" A wholly melodic and utterly gorgeous collection of well-rounded compositions for string- and piano-led orchestra. "
Written by Bob den Hartog
- Review of
the regular release
W.E.’s musical score could well be considered as one of last year’s oddest marriages in musical partnerships. After all, Abel Korzeniowski’s classical education does not sit well with Queen of Pop Madonna’s, well, poppy sensibilities. Which is not to say the finished product, a wholly melodic and utterly gorgeous collection of well-rounded compositions for string- and piano-led orchestra, isn’t worth it. The partnership with the diva of all diva’s is just what makes Korzeniowski’s achievement all the more impressive; he delivered against all odds.
At first observation Korzeniowski’s work for Madonna’s historical melodrama seems like a perfect extension of his previous major work, A Single Man. Moving waltzes performed by string-dominated ensembles feature prominently, stylishly accentuated by undercurrent harp melodies and heartfelt solo violin and cello performances, to ensure those heartstrings are pulled at exactly the right moments. The score even features an extension of that previous scores "Clock Tick" idea in the rhythmic "I Will Follow You", set to (you guessed it) the metrum of a ticking clock.
What sets W.E. apart from Korzeniowski’s previous work, is its overtly and unashamedly romantic character as opposed to the more introspectively tragic A Single Man. But while pure emotion is often the first casualty when subtlety makes way for bold romanticism, Abel Korzeniowski’s music remains imbued by obvious passion and –crucially– raw emotion. The fact that Korzeniowski manages to never fall into the trap of modern false sentiment is perhaps the biggest clue to his writing talent.
Central pieces like the opening "Charms" or the thrilling piano passages in "Dance for me Wallis" define the term ‘sweeping’, while the smaller ensemble of "Evgeni’s Waltz" is engaging in its Yann Tiersen-like fragility. The electric guitar in "Duchess of Windsor" or the electronic beat in the second half of centerpiece cue "Abdication" seem slightly out of sync with the score as a whole, but also add a modern touch to this contemporary story in the midst of all the classical timelessness.
So, what’s the Madonna imposed glitch then? Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first: the closing ballad. Make no mistake, the moment the piano chords of that final thematic statement ebbs away, pause the CD player. That is, if you do not wish your musical experience to be vaporized by a poppy beat accompanied by insultingly simple lyrics of ironically titled "Masterpiece", which closes the album. All the effort Korzeniowski put into the elevation of this romantic story into something classy is nulled within seconds into a teensy soap opera. Considering the quality of Korzeniowski’s music, it could be considered as quite an achievement to resist building your ballad upon one of his more than stellar themes. You could see it as a not-so-subtle hint Madonna doesn’t have a clue as to what she’s doing.
It’s also reflected in a single decision she made in directing her composer: whatever you do, do not, I repeat, do not progress your themes. Which could be an interesting choice if she made a film about never-changing characters frozen in time. But her historical drama, well, isn’t that. Unless, of course, she forgot to include characterization in her script. Wait, hold that thought.
So what do you do when your director forbids you to add depth to your music? Well, you are sneaky about it, of course. Even though you’ll notice on closer inspection that his thematic constructs do not mature over the course of his score (the central theme is oddly identical in the middle-section cue "Abdication" as it is in the near-closing statement of "Letters"), he still managed to play with performances and the inclusion of variations. Snippets of the "Duchess of Windsor" theme reoccur in a harsh, more urgent performance during the dark crescendo of "Brooklyn Faces", while the main theme as heard in "Letters" gets several variations for solo piano in "Evgeni’s Waltz". The piano passage of "Dance for me Wallis" gets a more tragic sound while performed on strings during the mournful "Six Hours".
Without a strong thematic narrative progression, however, these pieces are never completely tied together, which makes W.E. seem more like a wonderful set of isolated concert pieces rather than a wholesome symphony, despite Korzeniowski’s best efforts to include recurring themes. Considering the quality of these well-rounded compositions, this shouldn’t be considered as a strong criticism for the album presentation (well hello, pop song-producer Madonna), but as a film score, it is a drawback from an otherwise outstanding work.
1. Charms (4.03) Excellent track
2. Duchess of Windsor (3.09)
3. Revolving Door (4.19)
4. I Will Follow You (2.32)
5. Abdication (5.22) Excellent track
6. Six Hours (3.30) Excellent track
7. Brooklyn Faces (4.53)
8. Evgeni's Waltz (3.34)
9. Satin Birds (4.29)
10. Letters (4.19) Excellent track
11. Dance for Me Wallis (3.08) Excellent track
12. Masterpiece: Madonna (3.58)
Total Length: 47.15