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Black Gold
Composed, Co-Orchestrated, Conducted, and Co-Produced by:
James Horner

Co-Orchestrated by:
J.A.C. Redford
Randy Kerber

Co-Produced by:
Simon Rhodes

Notable Solo Performances by:
Dhafer Youssef

Varèse Sarabande

Release Date:
February 14th, 2012

Also See:
The Four Feathers
A Far Off Place

Audio Clips:
1. Main Title - A Desert Truce (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

3. The Wonders of Wealth (0:29):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

8. Phantom Army (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

14. A Kingdom of Oil (0:32):
WMA (213K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

Regular U.S. release.


Black Gold

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Buy it... if you often find yourself absorbed in the emotional precision of James Horner's best character themes, Black Gold containing two somber but spectacular ideas perfectly suited for a conflict between familial loss and optimism for wealth.

Avoid it... if you have little tolerance for outwardly exotic Middle-Eastern instrumental and vocal techniques, both of which important highlights to augment Horner's expected statements of lush, orchestral grandeur for the locale.

Black Gold: (James Horner) An epic 2011 tale of warring royalty and the discovery of oil on the Arabian Peninsula in the early 20th Century, Black Gold has the distinction of being the first Arab-funded, major feature film about this region in the history of cinema. For decades, the rights to the script were held by successful movie producer and distributor Tarak Ben Ammar, who finally assembled a truly international crew and secured the support of Qatar's Doha Film Institute to make Black Gold, at $55 million in cost, among the most expensive Arab films about native topics to ever be attempted. The film's debut at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in Qatar, as well as limited distribution in France and several Arab nations, was not met with the success hoped by Ben Ammar, and the movie failed to gain an avenue of release in America or generate any awards season buzz. While French director Jean-Jacques Annaud's authentic visuals and James Horner's evocative score are notable attributes of Black Gold, a somewhat mismatched collection of international actors playing Arabs in the English-language film was largely targeted as the reason for production's failure, Antonio Banderas in particular difficult for some viewers to digest. The story is one that takes the basic facts about the discovery of oil in the Arabian Peninsula and uses that sudden prospect of wealth and the contest of deserts previously thought useless to further explore the battles between two powerful families. The customs of familial politics in the region are thrown into greater turmoil when the crude and its associated wealth cause allegiances to be tested, largely before the interference of international interests to inevitably follow. While parts of Black Gold try to recreate the awesome scope of classics like Lawrence of Arabia, Annaud also dwells upon the interpersonal relationships of the two families, and it is ironically this latter emphasis in the film that mostly clearly informs the direction of Horner's score. Enthusiasts of the composer's music did not hear much from him immediately after his popular work for Avatar in 2009, only the remake of The Karate Kid the following year representing anything new (or as "new" as one could deem Horner music to be at that point in his regurgitation cycle) from him. While a return to general A Far Off Place territory may seem like an odd move for Horner to embrace during the "Avatar era" of his career, it allowed him to collaborate a third time with Annaud and delve once more into the genre of epic, historical drama that has lured him several times previously.

Without question, Black Gold is the kind of film on which a composer like Horner can make a tremendous impact, an artistic mark of distinction that probably appeals to a choosy veteran such as himself. In terms of style, Horner does not disappoint, following a formula of Western symphonic might and exotic instrumental and vocal textures akin to the spirit of The Four Feathers, with the lyricism of the former parts far outweighing the tortured soul of the latter. In almost all corners of Black Gold, you hear Horner remaining firmly within his stylistic comfort zone, tackling each facet of the story with instrumentation and progressions familiar to his career. And yet, despite being saturated with these Horner mannerisms, the score manages to skirt most of the issues related to self-plagiarism that have proven problematic in his other recent works. There are passages within crescendos and interludes of the thematic material that will recall the composer's past, especially during the limited action music and the bright optimism of "Leaving as an Emissary" (which will transport you back to Horner's style of the 1980's), but you will far less likely be distracted by these fainter references in this entry. The score sounds rooted ten to twenty years earlier in Horner's career, a clear and honest expression of his methods without the irritating self-indulgences in the tired ideas of his fancy. He doesn't over-intellectualize anything in Black Gold, his instrumental colors and thematic applications tackling the concepts of hope and turbulence without sounding too foreign or contrived. Instead, his careful execution is where the score's somewhat basic ingredients form an impressive emotional core that keenly touches upon all the right feelings for this story. The London orchestra is offered as the lush representation of Arabia romanticized, owing as much to Maurice Jarre as the many equivalents that have come since Lawrence of Arabia. Strings carry the dramatic load during the most intense thematic performances, though Horner is sure to throw in some somber, noble horn passages as usual and, in something of a moderate departure, reduces his strings to quartet size for a few performances of a secondary theme as well. The percussion section is varied enough to cover the exotic location with all of the thumped, tapped, and plucked tones deemed appropriate, though both snare and timpani receive their supplemental, slap-happy passages of force as well. The outwardly Arabic elements include three voices (always in mournful prayer mode), an oud, and what sounds like either a processed voice or shawm (a traditional Egyptian oboe), which plays a role of eerie disenchantment in several poignant cues, often in duet with the regular male vocals. Highlighting the score in the end, however, are Horner's own, heartbreaking piano applications.

Thematically, Horner supplies Black Gold with two very satisfying themes, both expressed beautifully multiple times. The primary theme is frequently carried by the solo piano on top of other, fleeting activity, starting after just a minute in "Main Title - A Desert Truce." That idea smartly balances its major and minor attributes, shifting between them to symbolize the hope of riches and love one hand and the fate of war on the other. When orchestrated to its fullest in "Horizon to Horizon," this theme flourishes with the help of boldly descending brass counterpoint lines reminiscent of David Arnold's Stargate. Horner plays with this brass layer in the equally impressive ensemble performance of the idea in "Leaving as an Emissary" before returning to his original descending melodrama a couple of times in "A Kingdom of Oil." By his final performance of the idea in that cue (at roughly the 4:20 mark), each element of the ensemble has become bloated to its maximum weight, the strings undulating with additional emphasis and the brass counterpoint more aggressively enunciated, stirring up a level of majesty that will recall The Mask of Zorro and its sequel. This main theme avoids progressions obnoxiously similar to Horner's previous works and, perhaps more importantly, too substantial a reliance upon stereotypical Middle-Eastern progressions. There is an Arabic tilt to the supporting phrases in the theme, though when Horner boils it down to solo woodwind or piano, it sounds like a transplant from his 1990's character identities of no specific regional affiliation. The composer's loyalty to this theme makes Black Gold a very cohesive work, though the real treasure of the score lies hidden in its central moments of relational conflict. Here, Horner develops his secondary theme for the film, one specifically meant to represent the tortured, shared relationships between the two warring families. This Casper-like family theme is integral to the resonating beauty of the score's middle passages and is more attributable as the source of the "haunting" cues than the main theme. Once again, the piano is the tool of choice for the family theme, introducing it with solo cello at the start of "Father and Son" before becoming increasingly troubled by exotic elements in "Phantom Army," "So This is War," and "The Blowing Sands." The piano statements of this idea in the three cues spanning "Father and Son" to "So This is War" on the album release are accompanied by tasteful percussion, the shawm-like tones, and vocal elements that yield, simply put, some of the most depressingly lovely music to come from Horner in a decade. In "One Brother Lives, One Brother Dies" and "A Kingdom of Oil," this theme is handed to stately but arguably colder solo strings to grimly resolve the identity where appropriate.

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There are rarely moments in Black Gold when Horner is not shaping one of his two themes to maintain your interest. With the exception of the latter half of "Main Title - A Desert Truce" (easily the least interesting portion on album), he always fills the score with intriguing sub-motifs or textures. A refreshingly upbeat cue is "The Wonders of Wealth," a spritely two minutes of buoyant enthusiasm that is a pleasantly affable reminder of the composer's similar ideas for countless children's scores. The first twenty seconds of "You Were a Prince" is a percussive highlight, including the nicely layered clanging of metal, drums, and standard Horner piano rumble. A number of techniques in the first half of "The Blowing Sands" are intelligently "wayward" in their movements, from the wailing shawm/voice to woodwind figures and unsettled strings that struggle to find footing in a good pitch. It's difficult to appreciate on album for its issues of tonality, but the effect works. A return to the optimism of "The Wonders of Wealth" is joined by the main theme (with trumpet support this time) in "Fresh Water," a welcome respite from the despair of previous cues. In the first half of "One Brother Lives, One Brother Dies" and most of "Battle in the Oil Fields," Horner lets the snare rip in ballsy action rhythms that are a bit anonymous in his career but achieve their goals. Of all the singular aspects of Black Gold, however, the exotic usage of voice (or shawm) and percussion are what bring you back for more. Most striking is the score's opening two minutes, "Main Title" starting with a prayer-like solo vocal performance and expanding out to include other voices, the piano, and slight orchestral resonance. The beauty of the second minute of this cue is arguably unparalleled in the remainder of the score. Likewise, the vocal tones in "Father and Son," "Phantom Army," and "So This is War" are not to be missed, especially by listeners eager to skip to the full ensemble grandeur of the title theme. In the latter two cues, as well as at the end of "A Kingdom of Oil," Horner creates striking background tones (sometimes dissonant, sometimes complimentary) that are intentionally meant to be so vague in their origin that they could be produced by shawm, voice, or oboe. At some point in these cues, Horner adjusts the sound to suggest all of them, though the most poignant is the shift to softer female vocals to conclude the tone in "A Kingdom of Oil" with a more human touch. Overall, you don't often hear this kind of precision in instrumental sounds and thematic duality in this generation of film music, and Horner's ability to perfectly capture a balance of Arabia and the West, as well as the corresponding balance between sorrow and aspiration, results in a very impressive score. Black Gold certainly puts A Far Off Place in perspective and, if only more of the intoxicating exotic mixes had been infused into the remainder of the work, could have contended with the top scores of 2011. **** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For James Horner reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.13 (in 98 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.19 (in 187,990 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.34 Stars
Smart Average: 3.28 Stars*
***** 78 
**** 102 
*** 76 
** 50 
* 43 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Re: a bit of Stravinsky there...
  Flo -- 5/6/13 (10:00 a.m.)
   Re: Great Score
  SilverRaindrops -- 10/28/12 (6:58 a.m.)
   a bit of Stravinsky there...
  DanE -- 3/2/12 (5:27 a.m.)
   Great Score
  Trevor -- 2/23/12 (10:19 a.m.)
   Alternative review at
  Southall -- 2/22/12 (4:48 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 55:25

• 1. Main Title - A Desert Truce (6:34)
• 2. Horizon to Horizon (3:59)
• 3. The Wonders of Wealth (1:49)
• 4. "I Have Chosen You" (3:22)
• 5. "You Were a Prince" (1:47)
• 6. Leaving as an Emissary (5:19)
• 7. Father and Son (1:50)
• 8. Phantom Army (1:48)
• 9. "So This is War" (1:56)
• 10. The Blowing Sands (4:27)
• 11. Fresh Water (1:51)
• 12. One Brother Lives, One Brother Dies (6:44)
• 13. Battle in the Oil Fields (5:13)
• 14. A Kingdom of Oil (8:43)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes no extra information about the score or film.

  All artwork and sound clips from Black Gold are Copyright © 2012, Varèse Sarabande. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 2/17/12 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2012-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.