James Horner

Iris [Music from the Motion Picture]

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James Horner excels at crafting bright, soaring melodies that stir the feelings of multiplex visitors and cling determinedly to their brains on the way home. It is a skill well suited to sweeping tales of heroism like Titanic, Apollo 13, and Braveheart, all of which he scored to great acclaim. But some of his finest work has been for smaller-scale pictures like Field of Dreams and A Beautiful Mind. These quiet dramas allow Horner to indulge his predilection for the uplifting and optimistic while scaling back on bombast (though usually not quite enough on gooey sentimentality). Iris is one of those softer scores. Centered around winding, vermiculated violin solos performed by classical music heartthrob Joshua Bell, Horner highlights glimmering silver linings in the potentially depressing story of Iris Murdoch's losing battle with Alzheimer's disease. Judging from the soundtrack alone, a listener might think that Iris actually is the cheery love story depicted in Miramax's pandering ad campaign rather than a painful portrayal of a great mind on a long, slow march toward oblivion. But the sweetness of the score is often perfectly pitched in the context of the film, emphasizing the beauty of Murdoch's life rather than the tragedy of her death. Horner draws liberally from his Field of Dreams bag of tricks, weaving mysteriously shimmering synthesizers and softly crashing cymbals into the largely string-based score. Bell's contributions are effective, even if Horner's work doesn't give him as much opportunity to show off as John Corigliano's Red Violin score did. But that would have been inappropriate; simplicity is one of the strengths of this composition.

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