THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC
If I were parked on a desert island and asked to supply eight pieces of music for the programme ‘Desert Island Discs’, I’d probably choose film music because it hits the spot on so many levels, not just aurally but visually. I can’t listen to Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana without thinking of that tragic scene on the steps in Godfather Three when Michael Corleone’s daughter, Mary, is shot dead. John Barry, most often recognised for his Bond themes, surpassed himself with John Dunbar’s theme in ‘Dances With Wolves’, and who can fail to be moved by Maurice Jarre’s soaring strings in Lawrence of Arabia, or stirred by Hans Zimmer’s fabulous score in ‘Gladiator’? When life isn’t kind I have a habit of playing this at maximum volume – sorry neighbours – to bolster me. In the same way, Vaughn Williams ‘ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ and the epic scale of the harmony reminds me of my main protagonist, Paul Tallis, and my favourite ‘Russian’ novel in the Tallis series ‘Land of Ghosts’. And so the list goes on. But my attention has been caught lately by some superb soundtracks accompanying recent TV dramas and boxed sets.
It all started with the theme to ‘Luther’ and Massive Attack’s creepy, sensuous Paradise Circus. The creep factor continues in ‘Vikings’ with ‘If I had a heart’ by Fever Ray in which electronic sound combines to create a haunting, icy and atmospheric backdrop to Ragnar Lothbrok’s dark ambitions. Ramin Djawadi’s distinct musical identity, with his hallmark ‘horse cantering’ rhythm, is richly displayed in the theme to ‘Game of Thrones’, and must be one of the most covered soundtracks – I recently stumbled across a clip of the Queens Guards’ own version.
So far, so good, and while theme and incidental music can be used to magical effect, it can also spring a strange, if not jarring, note. While the use of rock music, specifically Nick Cave’s sublime ‘Red Right Hand’, tracks from the Arctic Monkeys and Jack White’s cover of U2’s ‘Love is Blindness’ – one of my all time favourites – serve Peaky Blinders brilliantly, the same device, using tambourine-rattling 60’s sounding music, (Straight Up and Down by the Brian Jonestown Massacre) fails (for me) in Boardwalk Empire. It just doesn’t resonate, which is a shame because, when the music of the Prohibition era is threaded into each episode, it delightfully complements and enhances what is an incredibly stylish American period gangster drama.
The only downside of all this musicality: I constantly have a theme tune of one sort or another revolving around my brain. Tra-la!