Music for Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Williams
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2002
CD No: Sony Classical SK 89932
“It’s just like film music”. A common phrase, a derogatory one, used when something for the concert hall displeases. Well, there’s some pretty duff symphonies around, and what we now term as film music was being written before the genre was created – you only have to listen to Korngold before the silver-screen beckoned him to Hollywood; and Mahler got a posthumous credit!
The snobbery shown to film music is worrying; also taking its name in vain. I can align myself very happily to Birtwistle, Boulez and Carter; equally I love Walton’s music – now there’s a man who could write film- and concert-music with style. Ingo Metzmacher, no stranger to Luigi Nono’s music, told me he has a soft spot for Oklahoma!
Yet, I would not have pursued this CD. It arrived, and playing it has proved pleasurable and stimulated this response.
I’ve not seen the latest ’Episode’ of Star Wars. Therefore – the stills in the booklet aside – I’ve no specific images in mind. If I didn’t know that this was film music, I would recognise it as being so, yet twentieth-century ’classical’ music is the foundation of Williams’s score, and with it comes that extra bit of gloss that extends boundaries towards ’popular’. Music-plus, if you will, for it goes beyond melodic and harmonic structure in obviously being inspired by an image, a situation, an emotion.
Listening to Williams’s latest score cold, one has no option to respond primarily to invention and sound, and to a scenario that is implicit if imagined. There is also the music’s image-making potential … and one does become enwrapped in a particular atmosphere and circumstance … and the oh-so-familiar opening credit-music helps!
For the ears only, Williams’s music makes for good listening. One recurring tune provides an ’idée fixe’ it comes round a couple of times too often perhaps (from a symphonic standpoint), yet each appearance is different, and the whole score is wide-ranging with plenty of moments apprehensive, aggressive, tender and richly expansive. Memorable ideas and colourful orchestration abound to transport the listener to spectacular vistas and vivid intimations.
Those foundations I mention are fleeting – high trumpets recall Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin; the opening of ’Yoda and the Younglings’ took me to Ravel’s Mother Goose; then Holst’s Planets, not unreasonably perhaps, appears to take centre-stage (voices à la ’Neptune’ too) but it’s really Vaughan Williams, and somewhere else a rasping trumpet had me in mind of Birtwistle’s Triumph of Time. These are but passing references. There is a more specific link to the distinguished film scores of Korngold, Steiner and Herrmann; Williams’s lavish scoring makes sure of that.
This may not be great music but it is very effective – it can be enjoyed on its own terms if appreciated as being a continuation of tradition used in a very precise way.
I certainly enjoyed Williams’s imagination and skill, the LSO’s superb playing (this band is now a veteran of Star Wars’ sessions), the first-class recording and will, like the Jedi, return to this CD. Must go and see the film now!