Saturday, January 9, 2010

An album a day, #9: Michael Nyman, "Drowning by Numbers" soundtrack, 1988.

Ignore the movie itself, which wasn't Greenaway's best (that would be "The Falls," BTW). Nyman's soundtrack is best understood as a 40-some minute set of variations on the Adagio from Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major for violin a...nd viola. Since that particular adagio is one of the most luminously, transcendentally beautiful movements that Mozart ever wrote (that is, one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the history of mankind, period), that is a very good thing indeed. Nyman doesn't simply write variations on the melody of the adagio; rather, he picks out specific motifs--a two-chord progression, an interval--and structures entire pieces around them; so, though the melody itself is rarely identifiable, Mozart's harmonic universe is there fully. Gorgeous.

It might be best to listen to the Mozart first, if you don't know it. Here is a great performance with Heifetz and Primrose:

(I find myself wishing the Nyman Band had recorded the Mozart movement itself, for reasons of consistency, but I can't imagine their performance would have been as good as this.)

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