To help get you get in the mood, we’re counting down our top 10 original film soundtracks featuring all things violin, viola and cello.
So grab your popcorn, dim the lights, prepare your ears, aaaaaand… ACTION!
10. Deception (1946) – Erich Wolfgang Korngold
This movie (spoiler alert…) features something we can all understand: the murder of a contemporary composer by an enraged musician. But surprisingly, it’s not because his music is terrible. No, the murder in this fabulously over the top film noir is motivated by a classic love triangle.
Here’s the plot in a nutshell: jealous composer Alexander Hollenius (Claude Rains) plots to sabotage the career of cellist Karel Novak (Paul Heinreid) by publicly sacking him from the role of soloist in his new Cello Concerto, but Hollenius is shot dead by his lover – who is also Novak’s wife – pianist Christine Radcliffe (Bette Davis). Got that?
Fortunately for us, Hollenius completes his cello concerto before he is murdered, so we do get to hear it. And even MORE fortunately, the composer employed for the movie was Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who developed the fragments that he wrote for the film into an entire miniature concerto, which has frequently been performed as a work in its own right.
TOP FACT: The solo cellist on the original soundtrack was Eleanor Aller, mother of top US conductor Leonard Slatkin.
9. The Village (2004) – James Newton Howard
So here’s the problem: how do you give a movie credibility and gravitas when the premise is a bit shaky, the script is REALLY shaky, and Adrien Brody’s acting is, well, let’s just say a teensy bit over the top? The answer is simple: you employ a world class violinist, and develop a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack that allows you to forgive everything else.
Hilary Hahn is the featured soloist in this Academy Award-nominated score from James Newton Howard to M. Night Shyamalan’s third film.
8. The Fountain (2000) & Requiem for a Dream (2006) – Clint Mansell
OK I admit it! These are two movies, so this is a top eleven! Sorry…
The reason for including both of these is that they are very much a pair. Both films share the same director (Darren Aronofsky, perhaps best known in dance and classical music circles for the oh-so eerie Black Swan), composer (Clint Mansell) and musicians (the Kronos Quartet). And both of Mansell’s minimalist soundtracks use the string quartet to brilliant effect: sometimes paring things down to allow us to hear the raw, acoustic sound, and sometimes combining the quartet with a whole range of other elements, from electronica to pounding percussion to full choir.
Here’s a wonderfully intimate performance by the Kronos Quartet of the most famous piece from Requiem for a Dream. Prepare for an “ah, so that’s where that piece comes from!” moment:
And here’s something a bit more subdued from The Fountain:
7. Under the Skin (2014) – Mica Levi
(Ok viola fans, this is your big moment.)
When you see what’s at number 1 in this list you’ll realise what a big statement this is, but I have to warn you that this film is by far the freakiest and most disturbing of our top ten. “Well of course it is”, I hear you cry, “the soundtrack features the viola!”
(Sorry viola fans, I let you down. That was a cheap shot.)
Omni-talented young British composer Mica Levi sampled and multi-tracked herself playing viola to create the iconic, three note motif for Scarlett Johannson’s alien seductress, as well as the deliciously sour, micro-tonally inflected chorale-like passages that underpin her voyage of discovery.
This really is one of the most remarkable and brilliant soundtracks ever composed, so if you haven’t seen this film then I urge you to check it out. Though if you have small children and are never able to visit the beach again, don’t blame me. Here are two extracts from the soundtrack, called “Death” and “Love”. (Which also describes the basic plot of the movie.)
6. Mishima (1985) – Philip Glass
The Kronos Quartet make a second (or third, if you’re counting carefully) appearance in this list, as the performers on Philip Glass’s score for this 1985 film based on the life, work and shocking death of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima.
For the film, Glass wrote three separate strands of music for three separate ensembles: string quartet, string orchestra with percussion, and full symphony orchestra. The string quartet sections were extracted to create his String Quartet no 3, which has become one of his most frequently performed concert works. (And indeed makes an appearance in our festival.)
If you don’t have time to listen to this extract, you can create your own Philip Glass score in your head by whispering the phrase “Mishima Minimalism” to yourself 132 times in a row
TOP FACT: The music for Mishima was also used for the closing credits of the 1998 movie The Truman Show
Check out our next blog post to find out which soundtracks make it into our top five…
Head of Marketing and Communications