A while ago, when commenting on Michael Nyman's "The Piano," I spoke (or
pontificated, rather) to some colleagues regarding my dismay over Nyman's
'art.' I mention guilty pleasures on occasion, but a greater potential
irrationality of criticism is the personal determination of whether one should
praise certain scores or composers for daring to be abstract, or lambaste
them for not getting their points across. I have done both, with disliked
emphasis on the latter, when listening to Nyman's compositions. It is with
"The End of the Affair," performed by the Michael Nyman Orchestra, that I
realize I ought to place my views firmly, diplomatically in the middle.
The music really depends on how the listener feels, as opposed to being the
sort of film score that alters how he feels. Reliant on the mood and the
focus of attention, the score delights as confidently as it bores. It stands
precariously on the divide between art and self-importance. Its incessant,
top heavy strings play ad nauseam -- will they never end? -- but the themes
they play indulge in the attention. It is exceedingly predictable, just as
a fair deal of minimalist music is. And compared to the film scores of minimalist
Philip Glass it is neither technically brilliant nor dramatically solid.
It is challenging primarily to the amplitude of one's attempt to fall in
love with its tedium. Cinematic evolution gets thrown out of the window for
a beginning, middle, and end that are practically unidentifiable from one
another. As I am not a huge supporter of the minimalist music movement I
may be missing some key thought, others may see this score far differently,
but to my ears it reaches a point of despotic annoyance. Call me unfashionable.
Yet I cannot help praising "The End of the Affair" for its abstract grandeur.
The scope, though minimal, gets the most out of the repeating elements, and
the cues, taken individually as small concert works rather than part of a
theatrical whole, become fascinating essays in contemporary classical music.
Nyman has an unconventional way with counterpoint (and lack thereof) that
is lush and thoroughly amazing, and the themes are memorable and inhabit
the soundscape aggressively well. When these ideas stick out from the common
backdrop, it is mesmerizing.
What fascinates me most personally is that this is one of the few soundtracks
I know of featuring such a strong dichotomy... I am not sure I appreciate
Gary S. Dalkin offers this alternative view:-
Much film music is generic, but few film composers so distinctively create
a genre all of their own as has Michael Nyman. His string driven, sometimes
detached, sometimes melancholy minimalism is instantly recognisable. It has
made his career, but must sometimes be his cross, for when he composes music
which is so utterly Nymanesque as The End of The Affair, he runs the risk
of being considered to be operating on auto-pilot.
The film is Neil Jordan's adaptation of the autobiographical novel by Graham
Greene, with Ralph Fiennes making little change of direction from his previous
1940's adulterous lover in The English Patient. Nyman reprises the attractive,
but sometimes wearying string-laden intensity familiar from Carrington and
Wonderland. Compared to John Williams simultaneous appropriation of the idiom
of Vaughan-Williams and Gerald Finzi for his marvellous Angela's Ashes -
another stark drama set in the 1940's - Nyman's writing seems almost simplistic.
There is a wistful urgency which will doubtless be most effective when coupled
with the images on screen, but which will perhaps not stand-up so well to
repeated play on disc. It is not that there is anything wrong here, or anything
lacking, just that equally, there is little that is really new. It is simply
the sound of Michael Nyman doing what he does so well. Perhaps he is marking
time until something else offering the challenges of the startling Ravenous
Gary S. Dalkin