March 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Thomas DE HARTMANN & Laurence ROSENTHAL  Meetings with Remarkable Men   National Philharmonic and Ambrosian Singers of London conducted by Laurence Rosenthal - choral music and music for bells by Alain KREMSKI Citadel STC 77123 [43:21]

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Meetings with Remarkable Men is a remarkable film with a remarkable score. The film appeared in 1979, and quickly disappeared, rarely to be seen or heard of since. Perhaps this is not surprising, for even in the eclectic 70's this was an unusual project. Theatre director Peter Brook - who later made the marathon C4 TV drama based on The Mahabarata, the score for which is an intriguing collaborative work available on the REALWORLD label - chose to bring to the screen the autobiographical story of Gurdjieff's 20 year quest for the meaning of life. This involved much beautifully filmed sojourning against the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, ably standing-in for both the Middle-East and Asia, and understandably proved to have very little box-office appeal. It is therefore initially surprising to find, over 20 years later, the score appearing on a specialist label. However, as recent releases have proved, Citadel know what they are doing, and would not have issued this music had it not deserved a fresh lease of life.

This disc comes with two sets of notes, the first by Laurence Rosenthal, the second unaccredited. Regarding Peter Brook's approach to the score, Rosenthal comments "he envisioned music pervading the film, music of all kinds and colors, a rich atmosphere of sound..." However, rather than create a specifically 'ethnic' score which would relate to the places visited, it was decided that the music must "relate in a dramatic way to the inner meaning of the narrative". This was found in the music of Thomas de Hartmann, a celebrated composer who came under Gurdjieff's influence and developed a new, simpler style of writing out of their collaboration. Hartmann's pieces were all piano works, and with the permission of Madame O. de Hartmann, Rosenthal was able to arrange and orchestrate selections from these works to suit the film. Additionally, he wrote pieces 'from scratch', where nothing appropriate could be found in Hartmann's work as a starting point. When orchestrating the music Rosenthal augmented the orchestra with a wide variety of ethnic instruments, from the kantele to the cheng, the zither to the santur. The result is a unique score, and while such practices are now relatively common, being implemented by Graham Revell for The Crow and John Debney for End of Days, to name but two, this was far from usual in the 1970's.

Given that the whole was recorded with the National Philharmonic and the Ambrosian Singers - the same forces as recorded Charles Gerhardt's magnificent Classic Film Scores series in the 70's - it is clear that the music was taken with the uttermost seriousness, and as is to be expected, both the sound and the performances are first rate. The result is an epic tapestry, a richly orchestrated arthouse Lawrence of Arabia, an ethereal mystical pageant anticipating Seven Years in Tibet by two decades. The music is exceptionally diverse, spanning the English pastoral tradition to the sounds of the Far East, a big, serious score, delicate as a snowflake, as austerely powerful as a mountain face. Richly rewarding for those prepared to give it the attention it deserves, Meetings with Remarkable Men really is a remarkable achievement worthy of recommendation without reservation.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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