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Schindler's List Review of the Soundtrack Album by Mikko Ojala This was my first CD (along with The Lost World:Jurassic Park) back in the late 1990's and I have listened to it countless of times but the hushed respectful melodicism and on the other hand the raw emotion distilled by Williams into this singular work still makes my heart ache from the grief inherent in the music but also because of its sheer exquisite beauty. Itzhak Perlman's contribution as the solitary voice in the wilderness is immense as he conjures such sensitivity to his violin solos that range from anguish to solace, from sheer cold terror to heart warming pathos in a way it is hard to imagine Williams' music without it. No other soloist has ever come close to encapsulating the emotions of this music in such raw and refined way although the suite has been recorded countless times by many fine artists. Apart from the famous main theme and the secondary theme titled Remembrances that are most often mentioned by people for a good reason as much of the central pieces are built around these two wonderful sorrowful melodies, but the rest of the score is just as full of both cinematic and emotional power. Immolation is like a pained cry of dying souls, full of anguish and mourning, the cries of the chorus "With our lives we give life" in Hebrew haunting and terrifying at the same time. Schindler's Workforce is both suspenseful in its conspiratorial mood and every so subtly comedic as it underscores the understated defiance of Stern and the people he hires for Schindler's factory to save their lives in the film and contains superbly done allusions to Jewish musical idiom both in melody and orchestrations, the jauntily plodding rhythm effectively pacing the scene from start to finish and it works just as well on the album. There is heart breaking fragility to Stolen Memories where chorus softly laments the loss of not only lives but history as well, cruelly taken from these people and Making the List ebbs and flows full of meaning and dramatic significance, at times doom laden at times quietly triumphant in the best Williams fashion with great interplay with the main themes and really is one of the things people should be mentioning about this score as a highlight among highlights. I do not know what part of his soul Williams pulled some of this music from as it seems to come out of nowhere when looking back at his career. To me Auschwitz-Birkenau is probably some of the scariest music he has ever written, Perlman's solo is so malevolent, so cold and cruel it rends your innards with fear and lurching feeling of dread, especially when accompanied by the hellish churning, groaning lower reaches of the orchestra that thunder underneath. Jewish Town (Krakow Ghetto - Winter '41), a concert staple by now, is another completely unexpected piece which has such feeling of time and place and Jewish character to it, the suffering and perseverance but also such elegant beauty with Perlman's voice taking the narrative lead through the piece with the winding violin solo. Williams employs not only Perlman but also a famed Klezmer clarinetist Giora Feidman on the soundtrack for a brief part as he makes an appearance in the simply mesmerizing Oyfn Pripetshok and Nacht Aktion where after a children's chorus intones a Jiddish song by M.M. Warshawsky Feidman's smoky and exotic solo part over a droning background has a brilliant almost hypnotic quality to it. Give Me Your Names on the other hand is the soothing balm with gorgeous violin solo that weaves around the orchestra so full of comforting emotion as Williams combines main theme and Remembrances into one elegant whole. I Could Have Done More comes at midpoint through the album but is actually the emotional finale which starts quietly but turns into an emotional showcase for Perlman as the composer wrings every ounce of feeling from the orchestra and the soloist for this denouement where the main theme receives its most extensive and perhaps most resonant performances, the violin almost weeping at the end. And what could be a better finale for the album than the quiet small piano refrain of the main theme in Theme from Schindler's List (Reprise) that ends the experience on a tender but thoughtful note. The film is sparsely spotted but the album running little over 60 minutes is a perfect encapsulation of the score and again reminded me why, even though it is such a beautiful piece of music, I don't listen to it very often. It is because the score is such an emotionally taxing experience and the years seem not to have diminished its power over me. It is and will forever remain a classic to me and one of the lasting musical testimonies of the genius of John Williams.
Memoirs of a Geisha Review of the Soundtrack Album by Mikko Ojala Memoirs of a Geisha is based on the popular bestseller of Arthur Golden which was in 2005 adapted into a motion picture directed by Rob Marshall of the Chicago fame. The movie features a singular, more introspective score by John Williams which differs from most of his blockbuster fare in its restrained style yet plays a significant role in the film itself, where the music is often spotlighted perhaps due to Rob Marshall's background in musicals. The composer mentioned in several interviews that for this assignment he studied more the Japanese instruments than he did the Japanese music, especially how would these instruments enhance and blend with the Western orchestra and would give a certain ethnic colouring to it without dominating the soundtrack and make it too alien to the Western ears. There is a lot of atmosphere and ethnical touches on the soundtrack to emphasize the locale, time and place but to make it accessible to the audiences it is presented in Western orchestral idiom with the cello taking center stage. Williams was impressed with the book and immediately thought of cello to portray the character of Sayuri, of course not knowing that he would be scoring the film at any point. He knew that Spielberg had acquired the rights to the novel so there was an inkling of it being made into a film. Williams also thought of Yo-Yo Ma from the beginning, actually sending the book to him and talking to him about the possibility of scoring the film and the idea of cello. And later when the film was announced Williams did what by his own words he has done never before: He actively sought to score the film, asked for the assignment. This certainly shows how inspired and impressed Williams was by the story. The movie is very colourful and theatrical portrayal of Japanese culture, more an illusion than real. In other words it is pure Hollywood. The music has a large role in it, almost another character in the storytelling, an integral part of the drama. The film has several of what could be called musical numbers, Becoming a Geisha being the most prominent, so the music is allowed to shine throughout the film. But Williams' music even though it has a large part in the film, is not bombastic or overly lush. I think more than anything it is introspective and subtle, lyrical and delicate with a lot of underlying subtext both psychological and poetic. Most of all it is a portrayal of a society and culture. Hence it is restrained and subtle. I can't say to be an expert on Japanese culture and customs but I know that they are a reserved people and put a lot of emphasis on public appearance and honor. Public outbursts of big emotions is not part of their culture. I think the music follows this idea throughout. There is emotion in it but it is mostly not in Hollywood proportions. You have to read it more carefully. Often the emotion is tied to the instrumental solos, carrying all the unsaid and unexpressed in their timbre and voice. Only at the end of the movie the music blooms into larger than life emotion on the track Confluence where both of Sayuri's themes are performed in a grand manner offering an emotional closure as Sayuri and the Chairman are finally reunited, finally expressing their true feelings openly. Williams had as a starting point the cello as the voice of Sayuri's character. Cello that has a soulful and warm sound is indeed ideal to portray this young woman's journey through life and Yo-Yo Ma's expertise and artistry brings her alive in music in a way I do not think would have been possible with any other artist. The counterpoint to Sayuri's cello is the violin played to perfection by Itzhak Perlman that portrays the character of the Chairman. Both artists elevate the music with their playing immensely. These are really the two main components of the score. Oboe could be added to this instrumental group as it has a prominent role in the music as well being a lyrical and ruminating, showing perhaps Williams' attempt to capture some of those qualities he sees in Japanese culture. Thematically as instrumentally the music is built on Sayuri's theme and Chairman's theme. Sayuri has 2 different themes associated with her: Chiyo's theme, the musical identification of the young girl before she becomes a geisha, that could be called the real Sayuri's theme, depiction of the real person under the guise of the geisha (Journey to the Hanamachi 2;41-3;13, Confluence and finally A Dream Discarded which is a sort of deconstruction of the theme on cello. End Credits contains subtle interpolation of this theme in flute and chimes 1;36-1;53). And then there is the more prominent Sayuri's theme, the actual musical depiction of the geisha that can be heard throughout the soundtrack. Both themes are lyrical, Chiyo's music showing more fragile image of a young girl than Sayuri's theme that is elegant and mature but no less soulful. Cello is omnipresent in scenes involving Sayuri and many tracks containing cello solos involve her and inform us of her state of mind with beautiful and lyrical solo lines. The Chairman's Waltz is heavily European, even Slavonic in its style and contains a clear melodic line with very little decorative violin work that it might have gotten if not for the character's nature. The Chairman is reserved and nearly paternal at first in his encounters with Chiyo so the music is reserved, elegant, cultured, hinting of Western civilization as if to show how the Japanese of that day and age might have admired the European culture. It could be seen to depict Chiyo's idolized view of the Chairman as a citizen of the world, sophisticated and cultured. And as the music is strongly melancholic, described by Williams as valse triste, it could also hint at Chiyo's sadness for noticing how the Chairman does not return her affection (even if that is not the truth but this man does not show it publicly). Williams transforms this theme into an introspective elegy for solo oboe, harp and two celli in As the Water... where the waltz time is kept by the pizzicato celli and after the oboe solo the duo plays a deconstructed version of the waltz. This music marks both the passage of time in the film as well as Sayuri's sorrow of being separated from the Chairman. These two character portrayals are accompanied by several musical devices and shorter motifs that are associated with fate and destiny referenced clearly in the film. Williams has cleverly constructed highly symbolical and powerful yet simple and direct and they seem take their inspiration from water, also a prominent symbol in the film, a river, flow of destiny and the current of fate. There is a constant forward momentum in the music depicting the irrevocable flow of both time and fate of Sayuri/Chiyo or they are used in important moments in the story to note the changes of fate.This idea of water or flow of water/destiny can be heard in the music throughout from the constant motoric string figures accompanying Sayuri's theme to the End Credits. Most prominent of these destiny/water motifs is heard on the track Chiyo's Prayer 0;32-> in the accompanying strings, 3;03-> on solo cello, Finding Satsu 2;31-2;52 and Fire Scene and the Coming of War 4;31-> accompanying the Chairman's theme. There is the constant arpeggio-like up-and-down motion to it, usually voiced by strings, like a current that is carrying the main character forward on her path. Another motif associated with fate appears in Finding Satsu 0;05-0;40, and again in A New Name...A New Life 0;10-0;34 in a fuller guise and again at the end of the track 2;31-2;54. Even the Rooftops of Hanamachi contains a subtle quote of this motif as Sayuri tries to escape over the rooftops and her destiny and fate are uncertain (small portion of the motif is quoted 3;03-3;15). More of a self contained continuation of this water/destiny idea is the Destiny's Path track with the constant motion in the music without major thematic material. Williams also composed a good amount of singular set piece material for different scenes that enhances more the mood and ethnic flavour than adds to the thematic palette. Going to School, Brush On Silk, Dr. Crab's Prize, Rooftops of Hanamachi all add more authentic Japanese instruments to the orchestral palette and enhance the mood of the scenes. They add colour and variety to the music and give it a more Japanese flavour and reportedly Williams worked extensively with the soloists to integrate their sounds and range and timbres to the Western orchestral palette. He usually utilizes these instrumental colours with a ghosting effect from the regular orchestral instruments, e.g. with koto he has the concert harp ghosting the plucked sounds, creating an enhanced effect, which rings full and is subtly both familiar and exotic. E.g. Becoming a Geisha contains between the developments of Sayuri's theme a percussive interlude that not only adds ethnic flavour but in Williams' own words denotes almost a some sort of sacrifice taking place, the young girl being transformed into a geisha, losing her former life and identity in the process. This is a score you have to pay close attention to. You have to find the emotional core of this score from the soloist performances which are at center of this music rather than from bold and big performances of the themes, which are well integrated and stated throughout but certainly more restrained than in many Williams scores. There is an introspective atmosphere to this score but it is also an extremely beautiful and layered and nuanced, worth the time you invest in it. -Mikko Ojala-