Review: Mr. Holland's Opus (1995)

Composer: Michael Kamen

Label: Decca Records

Catalogue Nr.: 452 065 2


Stephen R. Herek's film about a frustrated musician who is becoming a high school teacher is a beautiful piece of art. It covers 30 years in the life of Glenn Holland who is desperately trying to compose his own Symphony but hardly finds enough time to follow this dream. As he is becoming a teacher and going through life, he is influencing the life of countless people while every one of them is influencing Mr. Holland. Intimate moments between the characters and the feeling of time passing by make this film a very emotional experience. Composer Michael Kamen added a lot to provide the development of Mr. Holland with the necessary emotional impact.

The score:

I was surprised that there are not more reviews of this excellent score which clearly ranks high up among the late Michael Kamen's best works. The composer rightfully won the BMI Film Music Award for this score and it is really strange that his music was completely ignored by the Academy Awards. The movie required a strong musical voice and the thematic ideas for the characters had to be developed before the actual production of the film began. Mr. Holland's "American Symphony" from the end of the film with its fanfares, unusual orchestration (e-guitars) and integration of all the themes from the score is the highlight and made an early concept for the music in the film necessary. It is really hard to describe the genius of this work. Maybe a little comparison will help: Michael Kamen's approach to this film can be considered as a cross between John William's approach to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Alan Silvestri's approach to Forrest Gump (1994). The deep integration of music within the story and context of the film is comparable to Close Encounters while the emotional weight of the music is reminiscent of Alan Silvestri's masterpiece.

The score is indeed bearing a huge emotional weight especially in the film with themes for all characters who influence the life of Mr. Holland. A theme for Mr. Holland is introduced in "Mr. Holland Begins" performed at the beginning by a piano solo and during the second half of the track by full orchestra. An emotional highlight of the score is the theme for Glen Holland's son, prominently performed in "Cole's Tune" by a hauntingly beautiful flute solo. It gives the tragic relationship between Holland and his son an enormous emotional weight. "Rowena" is bringing another important character theme to the score.

Another amazing aspect of the score is that it perfectly functions as a character study of Mr. Holland. All aspects of Holland's personality, his patience, intelligence and his approach to music, are always present within Kamen's composition. Holland's musical inspirations are presented by the warranted integration of classical music pieces by Beethoven and Mozart,  though not only due to the addition of their symphonies but within Kamen's original work itself in the tracks "Rush To Hospital (While Parents Listen To Beethoven)" or "Practice, Practice, Practice".

All of these elements culminate in the finale when Glen Holland finished his amazing "American Symphony" which can be seen as a musical summary of his life. The addition of e-guitars is another intelligent step by Michael Kamen: Glenn Holland triggered the interest of his students in music by teaching them Rock 'n' Roll as an important part of American music history. The clash of styles between contemporary rock music with e-guitars and classical music with pompous trumpet and horn fanfares in this final piece is breathtaking and will completely overwhelm the listener. This score is, in fact, Michael Kamen's Opus!

Review by Andreas Creutzburg



Score as heard in the film: 94%

Score as heard on CD: 90%

TOTAL: 92%


The presentation:

The score album from Decca Records is nicely packaged with short but very informative liner notes by director Stephen Herek, detailed album credits and some nice pictures from the film. The score selections are covering the important parts from the score mixed into lengthier cues. 

Presentation by the Label: 70%



Don't waste more time by reading this summary and get this score. It is a true masterpiece in the late Michael Kamen's discography and the very extraordinary way of integrating his music into the film makes it a very important work.



01.  Mr. Holland Begins (02:59)
02.  Iris And Glen (02:31)
03.  Practice, Practice, Practice (03:52)
04.  New Baby / Coltrane / Children Should Listen To Mozart (03:51)
05.  Rush To The Hospital (while parents listen to Beethoven) (03:22)
06.  7th Symphony - Alegretto (11:06)
07.  Cole's Tune (04:20)
08.  Vietnam (We know too many of those kids) (04:31)
09.  Rowena (06:14)
10.  Concerto For Three Harpsichords In C - 1st Movement (07:53)
11.  Thank You Mr. Holland (05:09)
12.  An American Symphony (Mr. Holland's Opus) (08:29)
13.  Cole's Song (03:49)