It's been quite some time since James Horner scored a really big, epic film - a genre that almost always garantees that Horner will deliver a remarkable score. Some of the composers' best scores have been written for large scale dramas, such as Braveheart, Titanic and Legends of the Fall, so it is somewhat of an understatement to say that a lot of people have been looking forward to his music for Jean-Jacques Annaud's World War II drama, Enemy at the Gates.
Performed by a large orchestra, with an unusually big percussive section - apart from the standard set of timpani, Horner makes use of the sound of the anvil, bells, snare drums and other instruments - and full choir, this score is exactly what I expected it to be when it comes to sound. The choir lends the music both a very beautiful quality - something achieved with the help of soft strings and woodwinds - but also an air of drama and power, together with the dark brass and aggressive percussion.
But, with Horner being the type of composer he is, the score for Enemy of the Gates isn't the experience of original music it could, and perhaps should, be. Horner's notorious four note motif is used quite a lot, especially in the action cues, performed by trumpets. And the scores' main theme is clearly based on the Schindler's List inspired motif heard in Apollo 13 and Titanic. This bothered me quite a bit the first time I listened to the score - I thought about Schindler's List every time the theme was used - but after having listened to the score a couple of times, the theme grew on me and started to get a life of its own. Horner truly turns the theme into something unique. And now I just love it. It is without doubt one of my favorite themes by Horner and it is really hard not loving it when performed by the entire orchestra and choir. Sure, the resemblence to John Williams' theme for Schindler's List is there - and the anti-Horner people out there will surely be happy to tear the entire score to pieces based on this fact - but it is important to remember that what makes the Schindler's List theme easy to recognise is a really simple musical idea.
The soundtrack can roughly be divided into two parts. The action, which opens the CD, and the drama and romance closing it. The highlight of the action part is without doubt the opening cue, "The River Crossing to Stalingrad". Being over fifteen minutes long, this piece opens with high, soft strings, similar to the very beginning of the opening music for Braveheart, followed by a soft statement of the main theme, before tense action music takes over the entire stage, complete with bold brass fanfares, pounding timpani and anvil and racing strings. While this is excellent action music, my favorite parts of this score are the more emotional moments - the four last cues especially. Although based almost entirely on the main theme, and therefore quite repetetive, these tracks builds towards a wonderful, emotional final with a gorgeous rendition of the main theme, performed by the orchestra and supported by balalaika and soft, wordless choir. This is classic Horner and really, really good.
And what is even better is the total absence of songs. Not even an End Credit song, which means that Horner once again is able to close the score in a natural and much better way.