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Philip GLASS (b.1937)
Notes on a Scandal (film Soundtrack) (2006)
Music conducted by Michael Reisman
rec. Air Studios, London. 2006
DECCA 475 8661 [50:51]


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, Barbara Covett.

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.

Ian Lace



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