the main theme, based somewhat on the Dies Irae, Elfman uses his trademark solo female vocal backed by the full choir. He intercuts this with more violent dissonant material. The remainder of the track expands on the theme, also introducing some of the atonal motives to return later, still with the pipe organ. Oh, and don't go looking for his usual pitiful circus music, because it's nowhere to be found here. Thankfully.

2. Main Titles (3:09)
Although it seems as if the darkness will finally let up with the introduction of a racing rhythm for solo violin, the gothic mood returns with huge choral chants and pipe organ. After a lighter recap of the theme, Elfman combines later strains of the theme with both the gothic carols and atonal chaos. The final seconds have the theme in 4 part chorus, probably the calmest section we've had so far.

3. Young Ichabod (1:20)
For a change, Elfman gives us a lighter track with a solo soprano singing the entire theme with assorted celeste and percussion. Surprisingly, this was a highlight of the score for me.

4. The Story... (4:28)
For the flashback sequence in which the Horseman legend is explained, Elfman combines dark narrative ambience with a huge action cue based on his main theme.  For an example of the many uses of the theme, listen to tracks 3 & 4 back to back.  Most of the cue is based on one of the ostinatos found in the Introduction, which sounds like a clever offshoot of the one from Holst's Mars.  The main highlight of the track is a huge choral hymn of the main theme complete with pipe organ in the middle.

5. Masbath's Terrible Death (1:35)
The darkly ambient mood continues in the opening of this track, which proceeds to a Gothic recap of the theme with an electronically altered soprano.  This becomes louder and more out of control until it hits another charging dissonant action theme, with the main theme played by the trombone choir with choral shouts in the background.

6. Sweet Dreams (1:11)
Elfman's "Dreams" series continues where it left off in Young Ichabod.  This track has a boy's choir variation on the main theme with a solo violin in the background that's very unnerving.

7. A Gift (2:26)
In this track, Elfman takes his dark ambience and adds something of a lighter spin, which makes it kind of a blend between the "Dreams" tracks and some of the other ambience.  Like always, liberal doses of the main theme are used.

8. Into the Woods/The Witch (3:32)
Although the first part is darkly ambient with a solo soprano recap of the main theme, The Witch contains one of the most intelligent thematic uses of the year. Elfman goes the route of Don Davis in The Matrix by using instead of melody different styles of music as themes. Here, to signify the witchcraft in the film, he uses a small string ensemble playing something akin to the old American fiddle music. However, its use here is anything but merry; instead it's one of the most dissonant moments of the score, and one of my favorite sections.

9. More Dreams (1:42)
For the latest entry into the Dreams sequence, Elfman brings back the solo boy soprano and chorus singing the main theme with a repeating piano ostinato.  The track eventually becomes much more complex in orchestration than some of the other ones.  Also, the tone becomes decidedly darker in the last few seconds with an ominous chant from the adult chorus.

10. The Tree of Death (9:36)
This, as you would think from its length, is the biggest setpiece of the score - 10 minutes of uninterrupted Gothic action music. The scene was one of the most harrowing in the movie - Ichabod cuts into a tree that continually leaks blood, finally revealing the horseman's stash of heads. The first few minutes are Elfman's typically macabre ambient music, with a highlight being his use of the theme in celeste under tons of brass dissonance. Soon it erupts into the most chaotic passage in the entire score - as the Horseman attacks, Elfman introduces a soulless low string and percussion ostinato, accompanied by huge choral shouts and string/woodwind runs. It quiets for a while, later using a detuned flute against macabre string sections.  This turns into another supremely dissonant action cue with the chanting chorus, rushing strings, snare drum, and ruthless brass.  Finally, after this exhausts itself the atonality mutates into another episode for the dissonant solo fiddle, now with dense percussion and huge clashes of chaos.  The final 2 minutes introduce a busy tutti section for orchestra that sounds like something Leonard Rosenman would write with its huge tone pyramids and atonal outbursts.

11. Bad Dream/Tender Moment (3:33)
From the start, it's obvious that there's something more going on in this "Dreams" track than the other ones.  It opens with a low bass clarinet variation on the main theme, soon becoming a full statement of the theme with adult chorus and pipe organ.  Of course, this dissolves into another uneasy dissonant section.  "Tender Moment" goes along with its name, producing another tranquil section to give us a break from the action.

12. Evil Eye (3:43)
Here we have another typical Elfman atonal action cue, with a slightly more mystical approach with the boy's choir chanting in the background.

13. The Church Battle (3:33)
After a subdued opening, this becomes one of the most harrowing chase pieces in the score with snare drum, a recoiling trombone figure and brass fanfares (of course with lots of the theme)

14. Love Lost (5:16)
This track begins like some of the "Dreams" tracks with the boys choir chanting over a solo violin statement of the main theme.  The second part, however, becomes yet ANOTHER dissonant action cue.  I'm not complaining, though; Elfman still manages to keep them interesting.

15. The Windmill (6:18)
Obviously, this is another of Elfman's fascinating action tracks.  It continues some of the brass fanfare material found in The Church Battle.  Like a lot of the other ones, he intercuts apocalyptic action parts (with choir) with darker ambience.

16. The Chase (3:11)
Actually, I think this is my favorite track on the album.  Instead of using the intercut approach, Elfman goes all out and makes this nonstop action, based on a racing low string ostinato, forming by far the busiest and most complex material heard thus far.  It's almost like a macabre version of the fox hunts found in Golden Age scores.  In fact, it looks as if this may become prime trailer material for action movies next year.

17. The Final Confrontation (4:16)
You can tell Elfman's back to thinking like he did in the '80s - his trademark "Final Confrontation" track title strikes again.  This and the last piece form the action highlight of the album, and while The Chase was more frenzied, The Final Confrontation goes more for the majestic approach with a final choral chant section.

18. A New Day! (1:29)
This becomes Elfman's last entry into the "Dreams" series of cues, although it didn't actually underscore a dream.  He gives us a triumphant version of his main theme backed by angelic choir.

19. End Credits (3:17)
Befitting the movie, Elfman makes the end credits into a final action cue based on the main theme.  Although it begins with a quiet piano/celeste/choir version of the theme, it soon introduces a racing low string ostinato and horseshoe-like percussion that conjures up more images of the Horseman.  Like a lot of the other cues, the composer intercuts the calm, triumphant choral bits with this action material, with the chorus finally winning and fading out.

As I've said many times in this review, Elfman's macabre stylings and dissonance make Sleepy Hollow one of the best scores of the year. Buy it - you won't be disappointed.



 
Sleepy Hollow: The Final Score
Music Rating 9/10
Packaging/Liner Notes N/A
Orchestral Performance 9/10
Sound Quality 10/10
Length 10/10


Sleepy Hollow is Copyright 1999 by Hollywood Records.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.