Now We Are Free by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Gladiator…Song #29/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

Emperor Commodus as he appeared in a bust and as a computer-generated version of what he may have looked like in real life.

When we examine the whole of human history, it is safe to say that the Holy Roman Empire was one of the most powerful and impactful of all time. At the height of its rule, that Empire counted 70 million people strong. For almost two full centuries, its laws and customs were the laws and customs of a majority of people living in all developed countries on the planet. This period of Roman rule is known in history as Pax Romana or Roman Peace. For the sake of this post, I will not go into the entire history of the Holy Roman Empire but will, instead, focus on how it ended. The 200-year historical period known as Pax Romana was marked by the rule of five Roman Emperors known as the Five Good Emperors. Of those five good emperors, the final one was Marcus Aurelius. During his lifetime, Marcus Aurelius fathered several children, all of whom passed away during childhood except one: a son named Commodus. Being the sole heir to the throne, Commodus received the best in terms of education and opportunity. As a young teenager, Commodus rode off into battle with his father and earned many honours. As he rose in influence, Commodus eventually joined his father as co-emperor and then, a few years later upon Marcus Aurelius’ death, Commodus became the sole Roman Emperor in his early twenties. The reign of Commodus is noted mainly for two things: 1- he negotiated several peace treaties with warring neighbouring countries that led to the final period of stability and peace in the Pax Romana era. 2- Commodus never showed an interest in running the day-to-day affairs of state. He delegated those to subordinates. Instead of being a statesman, Commodus began to rule as though he was a God. He fought gladiator-style in the Coliseum and, among other things, changed many laws to honour his name and protect his place on the throne of Rome. Because of his unsteady leadership, he was the subject of a coup and was assassinated at the age of thirty-one. The death of Commodus ended Pax Romana and ushered in the Year of the Five Emperors and initiated the start of the decline of the Holy Roman Empire across the world.

Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus in the movie Gladiator.

The movie Gladiator is a work of historical fiction that was inspired by the true story of the reign of Commodus. In the movie, Joaquin Phoenix played the role of Commodus to great effect. Veteran actor Richard Harris played his father, the last great Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. As you may know, Gladiator won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor for Russell Crowe. Crowe’s character of a military leader turned slave turned gladiator named Maximus was a composite of several historical figures. While Gladiator played loose with the historical facts, as most movies do, overall it was lauded for its generally accurate depiction of how Commodus behaved personally and politically up to and including his decision to meet Maximus in combat in the movie’s climactic scene. All throughout his twenties, Commodus regularly climbed into the combat arena to battle with select gladiators. As was to be expected, he never faced a serious challenge and always emerged victorious. One of his customs was to inflict one or more cuts into the flesh of his opponents. He would then “show mercy” and allow his opponent to live if the opponent agreed to bow down and surrender to him in the arena. All did. Then, as these gladiators went about the rest of their lives, they would bear a “battle scar” that told the world of their indebtedness to Commodus. It was much the same idea as when slave owners branded slaves with their mark as a way of showing ownership. So in the movie’s final scene, it was historically accurate to depict Joaquin Phoenix climbing down from the Emperor’s viewing stand and agreeing to fight to the death with Maximus (who the movie implies was Marcus Aurelius’ favoured choice of successor). If you have not seen the movie then I will not spoil the ending by telling you how the battle turned out. However, I will say that as the scene ended, a most beautiful and unusual song began to play. This song is called “Now We Are Free”. It was written by a woman named Lisa Gerrard. The musical score was created by the legendary composer Hans Zimmer. Before I go any further, I want you to stop reading this post so that you can go and listen to a live rendition of this song. I would like to see if it makes any impressions upon you (aside from the fact that it is lovely and epic in scope). Can you spot what is unusual about this song which makes it completely original in terms of the vast majority of songs used in movies. So, take a moment and listen to the song here. Come back when you are finished and I will let you in on a little secret.

Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard at the Golden Globes where they won for Best Song for “Now We Are Free”.

I hope that you gave this song a proper airing. What did you think of it? I have listened to several different renditions by several different female singers and they all sound similarly beautiful and ethereal. The thing that makes “Now We Are Free” so unique has nothing to do with the music of Hans Zimmer. It is entirely something to do with the writer Lisa Gerrard. While you were listening to the singer, did you hear her use words? It seems as though she does but, in truth, there are no words from any discernible language used in this song at all. Not one. Apparently, from the time she was a child, Lisa Gerrard believed that she could talk directly to God. I kid you not. As part of this communication conduit, Gerrard spoke in a made up language which she believed was given to her by God in order to facilitate their communication. Thus, in “Now We Are Free”, the female voice is using Gerrard’s invented speech patterns. What Hans Zimmer did was match his musical notes so that they amplified and/or complemented the sounds that Gerrard’s utterances were making in such a way as to make beautiful music. It is the same technique that Earth Wind and Fire used in their hit song, “September” when they sang the nonsense line “Ba De Ya” over and over again. Initially that was just a placeholder phrase when the song was still in the formative stages of development but once the music was composed, Maurice White decided to keep the nonsense phrase “Ba De Ya” in place because the cadence of it matched the musical notes perfectly. So, whether it be an uptempo number like “September”, or a passionate, dramatic piece such as “Now We Are Free”, sometimes the sounds made by a human voice are more important in the form they take rather than any actual words being used. This lends credence to those who say that instrumental music, or more specifically, wordless music is still a form of language just the same.

And the Academy Award for Best Actor goes to….Russell Crowe as Maximus from the movie Gladiator.

In any case, “Now We Are Free” stands out as one of the most unique cinematic songs ever created. For a song without intelligible lyrics, “Now We Are Free” says so much. By now you will have listened to a live recording of the song. Below, I will provide a link to how the song was used in the movie. If you have never watched Gladiator and think that you might as a result of this post, then don’t click on the link because it gives away the ending of the movie and I would hate to spoil that experience for anyone. However, if you have watched the movie or just don’t really care, then by all means, click away and enjoy. In any case, the movie Gladiator launched a resurgence in historical fiction in Hollywood with movies such as Troy, King Arthur, The Last Samurai, 300 and Alexander being just some of the movies made in the 2000s that sought to replicate the success of this historical epic. However, even if history isn’t your thing, it is still important to know some of the most important and well known aspects of it. Movies such as Gladiator provide a gateway into the political world of empire building in a way that makes it seem interesting. The desire of megalomaniacs to create empires has been something that has happened repeatedly throughout human history with England and the US and Russia and Hitler’s Germany and WWII-era Japan all being recent examples. Stories of conquerors and the conquered are, in fact, more than works of fiction that fuel novels and movie scripts. This is the real world in which we all live. The real fiction may, in fact, be that any of us truly believe that we are free.

The link to the video for the song “Now We Are Free” by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Gladiator can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the film Gladiator can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

The Stars of Stage and Screen: the Stories Behind the Most Memorable Songs from Musicals and the Movies…Song # 5/250: Interstellar Suite by Hans Zimmer from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Interstellar

I read that those involved in the making of the 2014 movie, Interstellar believed they were making a movie worthy of being thought of as this generation’s version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interstellar is certainly a sweeping epic that involves weighty topics such as time travel, the origins of life on new planets and the ties that bind families together over the course of many generations. It stars an A-list cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine and Timothee Chalamet. In addition to those fine people, the movie soundtrack is scored by none other than the current king of movie composers, Hans Zimmer. *(A previous post was written about Hans Zimmer. It can be read here). So, the table is set for a sumptuous cinematic feast. Let’s dig in and find out how good it actually tastes.

The plotline of Interstellar is that our time on Earth is coming to an end. The planet has dried out because of climate change. Drinking water is becoming scarce. Dust storms are becoming more frequent. So, a team of astronauts is tasked with searching for signs of habitable planets in other solar systems. Interstellar space travel is made possible because of the discovery of a black hole beside Saturn. Exploratory missions have determined that it is possible to travel safely through this black hole, and not only that, but return again to Earth through it as well. As much as this all sounds like science fiction, the science behind Interstellar was based upon work conducted by one of the world’s pre-eminent authorities on black holes…an astrophysicist named Dr. Kip Thorne. Because of Dr. Thorne’s involvement, many of the fantastical space scenarios shown in the movie are, in fact, rooted in real science, and may end up turning from science fiction to science fact in the not-too-distant future in real life.

But the movie Interstellar is more than just a space movie. At its core, Interstellar is a treatise on the nature of family as the foundation of our society. On Earth, Matthew McConaughey’s family anchors the emotional aspect of the movie. He plays an astronaut who has left the space programme and is raising his two children on a farm. All is good until the climate starts to deteriorate, and the family starts finding what they believe to be coded messages left in the dust that collects in the daughter’s bedroom after each dust storm. The dust appears to be in binary code. The journey to crack this code leads McConaughey to return to space headquarters to volunteer to go on the mission to find new, habitable planets through the black hole by Saturn. His decision to go is based on his heartfelt need to discover a way to protect the future so his children will survive. His children, on the other hand, feel abandoned by him. The emotions at play fuel the decisions of McConaughey, his young daughter (played by Mackenzie Foy), and his son (played by Timothee Chalamet) for the rest of the movie. The added twist that helps to raise Interstellar beyond that of a typical family drama yarn is time travel. When McConaughey and his fellow astronauts travel through the black hole and begin exploring new planets, they age at a slower rate than they would have if they had remained on Earth. In the video that accompanies this post, you will note that McConaughey stays at relatively the same age all throughout the video whereas his daughter changes from a child (Foy) to an adult woman (Chastain) and then, to an elderly lady on her deathbed in a hospital (Ellen Burstyn). So, McConaughey wrestles with the fact that he may have saved the future of Earth, but in doing so, he missed out on his children’s entire lives. There is more to the story than this, but I have probably said too much already for anyone who may wish to watch this movie as a result of this post, so I’ll be quiet now.

The score for the movie was composed by Hans Zimmer specifically for an organ. By organ, I mean a grand, cathedral-esque organ with massive pipes. When Zimmer was tasked with scoring the movie for an organ, he was told that an organ produces a sound that is deep and that resonates in cavernous spaces, but most of all because an organ relies on air for its existence, just like humans do. So, as you watch the video of Zimmer conducting his orchestra, note the presence of the organ and the huge pipes. The video also shows how the score ties into the themes of the movie by displaying the notes on screen as dots and dashes. As these images flow by, you can start to distinguish between them all and match them with the notes you are hearing from the various musical instruments that are playing at any one time. The dashes that are located higher up on screen are for higher-pitched notes and those lower down on the screen are for lower-pitched notes. As well, some dashes are longer than others, which will indicate that a particular note is being held longer while other, shorter dashes/notes weave in and around it. It is fascinating to watch. In addition to the musical construction of the Interstellar Suite, segments from the movie are shown. The scenes from outer space seem to me to work particularly well with Zimmer’s Suite. All in all, I find this video entitled Interstellar Suite to be mesmerizing at times, and I find myself being emotionally invested in the story that is unfolding. You should know that Interstellar Suite is fourteen minutes long, but in my estimation, it doesn’t seem long enough. Between Zimmer’s score and the movie’s scope, this video keeps me coming back for more.

So, is Interstellar this generation’s version of 2001: A Space Odyssey? I don’t think so. But it is still a terrific movie that raises questions about the nature of Love and of how deep our commitment goes to those we call family. Interstellar is a good movie. I think it is fine to stand on its own without having its worth measured by being compared to any other movie. The science of Interstellar is sound. The emotional themes being explored will draw you in and keep you there. The action will have you on the edge of your seat. Zimmer’s musical score is excellent, as usual. So, by all means, check out Interstellar if you feel like watching a good movie. You won’t be disappointed.

If you have seen the movie I would be interested to know what you thought of it. Please feel free to leave your comments below. As well, if you have any other outer space-themed movies that you wish to recommend, feel free to do so below.

The link to the video for the composition Interstellar Suite by Hans Zimmer can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the movie Interstellar can be found here.

The link to a much more thorough and weighty dissection of Interstellar’s plot, the science behind it and the philosophy behind it all can be found here. Please note: this article goes into great detail about what happens in the movie, so obviously, SPOILER ALERT!!! Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed this article, so do with that information what you will.

***As always, this is a reminder to all that all original content contained within this post is the sole property of the author. This post cannot be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 Tommacinneswriter.com

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #142: Time by Hans Zimmer from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, “Inception” (KTOM)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #142: Time by Hans Zimmer from the Original Motion PIcture Soundtrack to the movie, Inception.

A few posts ago, we profiled Broadway legend, Stephen Soldheim. In that post, I talked about how there are whole categories of music that this countdown list has, seemingly, ignored. On that day, we aimed the spotlight on Broadway show tunes. Today, we are going to take a detour from the original countdown list and showcase another genre of music that is critically important yet, often under-appreciated and that is, movie scores. Just so we are clear, by movie scores, I do not mean hit songs from movies like “Saturday Night Fever” by The BeeGees or, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion from “Titanic”. A movie score refers to the music (usually instrumental) that is placed throughout the scenes in a movie, documentary or television show. A good score will complement the scene that is unfolding; adding a layer of meaning and emotion that go beyond the dialogue and imagery before you, as a viewer. The undisputed King of movie scores is John Williams. His score for the original movie, “Star Wars” places him light years ahead of everyone else, in terms of sales figures and the ease with which audiences recognize his score and his own fame as a composer. But for today’s post, we are going to focus on a man who also ranks highly on every list of well-known movie composers and that is, Mr. Hans Zimmer. Even if his name is unfamiliar….and, it won’t be if you are a movie buff….but, even if you aren’t, I still have confidence that you have listened to his music and been moved by it, as well. Here is the story of Hans Zimmer…..movie composer extraordinaire!

Hans Zimmer is a German-born composer who has had a hand in composing the score for over 150 movies. Of those 150 movies, many are regarded as the best of all-time. A listing of Zimmer’s credits reads like a list of the A.F.I. (American Film Institute) retrospective of the Top 100 movies ever made. Zimmer won an Academy Award for his score for the movie, “The Lion King”. He has been nominated several times for movies such as “Gladiator”, “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Crimson Tide”. He has, also, scored the following films…..I could list dozens but, here are ten, more recent films, just to give you a sense of this man’s references when it comes to being among the most prolific film scorers ever: “Dunkirk”, “Interstellar”, “Dune”, “12 Years A Slave”, the “Spiderman” series, David Attenborough’s “Planet Earth” series for the BBC, “Blade Runner 2049”, “Wonder Woman 1984”, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film series and, going back a few years, “The DaVinci Code”. There are many, many other well known films that Hans Zimmer has been involved with that have brought recognition for him or for the movie, itself. In fact, of the 150+ movies that Zimmer has composed the musical score for, he (or the film) have been nominated for major movie and/or music awards 75 times. Gross sales of the movies his work has touched reaches beyond the one billion dollar mark! While I could focus on any number of compositions for this post, I have chosen to talk about his piece called, “Time” by the movie, “Inception”.

“Time” is, quite simply, a lovely, moving composition that uses notes and chords to describe the cycle of life; from birth to death. In particular, “Time”, as used in the movie, “Inception”, deals with the idea of Love; with “birth” being your life before finding love, the rousing mid-section is the act of finding love/falling into love and living a love-filled life and then, the heartbreaking finale to the song is “death”….when love is lost and silence fills the void left in your heart. If you have watched (or, tried to watch) the movie, “Inception”, you will know that the description I just used is not as straight-forward as I am making it out to be but, trust me, that is the message of Christopher Nolan’s movie and that is what Hans Zimmer manages to achieve with his wonderful composition, “Time”. For the video for this, I will leave you with a live performance that took place in Prague a few years ago. I will, also, toss in a few additional videos of his music from other movies.

One of the things that has drawn me to Hans Zimmer is that he has publicly stated that he finds the melding of classical and more modern, electronic music to be very interesting. As we just saw in the post about the EDM song, “Sandstorm”, *(which you can read about here), the blurring of genre lines between classical music and the most cutting edge electronic music is one of the most popular trends in all of music right now. “Time” shows that very well during the live performance. As an FYI, the guitarist featured in this live performance is Johnny Marr, formerly of The Smiths. His extraordinary guitar skills add much to this piece. He was personally selected by Zimmer to be involved in the score for “Inception”.

So, without further delay, allow me to introduce you to the most prolific musical film scorer on Earth, Mr. Hans Zimmer, with his composition of “Time” from the movie, “Inception”. This is simply beautiful. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the live version of “Time” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, “Inception”, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Time” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, “Inception”, can be found here.

The link to the video for “The Dark Knight Medley”, from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, “The Dark Knight Rises”, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Circle of Life/King of Pride Rock” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, “The Lion King”, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Interstellar theme” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, “Interstellar”, can be found here.

The link to the video for music piece known as the “Nimrod: the Enigma Variations”, from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the movie, “Dunkirk”, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Hans Zimmer, can be found here.