The illegitimate son of a Viking farmer and his slave must outshine and outperform his legitimate brothers to win his father’s love, and ultimately buy his mother’s freedom.

This is the brief outline for the story behind the movie Halfdanr, which is an entertaining and engrossing short released this year (2021). It is amazing that the movie has such an epic sounding score, considering it is after all a short. The music is by composer Jesse Haugen, who has fashioned an appealing and beautifully haunting yet highly adventurous sounding soundtrack. I just love the sheer symphonic scale and sound of it and thinking about it this could easily be from one of the latest blockbusters because of its grandiose and affecting style and sound.


When I hear scores such as this, I am hopeful that film music as we know it (from the 1940’s through to the 1990’s) with themes, romantic sounding tone poems and lush inspiring compositions will survive and not be lost to the dronelike soundscape sounds that are increasing in use nowadays.

Halfdanr is a wonderfully atmospheric work filled with emotion and overflowing with dark and driving dramatic cues, it is one of the most promising and pleasing scores of this year thus far, and the composer I think is certainly a name to watch out for. If he can create this powerful and commanding score for a short, what will happen when he gets a big budget movie, well I for one cannot wait to find out. In some ways I reminded of the style employed by composer Gaute Storaas on another Viking related movie Birkebeinerne which was released in 2016, this too is rich in haunting melodies and thick with attractive motifs, with the composer combining symphonic moods with choral passages.  

Halfdanr is a score that I know you will return to many times after your initial listen, and it is one that you will also enjoy even more every time, because it has to it a freshness and an innovative musical persona which seems to allow us to hear new things each time we listen. The score is under thirty minutes in duration, but it makes the most of the time and is impacting as well as affecting. The soundtrack opens with I Will Return, which begins in apprehensive mood, and moves into an impressive string led theme that is inspiring to say the least, the opening is slightly subdued with low strings and percussive elements being employed to create a tense atmosphere, to this composer adds more strings and increases the tempo.

I love the second cue Honour with its anthem like lush strings and track number three The Hunters Return with the imaginative use of cello and I think there is a hint of cymbalom that laces it, being further enhanced by woods that usher in dark sounding voices, these are bolstered and supported by percussion and brass.

Most of the cues are a little over a minute in length with some being just over two minutes, but each cue each composition has to it a sound and style that makes it stand out as being inventive and above all entertaining.  Available on digital platforms. I spoke with the composer about his music and the movie.

Jesse Haugen on Halfdanr the score.

1. How did you become involved on the film Halfdanr?     

I first found out about Halfdanr through their initial fundraising campaign. I was excited about the film based on what I saw in their kickstarter pitch, so I reached out to the director, Lance Witmer, through a mutual friend. I shared my music with him and had several conversations over the course of almost a year before a final meeting where I got to see the film for the first time and landed the job!

2. It’s an epic sounding score considering it’s for a short, what size orchestra did you have for the movie?  

It’s funny you say that. When I initially pitched my idea for the score, it was going to be something much smaller and more folk-y/traditionally Norse. As I dove into the score, however, it just kept getting bigger and bigger! By the end, we recorded a 40-piece string orchestra in Budapest. They’re layered throughout the score as well as an incredible solo cellist, Alex Thompson, who I like to say is the musician responsible for the entire “vibe” of the Halfdanr score. The rest of the sounds are synths/samples. All things considered, it’s a pretty big band. 

3. The soundtrack is available on digital platforms will there be a CD release and do you have any input into what tracks from the score make it to the soundtrack release?

I have no plan for a CD release right now. If there’s a demand, I’d be happy to! Haven’t heard that from people yet, though. And yes, I did have input to what tracks made it onto the soundtrack. This is sort of a special circumstance too because I think every minute of music minus maybe 45sec in the score made it onto the soundtrack!

4. It is also a score that is very thematic which is something that is rare these days, do you think that themes in film scores are important?  

I value themes quite highly. While I don’t think an outright melody is always what a film, scene, or moment requires, when I watch a film, my initial ideas are almost always melodic. This means my music is often very melody/theme heavy. The goal is always just to have something defined, intentional, and unique to that particular story, character, world, etc. Sometimes that’s a sound design texture, or a specific set of instruments, and other times it’s a solo cellist playing his heart out over 90% of the score haha. 

5 Did you conduct the score, and do you work on your own orchestrations?

I love conducting when I can, although now-a-days I record almost entirely remotely (as was the case with this score). And yes, I do all of my own orchestrations! It’s a unique joy getting music ready for live players and enjoying them bringing that music to life. 

6. What is next for you?
I’m always balancing about 100 things at once, but right now, the main thing holding my time and attention is a 10-part fantasy audio drama, “Tales of the Echowood.” It’s already started, and we’re about 5 episodes in, releasing every 2 weeks anywhere you listen to podcasts. It’s a fully scored show, with original music in every episode. I’m also in the beginning stages of an exciting video game project, and then working on my usual “daily” projects for web series, licensing tracks, other composers, etc. 



We touched upon the latest James Bond score No Time To Die in soundtrack supplement fifty one, and went into a little bit of the history surrounding the music for James Bond and how Hans Zimmer was engaged to work on the latest 007 outing, so maybe we should take a look or listen to the score in more detail, I was initially quite pleasantly surprised about the music that Zimmer and co-composer Steve Mazzaro had produced for the movie and was also very pleased that the John Barry theme We have all the time in the World  from OHMSS was given new life and utilized, being woven into the fabric of the score to great  emotional effect. Well, the full soundtrack has now been released onto CD and is available on digital platforms, with a double LP set also available. So, let’s see what’s what shall we? Surprised, unimpressed, pleased, or down-right angry were the mixed emotions and feelings when Hans Zimmer was announced as the composer on the new Bond movie amongst film music collectors and Bond fans old and new, what would he do? Take an established musical style and well known and loved sound and maybe throw that out of the window for something new and more contemporary? Or would he keep the sound and utilize it to effect or do a combination of both and create a familiar but at the same time fresh style to accompany the licensed to kill spy that we all know and love or love to hate depending on what your opinion is of the franchise. Personally it has never been the gadgets, the girls and the action that has attracted me to Bond, it has always been the music no matter who composed it.

The soundtrack for No Time to Die opens with the Gun Barrel cue, which is an opening on all bond movies that is as iconic as the entire franchise, without the opening I think fans would stage a revolt. In this case its 55 seconds long and sets the scene perfectly, with the familiar strains of the James Bond Theme by Monty Norman being blasted out. Track number two is Matera, and intrudes us to a softer more melodic side of Bond with the We Have All the Time in the World being utilized bringing memories of OHMSS flooding back. Its in track three Message from an Old Friend  that I started to get a little concerned that the Bond music legacy established over the years was going to disappear, as it begins in traditional Zimmer style and resembles something out of one of his Batman scores, being dark and drone like, but this thankfully alters direction slightly, and we hear elements of the James Bond theme and those bond brass flourishes emerging from the background, however these are in my opinion short lived and are overpowered slightly by Zimmer’s trademark dark and foreboding percussive and driving sounds, about mid way through I felt that it had lost direction slightly and it could have been from any movie not a Bond adventure. It is a lengthy cue running at just over six and a half minutes, so plenty of time for it to get back on track, I thought.

There is a variation of the JB theme that runs through the cure, with the bombastic brass occasionally entering the frey, but it never fully becomes a James Bond cue if you know what I mean, electric guitar is also utilized with driving strings underlining and punctuating but it is not until the six minutes and sixteen seconds mark that we hear familiar Bond musical trademarks again. For me it is far to busy, over the top if you like, the percussion certainly working overtime. This is also the case in track four, Square Escape, its powerful its full on but is it Bond or a variation on the tried tested and adored style that has served the franchise well for the past five decades? Too busy too much going on and because of this its difficult to even separate certain elements and appreciate that Zimmer is including a kind of homage to past scores. I think track five, is probably more Bond sounding than the previous two cues, Someone Was There is both mysterious and melodic, which is something that John Barry was a master at and also David Arnold was very good at purveying, one knows that this is something of a respite moment in the proceedings by the mood created with rich sounding strings in romantic mode, but then there is the familiar Bond apprehensive sound that is always in the background, which creeps into the cue, with Zimmer then incorporating more Bond musical trademarks, via muted trumpets, rasping brass and lightly performed electric guitar, and although it never becomes full blown bombastic it comes close. Not What I expected is next and is for me one of the delights of the score, it begins with whispered woods that are underlined by strings, with guitar adding ambience to the piece and a fleeting female voice giving it a certain otherworldly persona.

This mood continues in the cue What have you Done, with the track building and at its conclusion ushering in a short rendition of the JB theme for guitar, brass, and strings. Shouldn’t We Get to Know Each Other First, is one of the cues that was released before the score album was available and is a fitting tribute to the Bond musical franchise, Zimmer including breathy woods and a version of the Bond theme that seeps into the proceedings at the tracks conclusion. Cuba Chase is a bit of a mish mash to be honest, it begins with Bond sounding flourishes then there are Latin elements brought into the equation, but we hear again those Batman-esque percussive and driving components pushing their way in, I know it’s a great action track, but maybe more Bond and less caped crusader would be better. As the cue builds and progresses, we do get more Bond sounds that are mixed in and yes they are effective. But John Barry or David Arnold it’s not, which is ok I suppose as its Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro of course. Talking of which I noticed that he is given music producer title on the credits, and we don’t see an additional music credit until the end of the movie.

We have All the Time in the World is given an airing in the score as I have already said, but there is also a slow and melodic version of the OHMSS main title heard in the cue Good to Have you Back which again is nicely done, and welcome. I also like the way in which the music for the title song by Billie Eilish is given a poignant and emotive instrumental rendition in the cues Lovely to see You Again and Home, the latter cue giving a more lush and romantic aura to the tune., the composer adding that sensitive and haunting female voice to the piece giving it a sensual and almost ethereal sound, the vocal being supported by breathy woods and underlying strings that eventually swell momentarily adding even more romanticism.

But its back to the action for the next cue Norway Chase, the cue beginning slowly and in smoldering fashion, tremolo strings adding a sense of tension, and layered sythns giving it a dramatic and slightly alluring mood with a chiming effect drawing the listener in. It begins to move a little faster the piece picking up the pace and percussive components being enhanced by male voices, or synthesized voices at least from what I can make out, it’s a quite exhilarating piece, the composers building the tension and adding a greater sense of foreboding and urgency as it swells and develops. But again is it the time honoured and familiar sound of Bond not really apart from that ever present variant of the JB theme which is segued in at nearly every opportunity.

 The cue Gearing up is pleasant enough with the acoustic guitar taking the lead and sounding very similar to Zimmer’s cue on Mission Impossible 2, Nyah. The easy-going style soon begins to evaporate as the cue becomes ever more dramatic and action led, with those brass flourishes in the background that are supported by strings and via the use of pizzicato.

Moving forward to the final orchestral track or score track Final Ascent, which is very low key, including a sorrowful cello performance, the track is an arrangement of the No Time to Die song, and is heartrending to say the least, slow and emotive, affecting and effective. An adagio os sorts it is a poignant and haunting piece. A piece that builds with the four note motif that we hear in the title song being the foundation of the composition, with cello giving way to the string section that eventually soars to an almost triumphant conclusion to create a stunning and overwhelmingly emotive moment that echoes the composers Chevaliers De Sangreal from The Da Vinci Code. The soundtrack album concludes with the title song performed by Billie Eilish, which is something I am glad of because the title songs were not on some of the Arnold and Newman soundtrack releases. Overall, this is not a bad Bond score, its far better than the efforts put in by Thomas Newman, but I think falls short of the classic sounds of 007 created by John Barry and the like, in closing I will say that I really hope that David Arnold will be recalled soon, but this is just my opinion. Check it out its on all digital platforms.