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Emperor by Alex Heffes (Review)

posted Mar 11, 2013, 8:57 PM by Kaya Savas

As a fan of Alex Heffes' work I was supremely looking forward to what he would come up with for this film. A WWII drama holds a lot of weight in terms of the genre, and the story itself had plenty for a composer to sink their teeth into. Emperor is simply a brilliant score that is expertly executed. I was so wowed by the music here that it truly captivated me and took me on a very emotionally rich journey. Heffes establishes great motifs and a soundscape that feels like it has an old soul. The score feels as if it has history behind it, and I don't say that because Emperor is a historical drama. I say it in the way you would if you met a person for the first time. A person whose lived a good bit of life, and you can tell just by looking at them. That feeling comes across in Emperor, which has a touch of Japanese flavoring to the music but otherwise is a solid character journey.

The film's central character is Bonner Fellers, and this is really his story. You take that journey with the score. At times it imposes a sense of dread and an impending moral weight. However, the moment we're introduced to "Aya" and hear her theme we get that beautiful love theme. Well, not necessarily a love theme as it is a character theme. But I do think Heffes composed in the point of view of how Fellers saw Aya. The rest of the score brings us even more rich moments. The use of strings is very heavy and it adds an almost tragic tone to it all. The tone is an important one given the story takes place at a time of war, and the best part is that it never gets heavy-handed. Heffes never gets overly emotional with the music, which makes it feel very organic. The use of some traditional Japanese sounds in the music doesn't outweigh the impact as it adds the perfect sense of setting. Heffes does a great job of building some tension throughout the body of the score, but he never loses the emotional spine of the music. That emotion is there throughout and it's why this score is such a compelling listen. The final act has some quick-paced scoring to add energy and it finishes on an optimistic note.

The central theme of this score is definitely Aya's theme. It is the emotional backbone of everything that Heffes builds around it. It's stunningly beautiful yet strikingly simple. When the theme arises throughout the score you can feel your heart drift away. The piano version of it at the end of the album is a beautiful piece to end your listening experience with. This is a very rich score that has deep character and deep emotions. The weight of the story is felt throughout every second and nothing is overly dramatic. The score feels as if it has lived a long life and Heffes adds a very masterful touch to the whole experience. Emperor is terrific and is one of the first truly great scores of 2013.