One of America’s
most celebrated modern composers, Philip Glass is no stranger
to film scoring. His credits include Koyaanisqatsi (1983);
Candyman (1992); Academy Award-nominated Kundun
(1997); The Truman Show (1998) and The Hours (2002).
This Academy Award-nominated, new score for Notes on a Scandal
is one of his darkest and most powerful.
The Notes on
a Scandal screenplay concentrates on the interaction between
two women teachers: the lonely, embittered and ageing lesbian,
Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) and Sheba Hart the younger married
teacher with a handicapped child and, to Covett’s mind, a somewhat
bohemian lifestyle. When Covett discovers that Sheba is having
an affair with a young boy pupil, she exerts blackmail to develop
her friendship with Sheba into something altogether more intense.
Director of Notes
on a Scandal, Richard Eyre wanted the music to enforce the
sense of the story as viewed through the eyes of the main character,
I have not seen
the film yet but have viewed a number of clips and trailers
enough to appreciate the story line and absorb the atmosphere.
This is a story of obsession and Glass’s dark relentless minimalist
score fits it well. Glass’s harmonies, imaginative orchestrations
especially for harp and horn, interesting modulations, and abrupt
changes of tempo and mood sustain interest. To my ears there
is something of a childhood playground tune in the main theme
but horribly, cruelly distorted.
From the score’s
twenty tracks I will just cover a representative dozen or so.
Immediately, the relentless dour minimalist murmurings of the
lower strings of the opening track ‘First Day of School’ sound
a dark, sour note; with only brief plaintive interjections from
higher woodwinds. ‘The History’ allows this plaintiveness further
development; a vulnerability that is Sheba’s; crueller lower
strings shadowing Covett’s own view. ‘Invitation’ increases
the tempo and introduces a sense of urgency and tension as well
as a hint of baroque with imaginative material for the horns.
Repetitive harp pizzicato chords and high strings suggest the
happiness and innocence of ‘The Harts’, counterpointed with
menacing lower string chords. ‘Discovery’ is self explanatory,
the higher pitched material associated with Sheba very quickly
crushed; Covett’s evil made musically manifest. The opening
of ‘Courage’ allows warmth and there is a hint of Bernard Herrmann’s
more tender material for Vertigo - and the swirling rhythms
of anxiety and menace that interrupt that tenderness also echo
Vertigo. ‘Someone in your garden’ and ‘Someone has died’
ratchet up the tension; the former with increasingly thunderous
staccato bass drum beats, the latter with sourly reedy woodwind
and angry string fugal material. ‘Betrayal’ is an embattlement
with machine-gun-like drumming the music crushing everything
in its path. ‘Barbara’s House’ with pounding percussive piano
and wailing strings and winds really does enter gothic horror
territory. The final track ‘I knew her’ brings some release,
beginning with playground music that is innocent and unalloyed,
with the foregoing darkness muted – somewhat - but we are left
in no doubt that irreparable damage has been done.
A relentlessly dour,
obsessive downbeat score in line with the screenplay. But Glass’s
imaginative writing sustains interest.