Music has been an integral part of warfare since the dawn of history. The function of music in war has had two roles. It has been used as a means communication, and also as a psychological weapon against the enemy. The use of communicate on can be seen in the Greek and Roman cultures. These armies used brass and percussion instruments to convey messages while marching as well as on the battlefields.
Music is a powerful stimulant that can both enhance the psychological state of some, while simultaneously frightening others. This can be seen in the book of Joshua in the Old Testament, which describes the use of rams horns against Jericho. These horns were used in unison in order to excite Joshua’s warriors as well as frighten the enemy.
Due to the fact that music and violence have been fused together for centuries, and that music adds depth and meaning to any film, it is logical to combine music and war movies. The music in these movies serves to reinforce, and even augment the emotional content of war, as well as the typical cinematic sense of romantic loss.
The film Troy is set in Ancient Greece during the Trojan War and is loosely based on Homer’s Iliad. The score, which is mostly instrumental, is composed and conducted by James Horner. A strong Western tone is associated with the trumpet fanfares, and percussion which echoes throughout the film. The frequent use of the sweepingly strong brass offers a traditional Eastern Mediterranean feel, while the tolling bells resound of military. Percussion instruments augment the intensity of the fight scenes, such as the duel between Achilles and Hector.
The film Braveheart is also composed and conducted by James Horner. It is set in Scotland and is loosely based on the 13th century Scottish warrior, William Wallace. Horner weaves a main melodic theme throughout the film that is reminiscent of the melody of British patriotic song, “I Vow to Thee My Country”. This main theme functions more to supplement the feeling of loss or mourning for, associated with both their freedom as well as Wallace’s love. This theme is appropriately played on Uillean pipes, and can be heard over Irish frame drums. It is taken over at times, by some sort of flute-like instrument, and although it is beautiful, the instrument sounds culturally misplaced.
The film Kingdom of Heaven is set during the 12th century crusades. The soundtrack was composed, co-orchestrated and conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams. The score features instrumental adagio-styled Latin choral hymns, and instrumentation for orchestra featuring percussion. Gregson-Williams utilizes a consistent theme throughout the movie. This, however, portrays a sense of humility as it remains elusive, and lacks a definable melody. The most distinctive aspect of this score is in its ability deliver anticipation and suspense without relying on the typical brass section. Instead Gregson-Williams uses tight percussion paired with (electric?) violin and cello to create such intensity. This instrumentation also lend to the ethnic portrayal, constructing a Middle Eastern flair.
The film Gladiator is set during Ancient Greece and is loosely based on the great general Maximus of the Roman army. The accompanying score was composed by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrand. One of two main themes from this movie is titled Elysium, which is Greek for the idea of the afterlife. This choral piece, which powerfully closes the movie, highlights Gerrand’s voice with an eerie and light orchestral presence. It is both haunting yet beautiful and seems to perfectly portray the idea of the afterlife.
The film Hero is set in China and is based on the story of Jing Ke's failed assassination attempt