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Angels In America - Thomas Newman - Soundtrack

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Genre: Soundtrack / Artist: Thomas Newman / Soundtrack / Audio CD released 2004-02-16 at Nonesuch

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      12.01.2008 00:45
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      Thomas Newman's greatest achievement yet (IMHO)

      Many film score fans have often wondered what would come out if Thomas Newman mixed his older orchestral styles of Little Women and Shawshank Redemption with his more funky experimental styles of American Beauty and Erin Brockwich. Well, the most affirmative answer would have to be Angels in America, written for the 2003 HBO TV adaptation of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize winning stage play, starring Al Pacino, Justin Kirk, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson among a large ensemble cast working under the direction of Mike Nichols about a group of gay people living under the threat of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s New York City. Newman's basic approach here takes a traditional full orchestra to which he then adds some more exotic soloistic instruments like a kantele, esraj, skin drums, ice metals, bodhran, lute, manipulated violin, dayre, processed chimes, guitars of many different types (traditional, baritone electric, high-string) as well as some more traditional soloistic instruments like oboe, violin and piano, and to all of this adds a number of vocal soloists and a choir. These all create a very diverse musical canvas that is at times sublime and harsh, but always touchingly harmonic. Newman's approach to depict the emotions beneath the surface lends the music a more transparent quality that never really jumps at you. After listening to the score and then viewing the film I was reinforced in my thoughts. The music is always in the background and almost never takes centrestage in the action. You can hear it, but you are never disturbed by it. For the most unmusical it might even slip by without any notice at all, but it is still there, weaving its sub-conscious messages to our understandings. And when taken out of the film the music stands well by itself without ever sounding like it "needs" pictures to accompany it. The music itself is used very sparingly when taken into account that Angels is six hours long in total. Therefore the music is never degraded into mere sound for the sake of sound. You will never hear any music where there is no real need for it.

      The score has three main themes that are highlighted in their initial presentations by the use of the oboe, an instrument used to depict the migratory aspects of the story as it is stated in the film itself: "If the duck was a song bird, it would sound like this: nasal, desolate, the call of migratory things." The main title is a perfect representation of this with its broad, minor-key dialogue of the oboe and string orchestra, with the odd sorts of guitar and other chimes constantly in the background creating a soft imbalance. It is a fuller depiction of the US as a whole as we glide over familiar American landmarks shrouded in misty clouds, and when the trumpets and choir enter half-way through as we descend on New York, the more baroque spiritual sides are brought to the fore. This beautiful main title theme doesn't make too many appearances on album, with the only note-worthy appearance taking place in the cue "The Mormons," where it is played with a fiddle with counterpoint from guitar, but the main title already shows us Newman's method of scoring this mini-series that is apparent throughout Angels in America in providing constantly harmonious music while taking a few other soloistic instruments to perform more off-beat accents in the background. This approach creates a strange, magical quality to the writing that is absolutely phenomenal. These accents skew the music from sounding too conventional but never disrupt the flow of harmony.

      The second large theme is for the more emotional migration of leaving one's loved one behind and moving on with one's life. It is first presented in "Ellis Island" and is more gently beguiling than the main theme. It is again presented with the oboe in the foreground and makes several appearances throughout in cues like "Bethesda Fountain" and "Tropopause." This gentle theme, however, does not essentially differ much from the initial melodic style of the main theme, the main difference stemming more from dispensing with the use of the off-beat accents of the speciality instruments and offering a more content atmosphere. The third major theme is for the depiction of Prior Walter's angelic mission that is a mix of both the two other major themes with its mix of gentleness and gorgeous, minor-keyed spirituality and magnificence. The first appearance for it comes in "Ozone" where we again can hear the oboe, and making further appearances in "More Life" and "The Great Work Begins" where it receives its most extended and glorious appearance and makes for a great album highlight, if not even one of the highlights of Thomas Newman's entire career. And when followed without break by the phenomenal cue "Tropopause" with the Ellis Island theme intoned by two female vocalists in counterpoint, it makes for an utterly stunning conclusion. These two tracks alone could already warrant the purchase of the album.

      The score has other minor themes as well. The most noticeable is probably the distant and eerie motif that usually signifies the distant heaven and is always intoned by hauntingly otherworldly boy-soprano vocals in the cues "Threshold of Revelation," "Broom of Truth," "Plasma Orgasmata" and "Garden of the Soul." For the more concrete angelic appearances, the score offers these quite bountifully, especially toward the end. The use of the choir is a particular detail in this score as Newman has not used a choir this extensively since 1997's Oscar & Lucinda, which also had some pseudo-religious undertones in it. This grand choral style is first presented in its fullest in the cue "The Infinite Descent". It has much baroque undertones to it à la Händel and it mixes several liturgical texts into one from the Requiem Aeternam to shouts of Hallelujah in a kind of mock religiousness that also translates well to the Angel performed by Emma Thompson, who recites old scriptures with great bluster and passion but not being able to deviate from these texts to see the obsoleteness of them in the world of today. These big angelic bursts are also about the only moments when the music is allowed to become a little more overpowering. Other such moments can be heard in the cues "Submit!" that features a very powerful surge of choral might, "Delicate Particle Logic" whose heavenly concluding strains accompany the Angel flying back to heaven, and "Black Angel," a score highlight. Taking "Black Angel" separately it gives us two predominate styles of the score, that of powerful angelic climaxes and dissonant Goldenthal-like horror. The wild electric guitar and dissonant bursts of brass offer some truly powerful sounds that wouldn't be out of place in a horror movie. Cues such as "Her Fabulous Insipience," "Submit!", and "Black Angel" in particular give the score its greatest explosions of sound while they are largely unlistenable for any long durations. Prior Walter's battle with the Angel in "Black Angel" makes these two worlds of triumph and horror collide in a ferocious clash that is one of the greatest showpieces of the score and is a highlight scene in the film as well.

      At the other end of the spectrum in these angel scenes are the two orgasmic moments of "Plasma Orgasmata" and "Garden of the Soul" where the music sounds incredibly similar to the final "Liebestod" in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde but without sounding too much like a rip-off. In fact the build-up to those big climaxes is always heartfelt and when the climax comes, it always brings a great emotional release. Of course there are also the odd sorts and other cues that are more scene specific. One of my absolute favourites is the scene when Prior enters heaven in the aptly titled cue "Heaven." With the black and white surroundings of the crumbling Heaven and the red clothing of Prior (with the red Golden Gate bridge in the background), the music accompanies these surreal surroundings with great touch. The eerie choral surges over atonal strings and the constant electronic backing with a flute fluttering completely oblivious to everything else is one of the most spine-chilling and haunting musical moments I have ever heard. To this we can also add cues like "Umdankbar Kind" and "Bayeux Tapestry" that offer the kind of Newman-like wanderings of harmonious music trying to find a resolution but never being able to get there. In fact there is hardly anything to fault in this score and the only criticism I have of the album are the three source songs included ("Solitude," "Closer Walk With Thee" and "I'm His Child") that unfortunately are placed in between the score and disrupt the magical feel of Newman's work and the rather short cues that are usual coming from Newman. Still, Thomas Newman's work on Angels in America is one of the most sublime creations of film music I have come to grips with post-2000. It was a gamble purchasing this and I haven't been sorry one bit. By combining his two large styles, Angels in America can well be thought as being Newman's greatest score yet (even in 2008) and will definitely be viewed as a highpoint in his career. For my money, I'd recommend just about everybody to pick one up, because no matter what your musical inclination is, Angels in America is a rare representation of beauty that can lift one up to the spheres with the angels.


      1. Threshold of Revelation (0:56)
      2. Angels in America (Main Title) (2:19)
      3. Lesionnaire (0:40)
      4. Ellis Island (2:06)
      5. Acolyte of the Flux (1:15)
      6. Umdankbar Kind (1:25)
      7. The Ramble (1:08)
      8. Ozone (0:58)
      9. Pill Poppers (1:18)
      10. Quartet (6:45)
      11. Solitude (performed by Duke Ellington) (3:12)
      12. Bayeux Tapestry (1:49)
      13. Spotty Monster (0:48)
      14. Mauve Antarctica (4:48)
      15. Her Fabulous Incipience (1:06)
      16. The Infinite Descent (0:56)
      17. A Closer Walk With Thee (performed by George Lewis) (2:57)
      18. Broom of Truth (2:51)
      19. Submit! (1:16)
      20. Plasma Orgasmata (2:58)
      21. Delicate Particle Logic (1:38)
      22. The Mormons (1:52)
      23. Prophet Birds (2:43)
      24. More Life (2:10)
      25. Black Angel (4:11)
      26. Garden of the Soul (4:06)
      27. Heaven (2:02)
      28. Bethesda Fountain (1:19)
      29. The Great Work Begins (End Title) (3:57)
      30. Tropopause (2:58)
      31. I'm His Child (performed by Zella Jackson Price) (3:36)

      Music Composed and Conducted by Thomas Newman
      Recorded and Mixed by Tommy Vicari
      at Signet Sound Studios
      Orchestra Recorded by Armin Steiner
      at The Fox Newman Scoring Stage and Todd Scoring Stage
      Assistant Engineers: Tom Hardisty, John Rodd & David Marquette
      Orchestrations by Thomas Pasatieri
      Vocal Arrangements: Thomas Pasatieri & Thomas Newman
      Music Editor: Bill Bernstein
      Assistant Music Editor: Michael Zainer

      Instrumental Soloists:
      George Doering, Michael Fisher, Steve Tavaglione, George Budd, Rick Cox, Steve Kujala, Leslie Reed, Sid Page, Oliver Schroer, John Beasley, Bill Bernstein & Thomas Newman

      Vocal Soloists:
      Elin Carlson, Dwayne Condon, Chris Ibenhard, Susan Stevens Logan, Susan Montgomery, Bobbi Page & Sally Stevens

      © berlioz, 2004/2008

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    • Product Details

      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 Threshold of Revelation
      2 Angels in America (Main Title)
      3 Lesionnaire
      4 Ellis Island
      5 Acolyte of the Flux
      6 Umdankbar Kind
      7 Ramble
      8 Ozone
      9 Pill Poppers
      10 Quartet
      11 Solitude - Duke Ellington
      12 Bayeux Tapestry
      13 Spotty Monster
      14 Mauve Antarctica
      15 Her Fabulous Incipience
      16 Infinite Descent
      17 Closer Walk With Thee - George Lewis
      18 Broom of Truth
      19 Submit!
      20 Plasma Orgasmata
      21 Delicate Particle Logic
      22 Mormons
      23 Prophet Birds
      24 More Life
      25 Black Angel
      26 Garden of the Soul
      27 Heaven
      28 Bethesda Fountain
      29 Great Work Begins (End Title)
      30 Tropopause
      31 I'm His Child