Sunday, March 11, 2018

Composing Greatness: #35. John Williams - "Angela's Ashes" (1999)

Angela's Ashes
Welcome to Composing Greatness: a column dedicated to exploring the work of film composers. This will specifically focus on the films that earned them Oscar nominations while exploring what makes it so special. This will be broken down into a look at the overall style, interesting moments within the composition, and what made the score worth nominating in the first place. This will also include various subcategories where I will rank the themes of each film along with any time that the composer actually wins. This is a column meant to explore a side of film that doesn't get enough credit while hopefully introducing audiences to an enriched view of more prolific composers' work. This will only cover scores/songs that are compiled in an easily accessible format (so no extended scores will be considered). Join me every Sunday as I cover these talents that if you don't know by name, you recognize by sound.

Series Composer: John Williams
Entry: Angela's Ashes (1999)
Collaborators (If Available): N/A
Nomination: Best Original Score
Did He Win: No

Other Nominees:
-The Red Violin (John Corigliano)*winner
-American Beauty (Thomas Newman)
-The Cider House Rules (Rachel Portman)
-The Talented Mr. Ripley (Gabriel Yared)

Additional Information
This is to help provide perspective of where each composer is in their Oscar-nominated life as it related to the current entry.

Oscar Nomination: 38
Oscar Wins: 5

Track List

1. "Theme from Angela's Ashes"
2. "My Story"
3. "Angela's Prayers"
4. "My Dad's Stories"
5. "Lord, Why Do You Want The Wee Chidren"
6. "Plenty of Fish and Chips in Heaven"
7. "The Dipsy Doodle"
8. "The Land of Limerick"
9. "Looking for Work"
10. "Pennies in Heaven"
11. "My Mother Begging"
12. "If I Were in America"
13. "Delivering Telegrams"
14. "I Think of Teresa"
15. "Angels Never Cough"
16. "Watching The Eclipse"
17. "Back To America"
18. "Angela's Ashes Reprise"

Note: Listen to here.

Exploring the Music
The area of the column where I will explore the music in as much detail as I see fit for each entry.

Theme Exploration:
"Theme from Angela's Ashes"

If there's any faults with this John Williams score, it's that it at times feels like a cleaner version of Schindler's List. The piano manages to be somber enough to give that raw emotion necessary for such a harrowing story. However, the strings at times allude to Williams' better work as a composer, and it makes it hard to judge this as something incredible or new. This is by no means a terrible score, but it's clearly the mature Williams doing what he does best. There's few things here that are necessarily exciting, but it definitely shows that when he needs to go mellow and reverent, he's more than capable of capturing the mood brilliantly.

Interesting Standout:
"Delivering Telegrams"

There are only two times that the score delineates from its somber tone. In the latter example, John Williams goes for a nervous aggression that is full of fluttering, manic notes. It captures an intensity that manages to be whimsical while implying a Jaws influence. There's plenty here that manages to balance the insanity with a focus that only seasoned composers can achieve. It's full of memorable patterns, skidding by with a familiar sense of urgency. The way that the strings are plucked also gives it a sense of purpose that adds a certain artistry to its end game. 

Best Moment:
"Lord, Why Do You Want the Wee Children"

As mentioned before, this score does at times feel borrowed from Schindler's List. However, this suite of music more than shows how little of that is necessarily a bad thing. John Williams knows how to orchestrate intense emotions better than most modern composers, and here he takes the listener down a path of several recurring motifs that play into his classical style with a deft and beauty that makes one wonder how much better this score could be if the perfection of Schindler's List didn't exist in the Williams canon. There's a lot of great moments throughout this score, and this is the best example of what this soundtrack achieves. It's hard to argue with the master when this is what he produces.

Did This Deserve an Oscar Nomination?:

To another composer, this would be an easy sell, as it definitely has a lot going for it. The orchestration is beautiful and the somber notes are filled with emotion. It's hard to not love the piano melody on some deep level. However, this is John Williams, now 38 nominations in and having mastered at least a dozen iconic motifs and scores. I would argue that this is on the weaker side of things, but I still love what he can achieve as a composer who gives his all to every project. This isn't powerful stuff necessarily for him, but it's what could pass as some of the best work of another composer. Seeing as this is the end of one century of Oscar nominations for the great John Williams, it's interesting to see him go out on a more quiet note. At least we have Harry Potter and Catch Me If You Can to look forward to, even as we enter his less iconic era. 

Up Next: The Patriot (2000) for Best Original Score

Best Theme

A ranking of all themes composed by John Williams.

1. "Flying"- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
2. "Theme from Schindler's List" - Schindler's List (1993) 
3. "The Raiders March" - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
4. "Main Theme (Theme From 'Jaws')" - Jaws (1975)
5. "Theme From 'Superman'" - Superman (1978) 
6. "Prologue/Tradition" - Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
7. "Theme from JFK" - JFK (1991)
8. "Main Title and Mountain Visions" - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
9. "Theme From Born on the Fourth of July" - Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
10. "Hymns of the Fallen" - Saving Private Ryan (1998)
11. "Sleepers at Wilkinson" - Sleepers (1996)
12. "The Dances of Witches" - The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
13. "Dry your Tears, Afrika" - Amistad (1997)
14. "Track 01" - The River (1984)
15. "Theme from Angela's Ashes" - Angela's Ashes (1999)
16. "Main Title/The Ice Planet/Hoth" - Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
17. "Main Title" - The Towering Inferno (1974)
18. "Main Title/Rebel Blockade/Runner Medley" - Star Wars (1977)
19. "Wednesday Special (Main Theme)" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
20. "Suo Gan" - Empire of the Sun (1987)
21. "Main Title/First Introduction/The Winton Flyer" - The Reivers (1969)
22. "Finale and End Credits"- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
23. "River Song"- Tom Sawyer (1973)
24. "Where Did My Childhood Go?" - Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
25. "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'"/"Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls' - Reprise" - Valley of the Dolls (1967)
26. "End Credits (Raiders March)" - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
27. "Home Alone Theme" - Home Alone (1990)
28. "Main Title (The Story Continues)" - Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi  (1983)
29. "Main Title... The White House Gate" - Nixon (1995)
30. "Opening Titles" - The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
31. "Main Theme" - The Accidental Tourist (1988)
32. "In Search of Unicorns" - Images (1972)

Best Song

A ranking of all Oscar-nominated songs composed by John Williams.

1. "Somewhere in My Memory" - Home Alone (1990)
2. "Nice to Be Around" - Cinderella Liberty (1973)
3. "When You're Alone" - Hook (1991)
4. "If We Were in Love" - Yes, Giorgio (1983)

Best Winner

A ranking of all winners composed by John Williams.

1. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) for Best Music, Original Score
2. Schindler's List (1993) for Best Music, Original Score
3. Jaws (1975) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
4. Fiddler on the Roof (1971) for Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
5. Star Wars (1977) for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score

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