A Beautiful Mind (second review)

James Horner

" it is mostly a very relaxing and tenderly emotional experience. "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the regular release

Whenever I think of scores composed by American composers for Hollywood films, I mostly turn to James Horner as being one of the very best. Even though I must admit, it is mostly the official album release I hold dear, not the use in context. By far, he is one of the many American composers I both like and strongly dislike in context. A Beautiful Mind, which includes an extreme amount of oversentimal music in context, only further enhances this falsely injected extra emotion.

A Beautiful Mind does, unsurprisingly, reprise previous scores, such as Bicentennial Man. Its mechanical feeling displayed in the opening credits of this film is transported to A Beautiful Mind, now to serve as a cryptic, unraveling feel to the mathematical solving of the film's protagonist. From a dramatic point of view, it is absolutely brilliant, and the mathematical musical appliances are intriguing throughout the score. I won't even attempt to address all the similarities with other Horner scores, but I will say there is no comparison to lifts from his own works, sometimes lifted from classical works as well; there is no other American composer who has done this with such finesse, unlike virtually all others in which it occasionally becomes a problem. Horner's way of writing was an isolated art form, composing in "recycle mode", so over the top, yet so familiar and endearing.

The use of the angelic voice by Charlotte Church is remarkable. While Horner often used a singer for a commercial song, Celine Dion's for Titanic was a success, while her same voice to Bicentennial failed to live up to such expectations. At least Church's voice was used numerous times throughout the score, but her song was not even given a commercial product compared to those previously mentioned titles and some others, most likely due to the non-popular semi-classical approach. As usual, there’s a downside to these kinds of songs; no matter how great the music by Horner is, even how well adapted into a song, A Beautiful Mind is not the type of popular music adaptation we have heard before, but far better integrated into the overall score. Still, the English lyrics are difficult to grasp. In almost every other case, I dislike a more popular rendition of a theme from a score transformed into a song simply because the lyrics have an immediate effect on the rest of the score. It is difficult not to think of the lyrics of a song based on a theme so strongly presented during the entire score, which is also the case of A Beautiful Mind, but I will make an exception because it is, for one, not a popular rendition, and secondly, because of the voice of Church, who is nowhere else explicitly singing, but provides wordless renditions that, like said, are so well integrated into the score.

As said, I have extreme difficulties with a lot of James Horner scores in context. Some I initially liked, but overall, now I would rather enjoy the vast majority only as separate pieces of great music. There are many short to longer pieces that even hold up in a lot of sentimental films in context, but the majority is just plain awful. He most likely frequently agreed with those who made the films and felt a deep, intricate inspiration for many of these films, which I cannot connect to, regardless of the separate feelings in excellent listening experiences. A Beautiful Mind is generally awful music in context, but some lighter moments, the more unnerving, yet dreamy cues reflecting the figments of the main character's imagination, interconnected with his illness, are quite good, yet sometimes too melodramatic, but it is really the recurring key changes and its dance that mark this score.

In comparing the overall score as heard in the film and the experience on CD, they are very different. It's over-sentimental, even though the "lighter touches' in recording, the familiar ties, the tranquility of the album, and the only true relevant and highly inspiring key changes are what make this one of the most rewarding American albums I can think of. While it has its fair share of melodramatic moments, it is mostly a very relaxing and tenderly emotional experience. By far the best James Horner CD ever made. While the CD presentation doesn't include all the music and all variations on the themes which already dominate, there's an obvious flow which is luckily not interrupted by several mediocre pieces of short suspense, including the rambling and crashing piano that are not entirely absent in the tracks that are on the officiial release.

1. A Kaleidoscope of Mathematics 4:55
2. Playing a Game of "GO!" 3:34
3. Looking for the Next Great Idea 3:02
4. Creating "Governing Dynamics" 2:33
5. Cracking the Russian Codes 3:22
6. Nash Descends into Parcher's World 4:39
7. First Drop-Off, First Kiss 5:15
8. The Car Chase 2:24
9. Alicia Discovers Nash's Dark World 8:29
10. Real or Imagined? 5:47
11. Of One Heart, Of One Mind 6:21
12. Saying Goodbye to Those You So Love 6:43
13. Teaching Mathematics Again 3:16
14. The Prize of One's Life... The Prize of One's Mind 3:02
15. All Love Can Be 3:17
16. Closing Credits 4:48

Total duration: 71:27

(written 11-07-2022)
(click to rate this score)  
(total of 8 votes - average 4.81/5)

Released by

Decca Records (regular release 2001)