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ARISTOCRATS – Mark Thomas

October 10, 1999 Leave a comment Go to comments

aristocratsOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The BBC have always been good at costume dramas. Whether it be Jane Austen or Emily Brontë or Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare, the Brits lead the way in showing the world how to lace up a corset, adopt a regal tone and keep a respectful distance from your potential suitors. The BBC are also good at television music. In recent years, established composers such as Carl Davis, Geoffrey Burgon and Jim Parker have rubbed shoulders with talented new names such Richard G. Mitchell, Murray Gold and Julian Nott in composing some of the finest television music around. In my opinion, Aristocrats marks the absolute pinnacle in BBC television music, and is by far the best score to emerge from Auntie’s vaults in years.

The series, directed by David Caffrey and starring Jodhi May, tells the incredible true story of the Lennox family, wealthy landowners and members of high society in 18th Century London who, over the course of a generation, withstand countless tragedies, ill-fated love affairs and political scandals, many of which are caused by the family’s unshakeable determination to remain within the aristocratic circle, and they way in which they manipulate their circumstances to maintain their standing. Adding to the atmosphere of opulence and grandeur is the superb music by Welsh composer Mark Thomas, whose previous credits include the British feature films Twin Town and Up ‘N Under.

Thomas has crafted a soft, attractive, incredibly detailed score filled to the brim with beautiful themes, vibrant period pieces, sparkling solos performances, and one utterly gorgeous melody – ‘Adagio Amoroso’ – which features a performance by the Irish vocalist Méav so fragile and so clear that it almost makes you weep. Adagio Amoroso is recapitulated several times, in the opening ‘Aristocrats Love Theme’, ‘The Lady Caroline and Henry Fox Suite’, ‘The Frescatti Suite’, ‘Strange Act of Love’ and the ‘Finale’, but this score is so much more than just one beautiful melody – in fact, it’s very difficult to review a score like Aristocrats and pick out the highlight tracks, because every single one of them is worth a mention! Nevertheless, some cues which especially caught my ear include the vibrant stringwork in ‘The Banquet’, the first noble rendition of ‘The Edward Fitzgerald Theme’, the mesmerising, energetic ‘Fireworks’, the amusing woodwind scherzo in ‘The King’s Party’, the warm and comforting ‘The Lady Sarah and The Prince of Wales Suite’, and the reworking of the traditional English folk song “The Lass of Richmond Hill” in the joyous ‘Masks’.

Each cue sounds appropriately “upper-class” and reeks of affluence and position, but to Thomas’s credit they never come across as being pretentious or haughty. Instead, they evoke a definite feeling of a time and a place, but also one grounded in sincere human emotions. The wealth, standards and traditions of the era may get in the way of them truly expressing themselves, but these people still feel as much as anyone else. How Thomas manages to achieve this difficult balance is beyond me, but it somehow makes the score much more approachable and affecting. It’s beautiful and ornate, but not at the expense of true feelings.

One thing I must also mention are the brilliant track titles Thomas has come up with. As well as indicating the scenes they accompany, the cues are all given an Italian sub-heading to describe the music – so, for example, ‘The Duke’s Theme’ is Adagio Lamentoso, ‘The King’s Party and Family Reconciliation’ is honoured with both Allegro Giocoso and Adagio Cantando, while the terribly formal ‘Captain Napier Declares His Love For Lady Sarah’ becomes the much more passionate-sounding Andante Cantabile. Wonderful stuff.

being released later this year, and a few others on the back burner, this quiet Welshman is about to make a lot of significant musical waves in the Hollywood pond. Aristocrats is surely his best work to date, and it will be hard for him to top. However, the detailed liner notes seem to dispel any potential concerns about Thomas’s future, pointing out that “there’s plenty more where those came from.”

Rating: ****½

Buy the Aristocrats soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Aristocrats Love Theme (3:24)
  • Overture (3:00)
  • The Lady Caroline and Henry Fox Suite (4:34)
  • The Banquet (2:52)
  • Edward Fitzgerald’s Theme (3:23)
  • Fireworks (1:45)
  • The Duke’s Theme (3:47)
  • Lord Kildare’s Courtship of Lady Emily (4:24)
  • Lady Emily and Lord Kildare’s Love Theme (3:17)
  • The King’s Party and Family Reconciliation (3:40)
  • The Lady Sarah and The Prince of Wales Suite (3:57)
  • Masks (2:04)
  • The Lady Sarah and Lord Gordon Suite (3:57)
  • The Frescatti Suite (4:36)
  • Strange Act of Love (3:22)
  • Prelude to Act Six (4:18)
  • Captain Napier Declares His Love For Lady Sarah (2:37)
  • The Rebellion (3:53)
  • The Citizen Lord Theme (4:24)
  • Finale (1:49)

Running Time: 71 minutes 34 seconds

BBC Music WMSF 6011-2 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by Mark Thomas. Performed by The Irish Film Orchestra. Orchestrations by Mark Thomas. Special vocal performances by Méav. Recorded and mixed by Paul Golding and Mark Tucker. Edited by Rowan Collier. Mastered by Martin Giles. Album produced by Mark Thomas.

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