Sunday, 19 February 2017

Need for drama: part 5

Title: Days of heaven
Year: 1978
Composer: Ennio Morricone

It’s Oscar season again and for the next week I’m reviewing some of Ennio Morricone’s Oscar nominated scores ending with his last year’s winning score for The hateful eight. His first nomination was for a Terrence Malick film Days of heaven that unfortunately lost to Giorgio Moroder’s Midnight express. The score is a true beauty, a glace to a time when film scores still had memorable melodies and genuine emotional impact.

Malick is a director known to be difficult to work with for the composers. He tends to move the music to other places in the film that it was written for or replace it completely with classical music. This wasn’t really a problem for Maestro Morricone who wrote several versions of a number of themes that could be implemented to the film quite freely. He only insisted one cue, The fire, to be kept in its original place and ultimately everything else was changed except for that piece. The Film Score Monthly album presents the score in 3 ways: the original album presentation, the cues as heard in the film and finally extended material, most of which didn’t appear in the film. Due to this some of the cues are heard twice or three times during the album’s duration but the programs provide different perspectives to experience the score.

The original album and the film open with Camille Saint-Saëns’ Aquarium from The carnival of the animals. This mysterious cue was clearly advised for Morricone to be used as the basis of his main theme. However his melody, though similar, takes another direction. The harmonies are more oddly sentimental than shrouded in mystery and somewhat unexpected thus giving the theme a neoromantic edge. The first version of the theme is heard in Harvest which really brings to mind images of the vast prairies. The theme’s every appearance really is like the great outdoors itself depicted through music. For instance on the album it is heard next time in Ashes & dust following the devastating fire sequence thus really giving the sense of nature waking up from the ashes. It beautifully then moves straight to the love theme, showing the human side of moving on after a loss. Similar method is applied to His death, though this time reversed like returning back to nature through one’s death. The second disc opens with the original Main title where the theme’s version for strings really reminds me of works by classical composers and the emphasis is on the rolling piano accompaniment. There are some great variations of the theme e.g.  in track 16 with guitars providing the base, track 27 with out of tune swirling figures combined to childlike music box melody and finally in track 30 with a passionate solo piano performance.

The real emotional punch is the love theme (aka The farmer and the girl or Days of heaven) that really is a melody to behold, easily one of the all-time greatest Morricone compositions. It has a rural, almost folk song like quality to it because of the use of natural minor scale and it makes a perfect circle of music that flows like a river forever forward. The theme is hinted at first in The return which really is an intelligent cue because it only has the accompanying harmonies in their simplest forms but they leave an emotional impact entirely by theirselves too. On the second disc this method goes even further by changing the harmonies to the solo piano and soft strings. Track 15 of disc 1 is the full version of the theme for a plain piano solo which is just incredible in its simplicity. The theme has a beautiful descending intro and outro that is heard for instance in track 28 of disc 1 and several times on the second disc. Days of heaven is the biggest concert arrangement of the theme for the full orchestra, several solo woodwind performances on top of swirling strings and guitars which create a true moment of indescribable beauty. The album version ends with nightly sounds of chirping locusts that remind the listener of the surrounding atmosphere.

Besides the two main themes, there are other recurring motifs as well. Threshing aka Non-stop work aka Work theme is a dramatic tune with chord progressions familiar to Morricone’s previous works. The steady string accompaniment has almost classical or sacred quality to it (even more on the second disc by the appearance of a church organ), later similarly reprised in the introverted The honeymoon. Luckily among the dramatic cues there is also time for some positivity in Happiness aka On the road aka Train ride which has a moving flute melody made fluid by constantly rolling classical guitar and piano base. The B section shows though that the drama is never far away with an intensifying pace that resolves to the sweet reprise of the main melody.

The real dread and horror is depicted within a couple of cues. The chase is a mad Morriconean action track with pounding, rhythmic harpsichord that is combined surprisingly to the love theme that bleeds with agony among the screeching strings. Aquarium also inspired one suspense cue called Bad news but this time the falling melody gives creepy vibes in a mysterious setting. Thankfully it resolves into the intro and short reprise of the love theme. The second disc also introduces Insect noises or Ghost voices that are made by swirling flutes (and on the latter track by actual choral voices and jazzy percussion fills) and often added to the main theme creating sense of lurking danger and uneasiness. By far the greatest depiction of horror is the 7.5-minute The fire with which Morricone wanted to underscore the devastation of crops caused by the locusts and fire. It begins with string writing straight out of a horror movie that then turns to sinister woodwinds from The good, the bad and the ugly’s desert sequence. However the rhythmic accompaniment intensifies even more as the track progresses keeping the listener on his toes finally exploding into a death march with judgmental brass instruments of doom and real sound effects of burning fire. Though it might be hard to listen to at times, it is a crucial part of the dramatic arch of the music.

Listening to this score has to be of the most immensely moving musical experiences of my life. No score has expressed connections between the beauty and brutality of both the wilderness and the human nature with such ease. The 2 CDs are a bit long to finish with one sitting but the different presentations give options to the listener needing some relaxation and peace presented through music.

Rating: *****

1978 soundtrack album
1. Aquarium [Le Carnaval des animaux] (Camille Saint-Saëns) (02:05) *****
2. We used to do things (Linda Manz) (00:49) *
3. Enderlin (Leo Kottke) (03:14) ***
4. Harvest (02:59) *****
5. Threshing (02:05) *****
6. Happiness (02:13) *****
7. The honeymoon (01:26) ****
8. Swamp dance (Doug Kershaw) (03:32) ***
9. The return (02:31) *****
10. The chase (02:00) *****
11. The fire (07:48) *****
12. Ashes & dust (02:17) *****
13. Days of heaven (03:26) *****

Ennio Morricone cues used in picture:
14. Main theme (7M1 tk 8) (01:02) *****
15. The farmer and the girl (Theme 18—piano version) (01:53) *****
16. In the field (Theme 5 long version, cf. Harvest) (02:59) *****
17. Bad news (3M1 tk 3) (02:35) *****
18. Non-stop work (2M1 2nd part) (00:36) ****
19. Main theme (2M1 1st part) (01:18) *****
20. Bad news (4M3) (00:36) *****
21. After wedding (5M2 2nd part) (00:56) ****
22. Empty house (5M3, cf. The honeymoon) (01:24) ****
23. On the road (1M2 for 5M4) (01:41) *****
24. They should leave (6M1, cf. Ashes & dust) (02:16) *****
25. On the road (8M1 long version, cf. Happiness) (02:13) *****
26. Bill returns (8M2, cf. The return) (02:30) *****
27. The locusts and fire (9M1, cf. The fire) (07:29) *****
28. The farmer and the girl (11M3 2nd version) (02:26) *****
29. His death (5M2 1st part) (01:27) *****
30. The farmer and the girl (10M3, cf. Days of heaven) (02:46) *****

Extended score program:
1. 1M1 (Main title) (02:00) *****
2. 1M2 (Train ride) (01:44) *****
3. 1M3 (Main theme) (01:47) *****
4. Theme 18 (Love theme, long version) (01:22) *****
5. 2M1 1st part (Main theme, alternate take) (01:20) *****
6. 2M2 (Main theme) (00:53) ****
7. 2M3 (Threshing, alternate mix) (02:05) *****
8. 3M1 (Bad news, longer version) (02:42) *****
9. 3M2 (Work theme) (01:46) *****
10. 3M3 (Love theme) (01:00) *****
11. 4M1 (Intro to love theme, 2 versions) (00:39) *****
12. 5M1 (Love theme) (01:17) *****
13. 5M2 (Insect noises with main theme) (01:45) *****
14. 5M3 (The honeymoon, with piano) (01:26) ****
15. 6M1 (Intro to Love theme/Ashes to dust) (02:42) *****
16. 6M2/7M2/7M3 (Suspense theme/Main theme, 2 versions/Suspense theme) (02:27) *****
17. 8M1 long version (Happiness) (02:16) *****
18. 8M2 (The return, piano version) (02:33) *****
19. Ghost voices (02:33) *****
20. 9M1 (The fire) (07:31) *****
21. 10M1 (Pursuit theme) (01:26) *****
22. 10M2 (The killing) (01:06) ****
23. 10M3 (Days of heaven) (02:47) *****
24. 11M1 version 1 (The chase) (02:01) *****
25. 11M1 version 2 (Love theme) (02:06) *****
26. 11M2 (Main theme) (01:03) *****
27. 11M3 version 2 (Main theme) (02:36) *****
28. 11M3 version 1 (Love theme) (02:29) *****

Bonus tracks:
29. 4M2 (Intro to love theme) (00:22) ****
30. 5M2 1st track (Insect noises with main theme, alternate) (01:51) *****
31. 5M2 2nd track (Main theme, 1st mix) (01:23) *****
32. 5M2 2nd track (Main theme, 2nd mix) (01:22) *****
33. Theme 18 (Love theme, short version) (00:49) *****

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