The film is a visual tapestry of colour-filtered photography and shadow,
high-angled camerawork, suitable period embellishments to modern architecture,
and lavish costume. It's quite an assault on the senses, and opening on the
burning of some Protestant heretics it demands your attention immediately.
Propelling the momentum of the shock start is the music of Australian composer
David Hirschfelder. Here is a charging fusion of choral highs and percussive
lows. Horns blare over the top of cyclic string motifs, and the breathless
pace comes to a sudden halt. Through the course of the film it is used a
handful of times and takes on the role of dramatic entrance accompaniment.
Horse riders cresting a hilltop bearing news of great import. It features
twice in the album's 'Overture', and with increasingly appealing arrangements
as the score progresses.
About halfway through the picture there is a comedic musical moment. The
French court's would-be suitor arrives with a jolly flute and tambourine
preceding him. The musicians are drowned out by a regal fanfare from the
Queen's entourage. The one tradition is pooled with, yet separated by the
other. This stands as a perfect analogy of Hirschfelder's score, which blends
classical with period with modern. To look at each of these in turn, requires
some thought into the successful integration of source music; classical or
There are 4 source cues in all. Tielman Susato's 'Rondes I and VII' from
'Dansereye' are direct re-uses from an existing recording. Essentially they
are court room jigs. With William Byrd's 'Domine Secundum Actum Meum' the
bittersweet boy soprano and tenor lines contrast with (yet complement) a
violent event in history from which the cue takes its name - 'Night of the
Long Knives'. Interestingly this was a creative choice of the director, but
one which the composer fully supported.
It is with the film's finale that the question of appropriate use comes in.
As Elizabeth makes her peace with both her enemies and herself, Elgar's 'Nimrod'
from 'Enigma Variations' segues into Mozart's 'Requiem'. Both pieces have
been re-arranged by Hirschfelder and are a technical marvel, as well as an
aural treat. The use of Kim Wheeler's soprano voice over 'Nimrod' is frankly
inspired. This is a continued proof of his abilities as an arranger, following
the success of his work with Rachmaninov for 'Shine'.
The fact that a piece is chosen for film or television is an acknowledgement
that it has a public recognition. As a viewer this will therefore make an
associative connection that is arguably too much of a distraction from the
film's events. Considering the events in question are the emotional denouement
to such an important chronicle of a life, their combined distraction is
potentially disastrous. What must be stressed here however is that the composer
openly admits (*see below) they came about through the lack of time. Some
experimentation led to the director settling quite happily on them knowing
Hirschfelder would embellish them uniquely.
If you can ignore the grossly disparate historical realities (music from
the turn of this century followed by a piece from the 18th to conclude a
film set in the 16th), then you will deem the picture a complete success.
As far as this review is concerned however, the disc's stand-alone representation
of the music is superb. The only minor niggle of the packaging being that
the CD's back cover manages to neglect to credit anything other than 'Original
The period touches are nowhere more prominent than in the courtroom's confines.
Like the 'Rondes' pieces, 'Coronation Banquet' is a succession of woven together
dances and general entertainment pieces. At the request of "play a Volta"
from the Queen, 2 very fine toe-tapping segments are strummed up by an assortment
of pipes and shakers.
It is with the main body of the score that the composer's own voice becomes
apparent. 'Shine' never really offered much opportunity for anything but
"The Rach" to impress, and the more recent 'Sliding Doors' was a romantic
comedy largely swamped in pop song. So this really is a major work for
Hirschfelder, and if the 'Overture's charge is representative of the fullest
most determined swipes of the conductor's baton, it is with the 'Love Theme'
that a most intimate nature is acknowledged. A very delicate harp is bridged
by sustained high strings before evolving into a flute line of remarkable
sensitivity. It is a recognisably modern style of film scoring, but made
appropriate by the modernistic portrayal of the Queen's love affair with
There are other 90's flourishes with synthesised rumblings and sharp crashes.
These underscore the brooding tone of the film, and are nicely incorporated
into 'Conspiracy' for example. As a benchmark for the album's sound quality,
they indicate an overall high standard. In all, this is a quite surprising
cohesive whole given the range of styles. Most certainly it justifies to
other parts of the globe just what Australia has been shouting about for
so many years.
* Read this reviewer's
with the composer.
and Rob Barnett adds:-
Hirschfelders last major success was for the film Shine which
from the musical point of view centred on Rachmaninovs Piano Concerto
No. 3. In this film the music has more of a chance to assert the foreground.
The tracks mix twentieth century romanticism with dance and liturgical music
of the first and glorious Elizabethan era.
Elizabeth stars the feline, Cate Blanchett in the title role with many celebrated
'names': Richard Attenborough, Christopher Eccleston, Kathy Burke, Eric Cantona,
Joseph Fiennes and John Gielgud.
I have now heard this disc four times and the review I am writing now is
very different to the review I was poised to write after hearing it first.
The first hearing caused me irritation with what appeared to be yet another
bit of fakery. I was all ready to deride it for not being the score to Derek
Jarmans Prosperos Books. Repeat hearings have revealed subtleties
I am not going to go in for a track by track appraisal. The disc has been
thoroughly and perceptively reviewed by Paul Tonks. The fusion achieved between
the disparate elements is not always apparent and in some tracks no fusion
is attempted at all: the style stands unalloyed. Unlike Paul I found little
to enjoy in the marriage of voice and orchestra over Elgars Enigma.
This however is not the first time it has been done. Elgar himself did something
similar, I thought, in his choral piece The Music Makers.
Overwhelmingly the tracks inhabit the John Barry land of the psychological
vista - comfort and threat, beauty and horror. Time and again the music invoked
visions of the human physiognomy laid open and veins and arteries, organs
and musculature exhibited to view - a mixture of wonder and repugnance. The
second track has luxuriant strings escaped from some wondrous performance
of Elgars Introduction and Allegro underpinned by darker surges and
currents by drums and deep brass. The love theme (a good one - on track 7)
is powerful, littered with references to sorrow. This perhaps picks up the
fact that Elizabeth feels the responsibility of the Crown and cannot surrender
herself to passion. There is a Shostakovichian scorching severity about track
11 (Conspiracy) which resurfaces, chugging and urgent, in track 13: One Mistress,
Track 6 is an example of a fusion track. Stomping Court dance music alive
with the sound of pipes and drums dims the lights in one room and turns them
up in another rife with Warlock and Sibelius. Vaughan Williams is another
voice I heard in many of the tracks.
This is a worthy and rewarding album which deserves to be listened to several
times before you allow impressions to take root. I shall be listening out
for more by Hirschfelder but I do hope he will give more prominence to his
original music rather than fusion and arrangement work around existing music.
The insert has lots of pretty pictures but tells you pretty well nothing
about the music or the composer.