February 16, 2013
Cinema Siren is a big fan of love. There’s nothing more wonderful than being around those in love. It brings everyone around them up, even if the experience can be a bit of a sap-fest.
Anytime I can play Cupid with a well recommended rom-com movie or charming little cafe for a Paris visit, I’m right there for it. I’m back from London just in time to help the romantically inclined or challenged. Sadly, Valentine’s Day is only once a year. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared to do the aural equivalent of tossing rose petals at our significant others, or put ourselves in a loving and romantic mood.
I’ve put together a collection of scores very specifically chosen for romantic interludes. For that time you’ve spirited away to a bed and breakfast or have unplugged your phones and turned in early together…
I didn’t include scores you couldn’t get in their entirety, nor those that you’d find distracting. Some scores have very famous or particularly gorgeous pieces sprinkled within bombast and cacophony. Some, no matter how great they might be, are still too recognizable not to feel cliched or create an inappropriate tape loop in your head.
That kicked Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill A Mockingbird, Last of The Mohicans, A Beautiful Mind and Siesta, all of which are amazing but too aurally diverse as a whole. Titanic, Somewhere in Time, The Way We Were and Love Story are all too memorable, but those of you who don’t mind being able to sing along with every note or imagining a sinking ship are welcome to consider them included.
One could certainly throw together a wonderful romantic collection from parts of the North by Northwest, Vertigo and even Psycho soundtracks. I could have suggested dozens of those I whittled down from the 50-plus scores on my first list.
I found a way to reduce the list to my choices of the very best. Here, therefore, are complete scores with only the occasional departure, if any, from the gorgeous or meditative. Numbering them 10 to 1 is a matter of personal taste as they are all exceptional. Your agreement or disagreement will depend on how much you prefer ambient over the orchestral or melodic. Have fun, whoever you are….You can thank me later.
#10 Whale Rider (Lisa Gerrard) Written by one of the founding members of Dead Can Dance, Gerrard allows undulating synths and guitars to construct the score’s moody, atmospheric soundscape. Her gorgeous voice can be heard just enough to add her trademark ethereal quality.
#9 The Last Emperor (Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Byrne) This Oscar-winning score is a great example of Western and Asian musical influences blended seamlessly by two pop critic darlings. A beautiful heartbreaking theme gives way to Chinese folk music injecting a sparse instrumentation, which makes for a fascinating and mesmerizing balance.
#8 The Hours (composed by Phillip Glass) Famed 20th-century classical composer Glass utilizes his minimalism, using orchestra, string quartet and piano to build sonic layers with repetitive themes that build and deconstruct over and over. Very powerful.
#7 Pride and Prejudice (Dario Marianelli and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet) Though not as strong a score as his “The Brothers Grimm,” this one is far more calm and quite lovely on the whole, making a lovely accompaniment for a shared sunset or snowy evening. Pianist Thibaudet adds his expert and emotional piano-playing to the collection of new pieces all meant to evoke the composers of Beethoven’s era. Those of you who are screaming about ‘How can she place this lower than Philip Glass?’ remember this is based on romance. An entire high school gym could be filled with the sheet music purchased of the score’s song, “Dawn.”
#6 Revolutionary Road (Thomas Newman) It was very difficult to pick on Newman piece to include, but this one is arguably the most emotional of his works, and has his trademark signature sounds of lushness from unusual instrumentation. There are a few discordant moments, but none of it is bombastic. Also, several romantic ’50s songs are included. The theme that repeats is beautiful.
#5 The Fountain (Cliff Mansel) Anytime you get a composer (Cliff Mansel), the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai together, it’s bound to get interesting. Many of the fans of this soundtrack will tell you it numbers among the best ever. It swings from ambient synths and bleeps to swelling strings and everywhere in between, while maintaining consistent and haunting, melancholy intensity.
#4 Crash (Mark Isham) Lots of gorgeous ethnic vocalizations add to a deeply intense and richly emotional work by one of the best contemporary composers for film. Gorgeous from beginning to end.
#3 Out of Africa (John Barry) One of the two most traditionally romantic scores on the list, this orchestral score is very melodic and sweeping. I remember when I went to the premiere of this movie many years ago, more than half the audience left the film red-eyed and weepy. This music is so beautiful it could certainly bring on some tears.
#2 Solaris (Cliff Martinez) So atmospheric it feels like you are being drawn into another world. It has the unique quality of mixing a delicacy with an intensity that gets under your skin and stays there. Very meditative, this score is definitely either for active listening or to be completely in the background. One reviewer said of it, “this music will fill a need you didn’t know you had.”
#1 Passion: Music for the Last Temptation of Christ (Peter Gabriel) This Grammy winner was quite ahead of its time when released in 1989, although it is yet another example of Martin Scorsese’s love of music of all sorts and his belief of it as essential in his films. Based in the rhythms and sounds from a wide variety of countries as diverse as Turkey, India, Morocco and Senegal, it fully lives up to its title. Gabriel shows just how much intensity and emotion can be conveyed through rhythm, and brings together the best musical influences from around the world to do so.
Honorable mention goes to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, because no list of the best scores is complete without one by the incomparable Bernard Herrmann. This is his most romantic, and draws upon his influences of Debussy and Rachmaninoff, with a wonderful recurring theme that is as romantic as you’ll ever hear. Highly recommended.
In some not too distant future I’ll be making other lists of soundtrack scores for you to consider adding to your playlists. It is essentially the classical music of the 20th and 21st century, and an opportunity for composers to express the depth and diversity of musical expression to a wide audience of film lovers.
Those of you who don’t already listen to scores will be amazed at how well they stand alone and how much they can be enjoyed in any music collection. As a first list, though, these 10 scores perfectly show just how much our lives can be enhanced by the power of music.