- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

Composer John Frizzell had one objective when writing the score for the movie "Gods and Generals": conveying the horror of war.

"Gods and Generals," Ted Turner Pictures' epic movie based on Jeffrey M. Shaara's best-selling novel and prequel to the movie "Gettysburg," follows the clashing armies during the first two years of the Civil War. The film, which opened in theaters yesterday, stars Robert Duvall as Robert E. Lee, and Stephen Lang as Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

"War is horrible," Mr. Frizzell says. "I tried to select moments in battles where I could reflect on humanity and the tragic loss of human life."

Mr. Frizzell now lives in Los Angeles, though he grew up in Chevy Chase and sang at the Washington National Cathedral in Northwest. As a teenager, he became interested in jazz, which led to his fascination with film scoring while in his early 20s.

"When you sit down with a scene, you're basically going to act with music and be part of the scene," Mr. Frizzell says. "It gives back to you. It lets you know what it wants. If it's a good scene, it makes it a lot easier …. It's my job to reveal the tone that it wants and surprise the viewer with the tone."

As he began work on the project, Mr. Frizzell consulted with director Ronald F. Maxwell, who said he wanted the score to be derivative of the 19th century. Mr. Frizzell also kept in touch with Randy Edelman, who wrote parts of the score as well. Mr. Edelman composed the music for "Gettysburg." When a conflict in commitments arose while working on "Gods and Generals," Mr. Edelman recommended Mr. Frizzell for the job.

Interweaving his ideas with those Mr. Edelman had already developed, Mr. Frizzell wrote the basic melodies on the piano, then arranged them with synthesizers before the music went to the orchestra to record.

Although Mr. Frizzell says there is no greater abomination than slavery, he believes people on both sides of the war had mixed motives for fighting.

"I grew up in the North where you learn that the North is good and the South is bad," he says. "It's much more complex than that, especially when you actually start to learn history. You learn this war was ultimately vile and complex."

In scoring the film, he strove to avoid what he considers overly facile moral generalization about the two sides. "I tried to abstain from moral judgment," he says. "I had a theme for pride, and when someone was exhibiting pride, that theme would begin."

During a battle scene, Mr. Frizzell says he would focus on one character who dies, such as a soldier being slain by a cannon ball. He would imagine this man's mother at his funeral. "I would embrace the horror and pain," he says. "I stayed in touch with the cost of conflict."

With a war in Iraq looming, Mr. Frizzell says he hopes his score will have a similar effect on government decision-makers.

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