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27 Jun

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

By  Robert Walton
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(André Previn)
Analysed by Robert Walton

There are very few tunes that make me cry. Sometimes Mahler or Farnon unleash a mini ‘Niagara’ in me, but Previn’s utterly sublime theme of total tranquility from the 1961 film “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” has all the elements to produce a similar reaction. Even the melody is crying out to be heard! For me it evokes some of man’s finest qualities: hope, joy, kindness, unselfishness and of course love. It’s like a religious experience. Only music can truly convey such feelings. Previn possesses a natural gift to tug at your heartstrings. The old romantic!

The story is about the lazy good-for-nothing grandson of an Argentinian beef tycoon who eventually finds his manhood as a member of the French resistance during World War 2. Sounding like the love theme from a big biblical movie, the first time I heard it I went into an emotional state from which I didn’t move until the music stopped. Like David Raksin’s Laura, it gives the impression of being based on a single fragment and then developed. It just grabbed me and there was nothing I could do about it. I was totally hooked!

I presume that’s how the Love Theme from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was born. Later Alan and Marilyn Bergman came up with a great lyric for Barbra Streisand entitled More In Love With You. (Incidentally Laura’s lyricist, Johnny Mercer had once encouraged Alan to become a songwriter). Without words, this poignant Previn tune remained comparatively unknown until Streisand included the song on her 2003 “Movie Album” finally giving it the recognition it deserved. And violinist Itzhak Perlman’s recording didn’t do it any harm reaching an even wider audience. Although André eventually got fed up with writing film music, he must have been pleased with this one. Don’t forget he’d come a long way since “Challenge To Lassie”.

In the bridge, the music moves on to a completely new level of film writing with a nod to atonality, but still making musical sense. Schoenberg by stealth perhaps! Clear evidence of venturing into tuneless territory in the style of the man who broke all the rules. After all, André and Arnold once played table tennis together in Los Angeles, so something must have rubbed off! If you’re interested in learning more about atonality, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a good way to gently ease yourself into it. More and more music lovers have found the effort worthwhile. Certainly Percy Faith’s brilliant arrangement does it full justice. It only confirms my view that André Previn is without doubt the world’s most multi-talented musician.

“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”
Love Theme by Percy Faith’s Orchestra
is available on the Guild CD ”Non-Stop to
Nowhere” (GLCD 5206).

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