"One of the nice things working with Tim is he never really talks in musical terms -- he'll always talk about how something makes him feel. Once I saw the footage and the surreal quality of the landscape, to me the landscape dictated so much, as often in Tim's films. I knew pretty early on that it was going to be heavy, yet I knew because it was Tim there was going to be fun. I'm having a bit of fun with the low stuff. The scene where the Horseman breaks into the family's house is quite chilling. I knew I wanted it to be intense... I knew I'd really enjoy that. And I did." - Danny Elfman
Every four or five years, it seems, Danny Elfman undergoes a major style shift that kind of redefines his music and what he's capable of as a composer. In 1989, Batman proved he could very effectively work in darker, brooding, and more action oriented genres while employing the orchestra in a grand fashion. Six years after that, Dead Presidents and To Die For kind of ushered a new sample-heavy era in which his computer-sequenced music bore an equal (if not greater) responsibility to his scores as the live acoustic did.
Since then, it's been a little tricky to figure out which way his music was going to shift next. Good Will Hunting was the first of many scores he's written to seemingly employ a notion of musical ambiance. It's a style in which there's one or two major themes that are employed in various subtle ways throughout the film. A kind of mood music, and frankly, kind of boring. Hardcore Elfman fans might have enjoyed some of his more intellectual scores like A Simple Plan and A Civil Action, but secretly, I think they might have been hoping for him to reinvent himself again and shift to some other style more like the one they fell in love with.
Sleepy Hollow appears to be just that. At 68 minutes, the Hollywood Records soundtrack just barely edges out Batman Returns as the longest score release Danny Elfman has had to date, and many of the best loved elements from his previous scores are here. There's a grand, sweeping orchestra, a haunting boy's choir coupled with a demonic male choir. Clever orchestrations, strong themes, and an overall sense of playful inventiveness.
Despite all this, however, it might not be a score that average Elfman fanatics will love upon the first listen. My first impressions of it were that it was a little uncharacteristically bland for him (and for his usual Tim Burton style). The Sleepy Hollow theme is used heavily throughout thealbum, but I still had trouble remembering it until I gave the CD a second or third listen. On my first day of listening to it, I wasn't terribly impressed. On the second day, I listened to it again in the morning and thought it was pretty good, but not great. Later that evening, I was driving home through a wooded area and decided to put it on again just for another listen. That's when it hit me. The malevolent church organ, the period orchestrations, and the uncanny knack for nailing down the exact tone of the film.
The action music is not as thematic as Batman, but (thankfully) not as shrill and dissonant as the action music from Instinct either. It does great job of setting a nail-biting tone (most notably so in "The Chase"), but is perhaps not as distinctive as people had been hoping it would be.
The best parts of this score aren't the action music anyway. My personal favorite piece is track eight: "Into the Woods/The Witch" - a creepy but whimsical little cue that manages to be scary and humorous at the same time, incorporating some cool percussion and choir. Track seven, "A Gift" is delicate and enchanting. "Evil Eye" is edgy and theatrical in ways that are reminiscent of some of Danny Elfman's best writing from the early 90's.
As the same, though, there's a lot of maturity and growth on display in his music this time out. Danny Elfman's showing an improved mastering of the orchestra and its many colors here than he ever has before, and uses that to express the very soul and vibe of the world of the picture. He's putting a new spin on the musical ambiance idea - twisting it and adapting it match the dense fog that hangs over the town of Sleepy Hollow. Voices can be heard howling in distance, and the Sleepy Hollow theme seems to always be lurking somewhere close by.
Had I written this review the day I got the CD, I would have gone on and on about how disappointed I was in the music. I'm glad I took the time not only to allow myself to like and admire it, but to love it. To become infected by it. This is definitely not a business-as-usual score for Danny Elfman. At first, I found that a little off-putting, but then I remembered that his music's ability to surprise and shock me, to move and to scare me is what got me hooked in the first place. - John Mullin (Original 1999 review)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Music Composed and Produced by Danny Elfman
Orchestrations by Conrad Pope, David Sloanaker, Albert Olson
Additional Orchestrations by Steve Bartek, Mark McKenzie, Marc Mann
Orchestra Conducted by Allan Wilson
Recorded and Mixed by Shawn Murphy, Jonathan Allen and Robert Fernandez
Label (Catalogue): Hollywood Records, (HR-62262-2)
Availability: In print
Purchasing options: Available at Amazon.com
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