- Composed by Elliot Goldenthal
- Zarathustra Music 7040 / 2010 / 34:52
Julie Taymor’s last Shakespeare adaptation for the big screen, Titus, was a resplendent spectacle for the senses, one of my favourite films of the 1990s. It is with great anticipation therefore that I look forward to The Tempest, which is clearly going to be visually extraordinary even if nothing else; the bard’s final play is brought to life by an eclectic cast featuring Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, David Strathairn and that great thespian Russell Brand, whom I have suspected for many years to be the next Gielgud. Taymor’s partner Elliot Goldenthal’s film scores are few and far between these days (this is only his seventh since the turn of the century) but of course he’s on hand here.
Goldenthal’s score for Titus was every bit as spectacular as the film; in my opinion his greatest work, the film afforded him the opportunity to craft music for orchestra and choir of considerable majesty without ever losing his unique vision. Well, 95% of the score was like that; the other 5% rather harder to take, extremely quirky, a kind of industrial rock music with blaring saxophones and numerous electric guitars. Reverse those proportions and you pretty much end up at The Tempest. Without any question, this is extraordinary music – impossible to hear without marveling at Goldenthal’s vision and craft, his sheer bravery in creating film music this bold. One would have to be made of pretty stern stuff to actually enjoy it, though.
Melody comes mostly from songs – there are four here on the shortish album, vocalists including Reeve Carney (currently taking the lead in Taymor’s much-discussed Spiderman musical on Broadway) and Beth Gibbons of Portishead. The two songs which bookend the album (and film) are the standouts here – “O Mistress Mine” and “Prospera’s Coda” both feature some stunningly beautiful harmonic progressions, and while the earthy feel of the vocals isn’t particularly to my taste, I can certainly appreciate it. The other songs, both sung by actor Ben Whishaw, also feature moments of great beauty, always set against an extremely violent backdrop.
The instrumental score is essentially just that extremely violent backdrop without the moments of beauty laid on top. Those saxes and guitars (lots and lots of guitars) from Titus are here; unfortunately the sound created is so guttural, my first thought of how extraordinary it is quickly gets taken over by my second thought, which is that I never want to hear it again. This is music which was clearly created in an emotionally-charged way, but those emotions are so complex it likely takes a rather intellectual listener to appreciate them. There’s a big orchestra here too and Goldenthal speaks in the liner notes of his main aspiration for the score being to intertwine the sound of the orchestra with amplified guitars – there’s no doubt that it’s the latter which dominate. (Amusingly, the composer also says that the finale song came after four days being locked in his apartment filled with “equal amounts beer and doubt.”) The single more palatable instrumental track, “Hell is Empty”, reminds me of some of the music from SWAT (of all things); it’s still the electrical rather than acoustic side of Goldenthal being heard, but will be for many (I suspect) the standout of the non-sung pieces.
I’ve sat attempting to write this review for several days; at one point I was simply going to write “This is indescribable” and leave it at that; my attempts to describe it seem so woefully inadequate, perhaps I should have stuck to my original plan. You won’t hear, probably ever, another film score which sounds like The Tempest. It is unmistakably Goldenthal, but a very long way from the music which his film score fans probably like most in his past. I cannot stress enough how impressive it all is; nor how clear it is that in terms of the effort put into its creation, this is lightyears beyond your typical film score; nor that the strange beauty that comes from the opening and closing songs is amongst the most heartfelt and real I’ve heard in film music in years; nor that I can’t remember the last time I heard music which impressed me so much but which I find so truly hard to actually like. There is every possibility that greater minds than my own will love it. I wish them luck. All I can suggest is listening to soundclips and making a judgement, or finding a review by a more competent writer (apologies for the cop-out). For sheer quality of creation, this gets five stars without question. Rating my enjoyment of the experience of listening to it, clearly not. I hate star ratings. **