Talbot has worked on one silent movie before this; Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger. What I find intriguing about this area of film composition is the elevation of the music to sole narrator. I could well imagine an established film composer finding the prospect more exciting than daunting. What about for someone yet to tackle a major motion picture? Talbot is well known for BBC TV’s The League of Gentleman. Also for the short TV movie Queen’s Park Story. He’s been in the practice of ducking and diving to the regular needs of a contemporary soundtrack. But Talbot has a far greater classic works repertoire (not to mention a sizeable one in the pop world thanks to The Divine Comedy). What I’m wondering is if going into a silent movie without a firmly entrenched film scoring mindset might in fact be the better route. And the reason I wonder this, is because even before what we call The Golden Age of cinema, this is the route those very first film composers traversed.
The Dying Swan is 1916 Russian tale of a painter who wishes to capture death in his work, and who enlists the assistance of a mute ballet dancer. Potent stuff! What’s presented here is a suite in 3 movements, that encompasses some 35 minutes from the 45-minute full score (available on a DVD entitled Mad Love). In presenting the material this way, someone must have felt at a loss for how to identify the pieces out of context! "1" runs 15 minutes and exists within a framework bracketed by and centred on a several repeating phrases for piano. In fact, this entire suite is sub-headed "For Piano Trio". The piece builds to a dizzying frenzy, before a calmer finale returns to that piano and eases into the initially melancholy "2". I’m a little hesitant to offer comparison, but for the benefit of the film music readership here I’ll mention that this middle segment is vaguely reminiscent of Michael Nyman. There are darker segments for piano and it ends in a tortured, nightmarish fashion. The last movement ("3") encompasses material from both and resolves them nicely. It’s a little redundant to say that any film score ought to be better appreciated in its intended context, but such lengthy cues cry out for explanatory visual accompaniment. Especially when the cue titles reveal nothing!
This is the centre of the album, but by no means its entirety. Four pieces precede it and 3 more follow. These range from a memorial ("…similarities between diverse things…") for piano trio and vibraphone to a private expression of emotion on getting married ("6/11/98") on solo piano. The one thing about the album that niggles is that by sandwiching the score in between it tars everything with the same brush. All together it’s a fabulous and diverse collection of works from one composer. In an ideal world it would have been nice to see the film score separated (perhaps doubled up with The Lodger) from the classical works. Nevertheless, I very much hope admirers from either camp are drawn to the album and make a discovery about the composer in doing so.