Thomas Newman's latest effort is a pleasing return to the more tuneful, orchestral style of writing that he... no... wait... sorry, I've just checked the CD and it says James Newton Howard on it. How odd. Sorry. It is true that, The Emperor's Club does owe rather a debt to the Newman sound, particularly the likes of Scent of a Woman and How to Make an American Quilt. The film itself is a sort of updated Dead Poets Society with a twist, starring the ever reliable Kevin Kline as a teacher trying to reform an unruly student. I can't say this kind of college drama has ever appealed to me much, but with Kline in the lead role, I may be tempted.
For a film that appears to be quite serious and dramatic, James Newton Howard's score is for the most part somewhat light and airy, although for all the suggestion of his mannerisms, the orchestration is perhaps a touch more solid than Thomas Newman would have scored. It is quite interesting hearing little bits of both composers' musical identities coming through, there are very obvious Newman harmonic and melodic twists, but there are still plenty that are typical Howardisms. Although a less direct link, the score does share the ticking rhythms of Jeff Beal's marvellous Pollock, even if there is less rhythmic invention. Two early highlights in this vein are the Teaching and Quiz Montages which bounce along pleasingly in the way that all music for montages seems to do, making good use of an acoustic guitar obbligato.
Despite crediting what seems like enough musicians to perform Wagner, the emphasis is on strings and woodwind, although Howard does throw in the occasional trumpet and piano solo over the top. Quite when the four trombones appear I am not entirely certain, although the horns do add a hint of nobility on a couple of occasions. I suspect that Howard suffered from a wee bout of temptrackitis during the composing and for that I can forgive him - the Newman SoundTM seems to have become the default style for almost all post American Beauty dramas. The results here are admittedly quite pleasing, Howard is good enough a composer to exceed the limitations, even if the result isn't as good as its antecedents.