Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, March 28, 2004


Every once in a while I stop in the junk shop a few blocks down the street and check out what they have on the shelves. Today I picked up the soundtrack to “The English Patient,” music by Gabriel Yared. I hadn’t especially liked the movie, nor had I remembered the soundtrack, but for 3 bucks you can’t go too far wrong, and the case listed some attractive ‘30s hits they included for “period” effect.

The orchestral writing mines that moody angsty romantic movie soundtrack vein nicely. It’s a 100-year-old (at least) musical vocabulary that retains contemporary currency, at least in the movies, where it signifies conscience-riddled passion and depth of soul. The period pieces -- Fred Astaire, Benny Goodman, a group called Shepheard’s Hotel Jazz Orchestra -- come on like jarring surrealism, sounding way out of date next to the orchestral writing which has naturalized itself as contemporary-sounding, the sound of the modern movie-going soul. Post-Dylan rock would be less jarring, sharing the romantic movie-soundtrack idiom’s seriousness of tone.

The soundtrack also has a contemporary pianist named Julie Steinberg playing the Aria from Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” It sounds less dated than the Astaire and Goodman in this context. Sounds out of place, though -- too many other associations. Bach wrote it for harpsichord. Glenn Gould famously recorded it on piano; others have too. It sounds less contemporary on harpsichord.

Some of the orchestral licks sound lifted from Nat King Cole’s recording of “Stardust.” I don’t know who wrote that arrangement, but it’s great -- lush, maybe Debussy-esque lush.

Not sure what to make of Bach sounding more contemporary but more out of place than Fred Astaire. I don’t get it.

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