I just found out that composer Maurice Jarre has died.
As a member of the Star Wars Generation, Harrison Ford was like a god who walked among us. He was Han Solo. He was Indiana Jones. He was Rick Deckard (even though I was too young to see "Blade Runner" I got to 'see' it via the Fotonovels). We young boys who wanted to be like him always thought Ford was never given much credit as an actor.
Then came "Witness," and, with it, the gorgeous, flowing score by Maurice Jarre. I was already a fan of film music but, by 1985, most of my favorite music was composed by John Williams. Jarre was a major branch in my musical self education ("You mean someone other than John Williams composes film music?"). With his score to "Winess," Jarre brought synthesizers to a film score in a way that was not some early-80s techno-bob thing but, rather, as another instrument on the palette of film music. The music for "Witness," frankly, belongs with the movie. It's a little difficult to listen to it merely as incidental music.
Not so the music that accompanied the barn raising scene. You can see it in full here (even though the dialogue is dubbed in German which is, in itself, ironic for a movie that features the Amish). The soaring synth-strings evoked swaying waves of grain when you listen to the piece away from the film. The counter-melody, with its pseudo-clarinet, brought an earthy underpinning to the strings. This track is the single best reason to buy the score and it still wells up the emotion inside me every time I hear it.
As a high schooler, I knew that the piece was just a wonderful piece of music. As an adult, I know why it gets me: because the scenes in the film brings out a real sense of community and the music reflects that desired communal feeling. We all want to live in Mayberry or the Beaver's hometown but we don't. We know that's not real. However, with the one horrific exception a year or so ago, the Amish do seem to live in a community like that. (I say 'seem' because every place that looks like Eden from the outside usually has a serpent slithering around on the inside.) It's what Harrison Ford's character realizes. It's what we realize when we see the movie. And that feeling is memorialized in one exquisite piece of music.
Thank you, Maurice Jarre.