Looking back at… John Williams’ Home Alone (score)

“Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal!”

Believe it or not, Home Alone was the third highest-grossing film of all time when it was released. Starring Macaulay Culkin and Joe Pesci (to name just two of the truly ensemble cast), the film centres around a child’s (Culkin) battle with burglars who target his home after his family goes on vacation and accidentally leaves him behind. Chris Columbus, who is known for his family friendly films, directed and was able to snag John Williams to write the musical score. What a marvellous collaboration this would prove to be, as Williams would craft a fabulous Christmas-themed film score.

The first of many themes heard in the score is “Somewhere in My Memory”, which becomes the score’s main theme. After a very Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite inspired introduction, it is heard under the opening credits in an arrangement in which the celeste, vibraphone, and woodwinds are featured above the orchestra. This gives the piece a distinct feeling of holiday cheer right from the start. It later gets a beautiful choral treatment with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.

The next musical moment that Williams achieves is his original Christmas carol “Star of Bethlehem”. Leslie Bricusse contributed the lyrics once again, but Williams’ E minor accompaniment on synthesised organ hauntingly steals the scene. Using traditional carol form, this stirring cue is a perfect underscore to the cold, snowy world that Culkin’s character experiences. The melody of this carol is later used in the score in the “Setting the Trap” cue, a rousing orchestral piece that accompanies Culkin’s character preparing his house for the burglars.

The other memorable themes from this score can also be attributed to Williams’ Tchaikovsky inspiration. “Holiday Flight”, cued as the family is rushing through the airport to make their flight, is a quick and boisterous orchestral cue that will be slightly familiar to any classical music listener. It perfectly captures the frantic family’s jaunt though the terminal. Kevin McAllister (Culkin) gets his own playful theme on the tuba and woodwinds, most notably heard during “Scammed by a Kindergartner”. The burglars also get their own humorously menacing theme, always heard played by bassoons and bass clarinets.

With this score, John Williams proves he is truly capable of composing fantastic work for any genre. His combination of traditional and slightly unconventional instrumentation with Christmas tunes and timbres is the perfect accompaniment for a tale set during the holiday season. What’s more synonymous with Christmas than the Nutcracker Suite and its instrumentation? Williams also brings his classical thematic approach to this score and interweaves those themes with tunes of the season that we already know. Williams’ original Christmas carols for the first and later second Home Alone film scores that are among the most evocatively beautiful of all his compositions. He perfectly captured the hope, fear, childlike innocence, and excitement the season can offer. All that being said, this score is a must-listen during the Christmas season. Check it out!

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