#1: GETTYSBURG (Randy Edelman)

October 30, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Not what you expected? Gettysburg has been a favorite of mine since I picked up the soundtrack shortly after seeing the movie in 1993. Over the years, it has grown on me. I took several plane trips during the mid-1990s with it as my only CD traveling companion (I like to travel light). I'm not sure when it became my favorite soundtrack, but I know it has been up there alongside Patton and King Kong for at least a decade.

Edelman has been composing since the early 1980s and, during that span, he has written about 70 motion picture scores. He is highly regarded, although is not on the same level as legends like Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry. It's strange to me that I appreciate Gettysburg as much as I do, because nothing else Edelman has written has stuck with me. I own only one other of "his" soundtracks: The Last of the Mohicans. He co-composed that score with Trevor Jones, and I think Jones' contributions are stronger. Nevertheless, Gettysburg remains for me the gold standard of instrumental movie scores.

Gettysburg contains everything I appreciate in a movie score. At times, the music is glorious and emphatic. At other times, it is quiet and reflective. Edelman's arrangement of "Dixie" is particularly poignant. The main theme is best heard in "Main Title" and "Reunion and Finale," but also makes a strong contribution to the magnificent "Battle of Little Roundtop" (my favorite track) and "From History to Legend." "Over the Fence," "Charging Up the Hill," and "The First Battle" are martial pieces, emphasizing the violence of the conflict. And "General Lee at Twilight," "Killer Angel," and "Dawn" are thoughtful. The CD is a fine mix of all these styles, offering nearly 60 minutes of music. When I listen all the way through, I'm guaranteed to have at least one "goosebump" moment.

It's worth noting that I was excited when I heard that Edelman would be composing the score for the prequel to Gettysburg, Gods and Generals. Inexplicably, however, not only did he elect not to resurrect anything from the earlier movie's score, but he composed a lackluster soundtrack that doesn't sound like it was written by the same man. That's a huge missed opportunity. (Kind of like the movie as a whole.)

I have never heard or read an interview with Edelman about Gettyburg, so I don't know how he feels about it. But, in my opinon, no matter how many scores he completes before putting down his baton, he will never equal the magic and majesty of Gettysburg. Once again, this is a case of a great score and a great movie coming together so that each can enhance the other.