To help get you in the mood, we’re counting down our top 10 original film soundtracks featuring all things violin, viola and cello.
Carrying on from last week’s blog, it’s now time to find out what makes our top 5…
5. Norwegian Wood (2010) – Jonny Greenwood
I could have picked any one of a number of pieces by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, who has built a reputation for his stunning film scores, usually written predominantly for strings.
Greenwood’s soundtrack for this film adaption of Murakami’s famous novel is scored for string orchestra and string quartet, giving it something of the soundworld of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, but with additional influences of Krzysztof Penderecki and Arvo Pärt. In other words, it’s your basic Japanese-Norwegian-English-Polish-Estonian mashup.
4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) – Tan Dun
The next three soundtracks on our list have three things in common: they were all written for big name soloists, all won an Academy Award, and all went on to have a life within the concert hall. Oh, and a fourth thing: they’re all terrific.
First up is Tan Dun’s wonderfully atmospheric, prodigiously inventive East-meets-West score for Ang Lee’s martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, written for and performed by the peerless Yo-Yo Ma.
3. The Red Violin (1998) – John Corigliano
Like Tan Dun, John Corigliano is primarily a composer for the stage and concert hall, who has only rarely been tempted into the film music world. He was drawn to Francois Girard’s film – which follows a violin through various owners across the centuries – partly for personal reasons: Corigliano’s father was principal violin in the New York Philharmonic, and a huge inspiration to him. But trying to live up to his memory was a daunting idea, so it took decades for Corigliano Jr. to tackle the concerto he had always wanted to write in his father’s honour. Finally, this film gave him the opportunity.
The soundtrack was written for virtuoso Joshua Bell, whom Corigliano says “his playing resembles that of my father… No cold, clinical dissection of a work would flow from his bow.”
Amazingly, the soundtrack for The Red Violin didn’t win a Grammy, losing out to (of all things) A Bug’s Life. (Just as Corigliano’s stunning electronic film score for Altered States didn’t win an Oscar, losing out to (of all things) Fame.) But I’m sure that making the number 3 spot in our list will more than make up for that.
2. Schindler’s List (1993) – John Williams
John Williams had to make an appearance, didn’t he?
If he had scored the iconic 2-note motif from Jaws for cello, then that might have made the final selection, but of course Williams said, “We’re gonna need a bigger instrument,” and went for the double bass instead. So if anyone feels like writing a “Top 10 uses of double basses in movies,” that would certainly feature, alongside the famous Hitchcock cameo in Strangers on a Train:
Where were we?
Oh yes, I was just stalling rather than try to write about the theme from Schindler’s List, as performed by the sublime Itzhak Perlman. I think this is one of those occasions where we should just let the music speak for itself.
1. Psycho (1960) – Bernard Herrmann
And so here we are at number 1 in the list, with Saul Bass’ iconic opening credits sequence:
Nervous ostinati, juddering chords, sudden leaps in register, and of course the famous EEEK EEEK EEEK chords from the shower scene make this the most vivid soundtrack of all time. Not only is it the only string soundtrack that unpleasant teenage boys will screech while pretending to attack you with a bread roll (I’m sure that’s happened to us all at some time or other), but by some AMAZING coincidence it’s also a piece that features in the first day of our festival. Who’d have thought it?
Will all of that intensity survive in the string quartet arrangement, I hear you ask? Well feast your ears on this – and jump straight to 7 minutes and 34 seconds if you dare…
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