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Music from the Edge

composed by John Corigliano

performed by the London Metropolitan Orchestra

conducted by Leonard Slatkin

 

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A superb (rejected) score from John Corigliano for the 2010 motion picture remake of the 1980's BritishTV-series Edge of Darkness, his 4th and it continues the impressive and individual line of his film music compositions. Corigliano's music is a breath of fresh air in the usually predictable Hollywood film music world, bridging the gap of concert hall type of writing and film scoring with excellence and sadly this music was rejected when the movie underwent extensive restructuring and re-edit and reshooting and Howard Shore was brought in to replace Corigliano as the composer. Luckily Perseverance Records came to the rescue and released Corigliano's original music, which really plays in some ways more like an extended concert piece in several movements than a movie score.

Corigliano's approach for the score is of gentle and pensive lyricism mixed with challenging and slightly avant garde orchestral techniques for suspence and action sequences, producing a work of strong dramatic arc and architecture, creating a moody and ruminating musical world that envelopes the listener with alternating sections of emotional thematic writing and nervous bursts of suspenceful energy and aggression. The end result is as said above more akin to a concert work although the composer ties everything together with recurring thematic constructs of which the daughter's theme is the central one, both emotionally and structurally.

As could be expected the orchestrations are extremely well crafted, the composer eschewing the trademark sounds of Hollywood for his own brand of style and sound, which at times can be challenging to some listeners as he (should I say deliberately) goes against the expectation and creates a consistent and unique musical world that is both beautiful and turbulently grating at the same time.
Corigliano's style is very much in line with Elliot Goldenthal, his former student, and explores similarly fierce and inventive soundscapes.
The London Metropolitan Orchestra under the baton of Leonard Slatkin himself does a terrific job translating Corigliano's music to a strong and soulful performance, soprano soloist Hila Plitman lending her talents to the finale of the score.

The score opens with His Daughter's Death clarinet stating in bluish tones the daughter's theme underpinned by cellos and then transitioning to solo flute and strings, a picture of certain innocence and optimism, Corigliano showing again his gift for dramatic and memorable melodies, this perhaps even more direct than his themes for the Red Violin .The track showscases the two aspects of the score, the melodic and emotional and the challenging and abrasive avant garde well as the tranquil theme segues to foreboding suspence writing and robustly aggressive action on churning strings and brass.

The action music is unrelenting, harsh and full of grating orchestral techniques, quite adventurous and different from most modern film scores, the sounds the symphony orchestra with a few electronic enhancements providing a visceral and fresh effect with off-kilter rhythms and staccato burts from strings and brass and batteries of percussion like in the Pursuit, conjuring a powerful sense of alarm, chaos and panic. This certain individualistic and self assured ignorance of modern scoring styles and norms is certainly refreshing and powerful in the age of often generic run of the mill products. This does not mean that Corigliano is unaware of the conventions of film scoring and eliciting emotion from the audience.These same nervous ideas provide in varying guises and dynamics suspence on other tracks like The Escape, Her Home, Her Friend's Death and latter part of Reflections, less driving yet still unnervingly effective. Revenge presents a furious build of dramatic energy at the end of the album, again exhibiting the composer's dramatic instinct and almost primal approach to scoring such material, the mood varying from roaring full orchestral assaults to gentle and ghostly calliope music and heart wrenching pathos and tragedy.

Alongside the main theme and the abrasive action motifs, a calliope styled waltz music for the memories of the main character perhaps, appears on tracks Reflections, Revenge and Family Shave, wafting through the soundscape oddly melancholic, playful and sweet at the same time, solo violin adding a dreamy edge to the theme as he marries the daughter's theme with this new melody.

There are several solemn or moody moments of reflection often led by the woodwinds, oboe and flutes in particular, and strings, Corigliano either writing elegiac or slightly apprehensive musical moments of subtle beauty and lyricism but also of foreboding like on the tracks Reflections, Her Home, Hideout and A Sober Story, all offering different degrees of above mentioned moods.

The main theme for the daughter ties everything together. It is a simple melody but the composer uses it extremely well and inventively, the straightforward fragile emotionality of the idea highly effective in guiding the musical journey, providing a memorable musical center for the score. This theme appears throughout the album in many guises and forms and the soundtrack ends with Reunification a haunting and touchingly beautiful elegy for orchestra and soprano soloist, Corigliano developing the theme here to the fullest, the soloist Hila Plitman expressing a salvatory end to the generally dark and moody musical journey in a strikingly powerful way, the operatic human voice offering almost like a gentle blessing in the finale of the story. This piece is true testament to Mr. Corigliano's sensitivity and ability to convey the deeply poignant subtext of the ending of the film in the form he saw it contained. While it might feel overwrought for the movie in its final form on album it is a spectacular highlight.

Music from the Edge is a very strong entry from John Corigliano, a score that is highly unique, visceral, emotional and intelligent. It could be said that it is music first and film score second, although the story of the film certainly lends the album and the score a powerful dramatic arc and impetus. In the time when most films receive formulaic and often generic musical accompaniment Corigliano dared to write a score of such musical character and individuality and it is truly a shame it was rejected in the end. But luckily we are still able to hear his visions for the Edge of Darkness through this excellent and engaging album. Definitely one of the best of the year. Highly recommended.

 

 

Track list:

1 His Daughter's Death 4:11

2 Reflections 5:15

3 Her Home 3:22

4 Pursuit 3:45

5 Her Friend's Death 2:32

6 Hideout 1:54

7 Family Shave 2:30

8 A Sober Story 3:00

9 The Escape 2:03

10 Revenge 3:00

11 Reunification (Breathe In the Dawn) 6:34

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Music from the Edge composed by John Corigliano performed by the London Metropolitan Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin       A superb (rejected) score from

Nicely put! My CD just arrived and I'm listening to it right now. It's nicely diverse with a wide range of moods going from bittersweet remembrance to harsh atonal action. Really unusual for a "Hollyw

Well let's see. You've got the Clarinet Concerto, the Piano Concerto, the Pied Piper Fantasy, and Mr. Tambourine Man. Those might whet your appetite. I used to study with him.

  • 1 year later...

Nicely put! My CD just arrived and I'm listening to it right now. It's nicely diverse with a wide range of moods going from bittersweet remembrance to harsh atonal action. Really unusual for a "Hollywood" film score these days, sure. Perhaps too unusual for the studio's tastes? And it's not because he's not a gifted writer, it's just that he doesn't know how to write film scores, real film scores like that.

...SCNR ;) A pity that scores like this are so rare these days.

One thing that tripped me up a bit was the passage right out of his percussion concerto in the track "Pursuit". I wonder which of those he wrote first, and if he perhaps tried to "rescue" some of his rejected score in the concert work.

And I wonder if the end of the trumpet crescendo in the middle of "Revenge" was followed by a gunshot in the film, as it reminded me strongly of the end of his Symphony No. 3 "Circus Maximus".

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Add Circus Maximus to that list. That opening fanfare is awesome. Wish I could hear that live some day.

And wow, you must tell us all about it TheGreyPilgrim (lol there must be something simpler to call you by!).

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I had a pretty mongrel "academic" experience, but New York City was a very fortunate place for that and he was one of a handful of neat folks that I ended up studying with for a time. For just under a year I'd see him once a week. I couldn't begin to quantify how much of an influence he has had on me, but the most lasting idea, one which I have seen others who learned from him talk about, has been his compositional philosophy. He taught a very architectural method of writing, very structured, logical, and planned, but still allowing for even the most subtle degrees of nuance and whim. A brilliant and very deep soul.

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Neat!

I've seen a lecture from him online once that talks about his compositional method. I find his architectural process fascinating. It's as you said, very structured and incredibly well thought it. He goes far beyond the superficial layers and constantly questions himself about the details. Things that may have seemed superfluous to others was of utmost importance to him and he carefully crafts a piece as if building a cathedral, block by block. Love it.

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It's why my home is littered with what look like blueprints, rather than musical sketches. I can more readily capture what I feel when conceiving of a piece by drawing an impression of it, a blueprint, and then slowly refining that into something more detailed, more explicitly musical. That way, you arrive at theoretical solutions to instincts, ideas, and imagination, rather than the opposite.

Thinking back now, I also owe so much of my open-mindedness about music to him. I could very easily have ended up learning from a grade-a snob.

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Here should be a link to a lecture where he discusses the process of writing his percussion concerto (I can't verify if it still works, I don't have a working flash plugin here...):

http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/Make-Your-Own-Rules-Notes-on-Composition-from-John-Corigliano/

Adding to the list of excellent recommendations, I would recommend his magnificent opus magnum (30 years in the making) "A Dylan Thomas Trilogy" (available on Naxos for a few €). Though the title is rather opaque and doesn't evoke much, it's an epic work reflecting back on the life of an artist, connecting several poems from different stages in his life to form a coherent whole, ranging stylistically from sweet nostalgic romanticism to the harshest orchestral palettes we know and love from him and the likes of Goldenthal ;)

Also, if you're open to opera, "The Ghosts of Versailles" is available on DVD at amazon.com, and a great joy to watch. Also ranging from harsh and atonal stuff to homages to Mozart and Rossini, to something you could almost classify as a Disney villain aria (starting shortlz after 3min:)

) ;)
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Oh and the The Violin Concerto: The Red Violin is also a great piece that opens with the modified version of the Chaconne found on the soundtrack album but expands greatly beyond it in the subsequent movements. Highly recommended and also availble in a bargain price on Naxos label. The album also features Phantasmagoria A Suite from the Ghosts of Versailles and orchestral distillation of some of the ideas from the opera, not a bad piece either. ;)

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Here should be a link to a lecture where he discusses the process of writing his percussion concerto (I can't verify if it still works, I don't have a working flash plugin here...):

http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/Make-Your-Own-Rules-Notes-on-Composition-from-John-Corigliano/

I don't think it still works. Too bad, it would be great to see him in lecture mode again.

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Oh this is wonderful. Thank you KK!

Also I think that the soprano in that Edge of Darkness cue is Hila Plitmann, whose voice is like sonic crystal and very recognizable. She also preformed the Mermaids material on Zimmer's recent Pirates score, which he co-wrote with her husband Eric Whitacre (a former Corigliano pupil), and hers is also that stratospheric voice at the end of Chevaliers de Sangreal.

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I recall being surprised when I found out Whitacre was Corigliano's pupil. His music doesn't really resemble his mentor's in style. I enjoy a lot of his repertoire, but am slowly finding his recent choral works to be just a bit more generic, as if constructed to appeal more to the mainstream masses. He's certainly a talented composer though.

Funny how Whitacre and Goldenthal share the same mentor but took radically different directions with their own stylistic voices.

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Ahh, I will defend Whitacre tirelessly for all that he's done in "popularizing" choral music, whether by being generic or not; I don't think he has been, for the record. In fact, he's one of the most honest and genuine composers that I've heard, and his music touches me in a really rare way.

And it makes sense that he sounds nothing like Corigliano or Goldenthal... a good teacher doesn't teach you how to write like them, but how to write like you. ;)

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Ahh, I will defend Whitacre tirelessly for all that he's done in "popularizing" choral music, whether by being generic or not; I don't think he has been, for the record. In fact, he's one of the most honest and genuine composers that I've heard, and his music touches me in a really rare way.

Oh I couldn't agree more. He seems like a fantastic guy and his compositions are certainly stirring. I love stuff like Cloudburst (absolutely divine!) and October (his concert band stuff is quite good too). But then when I hear stuff like his most recent composition, Bliss (or whatever its called now, didn't it have have like 3 titles? :P) I don't hear the magic of his earlier works. It admittedly sounds more generic.

And it makes sense that he sounds nothing like Corigliano or Goldenthal... a good teacher doesn't teach you how to write like them, but how to write like you. ;)

Right, I just mentioned it because Goldenthal shares characteristics with Corigliano's work while Whitacre is radically different. It's all about one's individual musical voice of course.

You come from a choral background right Michael? How do your fellow colleagues view Whitacre?

I come from more of a concert band setting, and I've played some concert band transcriptions of Whitacre's work, and sometimes I grew tired of hearing those all-too-familiar Whitacre harmonies, which is perhaps where this point stems from. Although I've heard many people refer to him as the "golden boy" of contemporary concert music. I'm sure there would be elitists who would disagree.

It's not so much a criticism as it is an observation on my part. I find it all interesting really and I think he's a great composer.

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No, I don't have much of a choral background beyond some liturgical experience. I have sung, but I have a pretty unremarkable voice... a "composer's voice." There is an awful lot of pretension about his music out there, that it is too "low brow" or "syrupy." The same kind of things you hear leveled against Lauridsen, Part, etc. I agree that he has some trademarks that can be a tad cloying in certain pieces - October comes to mind actually, though more so in the choral version of that piece, Alleluia. But things like Sleep, Water Night, Lux Aurumque, A Boy and a Girl... to name a few, are just wonderfully wrought gems. Also his recent The River Cam for cello and strings is ravishing.

I actually only listened to that new piece you mentioned, Bliss, once, when he released the Virtual Choir video. I sang in the second VC, but this last outing wasn't as much to my taste. I believe it's from an electronica-type musical he's been working on for years.

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  • 9 months later...

I wish I could listen to this!!

I only have "Mr. Tambourine Man", and "Altered States" - a beautiful score, from an absolutely stunning film!

The Red Violin either in score, Chaconne or Violin Concerto form are heartily recommended.

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