on 7 February 2004
This was a turning point for both artists. For Greenaway it was a move towards the more expressive, elaborate and self-contained style of filmmaking found in films like Prospero’s Books and the Baby of Macon. For Nyman, it was more about orchestrating an emotion that would underpin the film’s themes, whilst crafting equally long and elaborate compositions that could be broken down into slight movements to reoccur through the picture. His first real attempt at this kind of thing is called Memorial and can be found here. For any one who has seen Greenaway’s excellent film the music will become familiar from almost the first few bars... bringing to mind that excellent crane/dolly shot that kick starts the movie and carries us from the dingy back ally of the restaurant through to the neon lit kitchen right into the beautifully constructed element of production design that will act as our principal location.
Nyman’s approach to instrumentation throughout the five tracks that make up this collection is eclectic as ever... bringing to mind everything from Bach, to Wagner, to Mozart to Britton, with sidelines in avant-garde baroque-pop and free form jazz. The epic opening is one of Nyman’s all time greatest works of chamber music, utilizing a plethora of instruments from brass, to woodwind, to string, and pianos, as well as more traditional folk elements and even some electronic samples. But none of this is really important. What is important is the overall emotional impact that Nyman’s work has on us, and the conjuring of images from the film within out minds that we decipher from the music. The harmonious symbiosis between the director and composer is one of the greatest of cinema history, up there with Hitchcock and Herman, Leone and Morricone, Lynch and Badalamente, etc.
The other compositions are either much more low-key affairs - used to underline the various scenes of dramatic tension featured in the film - or take reference points from the opening Memorial to create a new movement. This works much more clearly when seeing the film whilst hearing the music... though due to Nyman’s proficiency with compositional skills, the music can also be enjoyed by itself. Track two has various layers of choral choir arrangements, which would act as something of a precursor to the many Greek choruses featured in the duo’s respective follow up Prospero’s Books, whilst Book Depository features a wall of low-key strings and buzzing horns that creates a wonderfully noirish melody. The consistency of the record is maintained by Nyman’s skilful production/conduction, whilst the inclusion of soprano Sarah Leonard on a number of more intimate pieces is a stroke of musical genius.
This is a wonderful work of musical composition; probably Nyman’s all time greatest (alongside Prospero and Wonderland, which are also excellent). The music is emotionally bombastic, though tender and heartfelt... creating a wonderful companion piece to the excellent film. Many have had problems with Greenaway’s work due to the graphic nature of the plot... though that is clearly not a problem here. Nyman has, as ever, created a lush orchestration of ornate compositions that lift the spirit, warm the heart and occasionally, send shivers down your spine.
on 26 October 2000
Every track on this fantastic soundtrack is so good it could be used over and over again in any other film. "Memorial" starts the album off with what for me evokes a demented, lurching modern re-take of Pachobel's Canon.I'll never shake the themes! Miserere is an extraordinary choir piece in two versions and the other tracks are equally compelling. Not the thing to have on during dinner, but definitely a wonderfully evocative one to play when you're really getting deep into the fabulous book you can't wait to get to the end of!