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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Jonny Greenwood: There Will Be Blood


1) Open Spaces; 2) Future Markets; 3) Prospectors Arrive; 4) Eat Him By His Own Light; 5) Henry Plainview; 6) There Will Be Blood; 7) Oil; 8) Proven Lands; 9) HW / Hope Of New Fields; 10) Stranded The Line; 11) Prospectors Quartet.

General verdict: The notorious 16th century baroque composer Sir Jonathan Greenwood with his latest set of motets... oh, wait a minute.

I am ashamed to admit that There Will Be Blood was the last Paul Thomas Anderson movie that I personally saw, and confused to recognize that this was the first of several soundtracks that Jonny Greenwood provided for Anderson. To be honest, while I enjoyed the movie (because watching Daniel Day-Lewis is always a delight as long as the script is not completely dreadful), I did not remember much about its music when it was over — largely because, unlike Aimee Mann's songs in Magnolia, it was just background film music to me. But the half-hour album that accompanied it, containing all of Greenwood's score but not the Brahms or Arvo Pärt pieces that were also featured in the movie, does not at all sound like «incidental music»: its compositions are lengthy, complex, and wholesome enough to come across as a suite, one that can be enjoyed without even beginning to suspect that there's this unconventionally symbolic movie about a ruthless oil pro­spector that goes along with it.

Neo-classical suite, that is: for the first time here, Greenwood allows himself to fully indulge in his passion for chamber music and write a set of pieces for classical musicians to perform — in formats ranging from string quartets to piano quintets to small symphonic orchestras. The variety of approach allows me to hear echoes of just about everybody who mattered in classical music in the second half of the 20th century, from Shostakovich to Messiaen to Penderecki to Schnittke to... well, it is silly just to keep dropping names all over the place, especially if the name-dropper is quite far from being a connaisseur of classical oeuvres created in the age of modal jazz, rock'n'roll, and Madonna.

I do not want to jump on the oh-so-easily jumpable «Jonny Greenwood is a rock musician with no academic training, therefore he cannot even begin to approach the greatness of Shostakovich and/or Penderecki on their own turf» wagon; but neither can I claim that the classical music he writes is truly worth your time if you are a buff. All I can say, from a thoroughly layman-like perspective, is that modern classical, for me, falls into two categories — music that makes me go to sleep (approximately 85% of what I've heard) and music that makes me sit up and listen because there's, like, some real life in it. From that crude, simple perspective There Will Be Blood dangles somewhere in the middle.

One thing that Jonny clearly did not want to do was to make his music sound sleepy and ambient; practically each of these pieces shows a certain dynamics, rises and falls, invests in heavy cello barrages and sharply lyrical violin solos, all the while staying in surprisingly traditional territory. Dissonance is used sparingly; in fact, I believe that most of the record would be quite palatable even to those whose tastes in classical music stop at the border that separates impressionism from serialism. At the same time, there is clearly a big spiritual influence here from the «apo­calyptic», WWII-inspired trend in modern music — check out, for instance, the alarm siren-like strings on ʽHenry Plainviewʼ, not unlike something you'd hear in Penderecki's Threnody — which fits in with the tone of Anderson's appropriately apocalyptic movie, but most likely, just reflects Jonny's personal interest in making spooky.

Nothing about the soundtrack strikes me as particularly beautiful or fearful, but it is sprinkled with occasionally outstanding moments — the sprinting Wagnerian cellos in ʽFuture Marketsʼ, the ravaging string-based bolts of lightning in the title track, the percussive African treatment of strings in ʽProven Landsʼ among them. At the very least, the soundtrack shows more energy than In Rainbows (ducks a used copy of the There Will Be Blood DVD); as to how well it fits into the modern classical scene, my opinion should not matter — groping blindly in the dark, I'd say that this stuff makes Jonny look no better and no worse than the average moderately talented graduate of the Juilliard composition department, which would either qualify as a compliment or an insult, depending on your general view of the world. I will merely reiterate that the suite works fine on its own, without any obligatory connection to the movie, that I had a bit more fun listening to it than I expected, and that I think Jonny would fare better as a symphonic composer than a string quartet one — but then, I do have a hard time getting into string quartets in general.

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