Saturday, March 01, 2003


Philip Glass is one of those composers whose work hits me asymmetrically. One moment I am entranced, the next strangely unmoved. For no discernable reason. I felt both those responses when I saw the ROH production of ‘Akhnaten’ in 1985: oddly impressed in a laconic kind of way by the painfully slow live production; abandoned to motionlessness on the home sound system. ‘Einstein on the Beach’ I usually relate to more readily. 'Music In Twelve Parts', a minimalist classic, can be enthralling and infuriating. And of Glass' film scores, so far, ‘Koyaanisqatsi' is the one I've really come to love. Oh, and the Bowie and Eno-inspired 'Low Symphony' warms the heart on a cold day, too.

All of which information was right at the back of my mind when I went to see Stephen Daldry's film 'The Hours' in Brighton the other day. Nicole Kidman is extraordinary as Virginia Woolf, and the emotional and historical segue from the writing of 'Mrs Dalloway' (1923) to the stories set in 1951 and 2001 is a great filmic and narrative device. It can feel as if the inner life of creatives is just too tortured to be true ("Oh to be in Richmond, now that melancholy's here!"), but this is undoubtedly a good and serious film. One of its most endearing characters is of course the score by Philip Glass, performed (as on the soundtrack CD), by the Lyric Quartet and Michael Riesman.

Glass builds up a neo-classical sound world of remorselessly dissolving and unresolving intensity. The small gestures and repetitions of his music are echoed in a number of visual episodes on the screen. Arpeggios, elliptical themes, gently persistent rhythms and mournfully colourful motifs blend in and out of Daldry's scenes -- ever present, but somehow never obtrusive or dominant. I'm not yet sure how the aural effect would be without the images and the story, but the point of film music is precisely to cohere eye, ear, mind and heart with sound; and at that transubstantiative level Glass' score works very well indeed. You can hear a little of it on the movie site, after Flash has run its course...

John L. Walters makes a pertinent observation about it in his review yesterday:
"The long 'Morning Passages' section feels like a piano concerto from an alternative 12th century, to which the director has found matching images. In some respects it works as fake classical music in the way that Elmer Bernstein's superb score for 'The Sweet Smell of Success' used fake jazz to skewer its hollow main characters. By contrast Glass's score for 'The Hours' adds dignity and depth to the people and things in the movie." (c) Walters / Guardian Newspapers

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