A John Williams Score For Every Year of my Life – 1990 – Home Alone

John Williams contributed three scores in 1990, to three quite different films; Stanley and Iris, about the developing relationship between an illiterate cook, Stanley (played against type by Robert de Niro) and a grieving widow, Iris (played by Jane Fonda). Then there was Presumed Innocent, a legal thriller featuring Harrison Ford as a lawyer wrongfully tried for the rape and murder of his mistress. And finally, there was Home Alone, a Christmas romp about what happens when a child is left behind when his family leave for a Christmas vacation.

Stanley and Iris required a pared-down intimate score which has none of Williams’ signature flourishes. It’s mainly led by piano and strings. It’s beautiful, but won’t necessarily live in your memory.

The music for Presumed Innocent is again centred around the piano, with a surprising focus too on electronic instruments, to give an unsettling feel to the film. The theme is one of my favourites – haunting and elegant.

And so we come to home Alone, rightly one of Williams’ most beloved scores of the period. It positively brims over with Christmas charm. The opening titles are purposely reminiscent of Tchaikovsky’s music for the Nutcracker, and perfectly convey the innocence of a child’s Christmas whilst at the same time hinting at some of the darkness which will come later.

The second track on the original soundtrack is called “Holiday Flight” and is a rip-roaring classically inspired piece to get the family (minus aforementioned child, Kevin) to the airport on time.

This piece again bears more than a passing resemblance to one of Tchaikovsky’s pieces from the Nutcracker, this time the “Russian Dance”. I’m certain this is purely intentional – it’s even possible that Chris Columbus used the Nutcracker pieces as temp tracks.

Home Alone is a score which is full of wonderful set pieces, full of melodies, full of mickey-mouse action music (this is when the music reflects and is perfectly timed to the action on the screen – so if someone falls over, the music perhaps descends and hits a beat). But there are three pieces I particularly want to highlight. the first is the wonderful Main Theme Song, “Somewhere in my Memory”. It’s a deceptively simple melody, innocent and charming, if slightly saccharine – made more so by the lyrics provided by William’s longtime collaborator, Leslie Bricusse. But one can’t help, rather like a trip to Disneyland, being caught up in the charm and magic of it.

Then there is the second of the original songs, “Star of Bethlehem.” I prefer the orchestral version of it – it sounds somehow Biblical and I always imagine that first star of Bethlehem, shining over a little town in first century Palestine. I love the way it builds up as the strings provide a wonderful counterpoint to the brass in the final statement.

And one more piece I want to highlight is the rather wonderful “Preparing the Trap”, in which John Williams unusually uses a drumkit to propel the energy of this piece forward. It’s wonderful – full of small quotations of “Star of Bethlehem, as well as allusions to the traditional “Carol of the Bells”. It even has some wonderfully contrapuntal writing in the strings which Williams seems so effortlessly to be able to compose. Wonderful stuff.

Oh an by the way, you don’t have to listen to this at Christmas – it’s wonderful any time of the year. I say that as I sit here listening to it on a sunny July afternoon.

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