Heroes are not just statues from the past, or super-humans from the future. Heroes are all around us, every day. Heroes are real men and women, young and old, rich and poor, who find in their hearts the love and in their souls the courage to give of themselves, often at great personal cost, for humanity's highest ideals. Heroes are not born, they are not made – they become.
Simón Bolívar (1783 – 1830) is probably the most important single person in the history of South America. As a soldier, a thinker, and a leader, he affected the lives of millions of people and shaped the future of an entire continent. In South America, Bolívar is a legend: squares, cities, streets, airports, currencies, even a country (Bolivia) are named after him. We in Venezuela consider him the father of our nation, similar to the way U.S. Americans think of George Washington.
But Bolívar is not just a character in history books. He was a real hero – a man whose ambition was not heroism itself, but who became a hero through his words and his actions in fighting for great humanistic ideals. In Libertador, my good friend and compatriot, Alberto Arvelo, wanted to make a film that was not only a testament to the significance of the historical figure, Simón Bolívar, but also to give a sense of the man behind the legend, and of his relevance to our lives today.
Bolívar’s life was an extraordinary journey. A boy from a wealthy family of Spanish settlers whose parents died when he was eight years old, he was brought up by a black woman in Caracas and educated by liberals in Europe. At 20, he fell in love with Maria Theresa, who died tragically of Yellow Fever just one year after their marriage. Only following this loss did Bolívar find his cause in the South American liberation movement and become, through struggle and persistence, the hero we honor to this day.
Initially, Alberto asked me to join the team of Libertador as a musical advisor. Yet when I began thinking about Alberto's approach to Bolívar, to the drama of this man's life, ideas and musical motifs came to me, naturally. It was a very organic process, and soon I was composing the soundtrack myself. I made a conscious choice to base the main Bolívar theme on a progression similar to Aaron Copland's famous “Fanfare for the Common Man” because I wanted to reflect Bolívar’s character first as a man – a common man – and not right away as a hero.
Originally, I had intended to give this theme to the flute, but later chose for the nobility of the horn. The flute I associated then with the love motif of Simon and Maria Theresa, as well as (later) Manuela. Flute, especially because it is written here for a special kind of South American wooden flute, for me expresses the soul of the past, a sense of longing – both for Bolívar personally and for the traditional South American ethnic cultures swept away by the colonizing Spanish.
These two musical themes are established early on, both in the film and in my Suite, with strings rising with lyrical counter-melodies and percussion given martial accents. A film score, however, is not an opera, and it would have been impossible to reflect in the music all the details and emotional complexity of Bolivar's journey. Rather, in the film, as Bolivar becomes more politically active and faces different kinds of challenges, it was important to me to maintain a sense of musical line. It is a minimalistic approach, very subtle, allowing the images to tell the story while sustaining chords and holding notes, usually in the lower registers, to build tension. Small variations in harmony, rhythm or orchestration underline the emotional development.
Especially in the big battle scenes, which Alberto has filmed with incredible visual power and detail – where you really feel you are riding the horses, you can physically sense the canon blasts beside you – to amplify this experience of violence with more musical aggression and volume would be superfluous. It was one of my earliest ideas to create tension in these epic moments through contrast. Rather than scoring massive percussion and brass, a children's choir conveys the expressive aspect of war: war not just as killing, but as a fight for hope – which was Bolívar’s mission. Looking at the faces in Bolívar’s army, you can see soldiers from around the world, from all different nationalities and ethnicities fighting together. And many young people gave their lives for the cause of freedom. So the children's choir all at once echoes the soul of the past, the cries of the present, and the hope of the future.
Composing this music was not only a great challenge but also an amazing opportunity. First, it gave me a chance to immerse myself in a new aspect of music – film music – that is its own language, with its own demands and subtleties, and a genre for which I have the greatest love and respect. In film music, a single note can make an entire scene, but one wrong note can also ruin everything. To master the art of conveying great emotion through such simplicity is an important lesson for every artist.
Second, although Simón Bolívar is in the DNA of every Venezuelan like me, to interact with the man, with his psychology as well as his biography, with his strengths and talents, his struggles and his faults, with compassion but without sentimentality, is a rare privilege. Alberto's film offered me the unique opportunity to renew my perspective of this legendary figure and ultimately to try to express through music the inspiration Simón Bolívar symbolizes for us all: of how a man becomes a hero.
Gustavo Dudamel – July, 2014