John Williams’s score for Munich, in its slower more contemplative sections,is not too far removed
from his Schindler’s List music. The two stories clearly have some
commonality, for this film recounts the tragedy of 1972 when the Munich Olympic
Games was blighted by the kidnapping and murder of eleven members of the
Israeli Olympic team by members of the Black September brigade.
Williams uses a big orchestra with a large
string section. Much of the material is a mix of Israeli Jewish and Arabic
ethnic music. The opening track ‘Munich, 1972’ opens with a lament for solo
voice (Lisbeth Scott) that will be echoed in ‘Remembering Munich’ which is
likely to be this album’s most frequently played track on radio programmes like
Classic FM. This gives way to an ominous ostinato and crescendo with
increasingly paced pounding piano chords that become ever more desperate and
‘A Prayer for Peace’ opens with a plaintive
lament for cellos, soon taken up by the violins and the remainder of the large
body of strings. It is a moving mix of hymn – sometimes Hebrew-like, sometimes
Arabic, sometimes Plainsong-like, sometimes in the tradition of familiar Late
Romantic multi-part works for strings. It is a powerfully moving statement.
Another track follows for strings – the lovely Hatikvah (Hope) is another
‘Avner and Daphna’ with its sinuous oboe
solo, later echoed by massed strings, sounds love in mourning. ‘Bearing the
Burden’ grieves movingly, all swirling despair in lower strings and harp before
a deep disconsolate song for oboe, then very low piano (synchronously supported,
I think, by what sounds like a harpsichord). This is a most devastatingly
effective track and, at some eight minutes long, the most substantial. Lowest
piano chords are something of a feature of this score – they feature strongly
in the tense and arrestingly orchestrated ‘The Tarmac at Munich’ while a
mourning, despairing piano melody wends through ‘Discovering Hans’
Of course many tracks are tense and
suspense-laden as befit a political thriller but the ingredients are mixed and
served up by a master chef. Once again John Williams shows how it should be
done. I will not analyse them all, as they all grip the ear. ‘Letter Bombs’ for
instance is a masterly original tense crescendo both in terms of harmonies and
orchestrations. ‘The Attack at Olympic Village’ has a low dark ostinato
supporting anguished Arabian figures with low woodwind wailings and timpani.
‘Encounter in London and Bomb Malfunctions’ and ‘The Raid in Tarifa’, for
example, employ interesting rhythmic propulsions and sinister drums, menacing
low woodwinds and cimbalom figures.
The lyrical plaintive ‘Avner’s Theme‘ is
reserved for solo guitar. It is played with sweet tenderness by Adam Del Monte.
It is an oasis of calm between the music of violence and retribution. ‘Bonding’
which features Del Mar’s guitar again is another lovely lyrical statement.
Gary Dalkin adds:-
yet released in the UK, would appear to hark back not just to the 1970’s for
its story, but also for its approach as a serious, intelligent, hard-as-nails
thriller. It seems to evoke the world of John Frankenheimer’s thrillers,
specifically the terrorist machinations of Black Sunday (1977), a fine
film superbly scored by John Williams.
Indeed, there are hints of Williams’
sometimes sparse neo-classical Black Sunday in the terse and tense
suspense writing of Munich. In other areas Williams echoes, as Ian has
noted, Schindler’s List, but also draws on the stark string orchestral
worlds of Angela’s Ashes (1999) and even the cold minimalism of A.I.
(2001); for even much of the most passionate music in this score has an air of
elegantly detached coldness running through its heart.
One particularly effecting theme, most
fully realised in ‘A Prayer For Peace’ unfolds very much as Williams’ Jane
Eyre (1970) reworked in the style of Angela’s Ashes, while Jane Eyre
is likewise touched upon in the several variations on the melancholically
lovely ‘Avner’s Theme’.
The suspense underscore is less gripping,
more minimalist, than is often the case from Williams, but is nevertheless
extremely well crafted and never less than rewarding. Fans of the composer will
hear hints of prime 1970’s Williams – echoes of Jaws (1975) and The
Fury (1978) – in cues such as ‘Bearing The Burden’. It is all, as is ever
the case with this composer, impeccably conceived with an elegance and class
which seems to come effortlessly, time after time, and which simply seems to
elude almost every other film composer on the planet.
Casual fans will not find this the most
melodically engaging or attractive Williams disc – it is too introverted and
pungent for that – but the same stark, dark lyricism that runs through Memoirs
of a Geisha (2005) is here, bonded to the Hebrew sensibilities of Schindler’s
List and shot through with the chill suspense of the composer’s most
austere thriller and science fiction writing. One for the serious Williams
fans, to whom it is recommended very highly.