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The Beyondness of Things
  • Composed by John Barry
  • Decca / 1998 / 55:25

In 1998, John Barry was virtually at the end of his film scoring career (though few knew it at the time, including, I daresay, him).  At the start of the year, he had four film projects due for release within a few months – the prestigious-seeming The Horse Whisperer, the less-prestigious-seeming Goodbye Lover, the action film Mercury Rising and the smaller movie Playing by Heart.  Unfortunately, within a relatively short space of time, two of these scores were completely rejected and the other two at least partially replaced (the fact that some of Barry’s music remains in Playing by Heart is reportedly only due to replacement composer Christopher Young insisting to the film’s producers that he wouldn’t be able to write anything so good).  

Now, the rights and wrongs of that situation could be debated ad nauseum (and there are no prizes for guessing which side of the debate I’d be on), but it was presumably as a result of that – having written a lot of music which Barry himself was very happy with, yet wasn’t actually featured in any films – that the composer signed a deal with Decca Records to release orchestral concept albums.  Thus, The Beyondness of Things was born.  It was never officially confirmed, but there has been constant speculation that some of the music on the album is actually themes from the composer’s rejected score for The Horse Whisperer, indeed there has even been suggestion that one track comes from a demo theme the composer wrote for The Bodyguard several years beforehand.

John Barry

The official story was that this was a kind of musical autobiography from the composer, each piece representing some part of his life.  In truth, regardless of the music’s origins, one thing is for sure – it is gorgeous.  Twelve pieces of music, most of them written very much in the latter-day Barry’s grand, romantic style, performed by the (greatly augmented) English Chamber Orchestra, prominent harmonica solos by Tommy Morgan – the album really does play like a set of film themes that never were, but not only that, they’re first-rate ones too.

There’s overt, lush beauty of the title track and “Give Me a Smile”; more playful, intimate romance in “Kissably Close”; different shades of nostalgia in “A Childhood Memory” and “Nocturnal New York”; a certain epic quality to a couple of pieces, like “Dawn Chorus” and the considerably darker “The Day the Earth Fell Silent” (which was reportedly inspired by memories of President Kennedy’s assassination); a certain sultry quality to the vaguely Body Heat-like “The Fictionist”.  The most obvious candidate to be from The Horse Whisperer is “Meadow of Delight and Sadness”, a lively piece not unlike “The Buffalo Hunt” from Dances With Wolves.

After listening to the album for over a decade now, my favourite track has (perhaps surprisingly) become the finale, “Dance with Reality”, which stands out as something really rather different from the rest.  A rhythm section and electric guitar is added to the orchestra and the piece plays like a wistful, now-poignant memory of the composer’s swinging past.  But each of the twelve pieces of music here is impressive; the album, one of my favourites.  It’s hard to imagine that any fan of John Barry’s work from 1990 onwards wouldn’t say the same thing.  Beautiful, entertaining, evocative.  Typical Barry.  *****

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  1. TDidz927 (Reply) on Tuesday 10 November, 2015 at 21:32

    Read this article and bought the album. What a great one, thanks for recommending it!

  2. That Neil Guy (Reply) on Wednesday 18 April, 2018 at 18:00

    Just listening to this album again and overwhelmed by how much I love it. And I second your appreciation for Dance With Reality. I, too, am surprised at how much I’ve grown to love that track over the years (can it really be twenty years now?).

    • James Southall (Reply) on Thursday 19 April, 2018 at 09:49

      20 years! I clearly remember rushing down to HMV to buy this on the day it was released.

  3. Ian Simpson (Reply) on Wednesday 5 August, 2020 at 11:37

    Other than Star Wars, this album was probably the thing that second-most got me into film music originally. I used to listen to Classic FM a lot and in 1999/2000 they often played “The Beyondness of Things”, “Gifts of Nature” and The day the earth fell silent”. I recall thinking at the time that the last of those three tracks sounded very “Bond-like”, about a decade before I found out that John Barry was indeed the man behind most of the earlier James Bond scores.
    To me, this album plays to me like a “best of John Barry’s later lush orchestral style of writing” compilation. Despite being in a style that is familiar to John Barry followers it has a number of standout tracks that I keep coming back to. I agree also that Dance with Reality is an interesting departure and a fitting way to round off the album.

    If some of this was indeed rejected material from The Horse Whisperer, the directors potentially missed out on a top-notch, award-winning score there, although Thomas Newman’s score for that film is also good (I am especially partial to “The Vast Continent”).

  4. Mia Byrne (Reply) on Monday 30 November, 2020 at 21:10

    I jus discovered this album. Where has it been all this time? It is simply beautiful. So calm, inspirational, evocative, so Jonh Berry. I just wish I would had heard of it before.

  5. Chris Cheetham (Reply) on Monday 5 April, 2021 at 16:04

    I’m listening to this today having used it as my default ‘give me something to help me sleep’ remedy for the last 20 years. My favourite track is Give me a Smile. I just can’t believe it didn’t make its way into an actual film. I also love Dawn Chorus – what a soothing balm in these pandemic days. I must have played this album through hundreds of times. Never gets old 🙂