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THE LEGEND OF 1900 – Ennio Morricone

October 29, 1999 Leave a comment Go to comments

legendof1900Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

To date, the critical reception for Ennio Morricone’s score The Legend of the 1900 has been completely positive. To quote from James Southall’s superlative review at Movie Wave, “once in a while there comes a score blessed with the hand of genius; so good it makes you feel privileged to be listening to it, so good it makes you feel proud to just be alive at the same time as the composer.” At this moment I’d like to apologize to all the film score fans across the world who hold the score in that same high esteem because now, to continue with a seafaring analogy, I’m going to rock the boat.

Director Giuseppe Tornatore and Morricone have successfully collaborated on some excellent films in the past, most recently on the Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso and the Oscar-nominated The Starmaker. Their latest work together, The Legend 1900 (The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean/La Leggenda del Pianista sull’Oceano) is an English-language feature starring Tim Roth, which tells the amazing life story of a man who spends his entire life playing music on board a turn-of-the-century cruise liner. The film opened in Italy over a year ago, and will be released shortly in the rest of the world – but with a much reduced running time. As one would imagine, Morricone’s music plays a major part in the film, with several of his compositions being performed on-screen by Roth’s eponymous pianist.

Let me first of all say that Morricone’s main theme, as heard in the 8-minute title track ‘The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean’, is completely stunning. Beginning with a somewhat ungainly piano and saxophone duet, the theme gradually builds in both volume and size until, at precisely 3:52, the string section swells magnificently into the first major performance of what surely is one of the most beautiful themes Morricone has ever written. Where the theme is present again, in tracks such as ‘Child’ and ‘Ships and Snow’, the score is undoubtedly lifted to a higher plateau.

There are also some lovely individual tracks with prominent instrumental and performance solos, especially as the soft and eloquent saxophone-led opening ‘Playing Love’, the beautiful flute solo in the aforementioned ‘Child’ (which, at times, reminds me of Two Mules for Sister Sara), the quietly moving ‘The Goodbye Between Nineteen Hundred and Max’, and the quasi-classical pianoforte pieces ‘Study For Three Hands’, ‘Tarantella in 3rd Class’, ‘Enduring Movement’ and ‘A Mozart Reincarnated’.

The rest of the album, however, I found the score to be rather less endearing, mainly because of Morricone’s distinctive, but stubbornly unconventional orchestrations, and the rather irritating habit he has of combining two completely different styles of music into one cue. Rather than being complementary, as was presumably the intention, the opposing jazz and classical influences in tracks such as ‘Trailer’, ‘Goodbye Duet’ and the two ‘Nineteen Hundred’s Madness’ cues clash terribly, and result in a listening experience similar to one you might have while playing two pieces of music at once. Individually, the elements are lovely, especially the traditional orchestral parts, but Morricone completely ruins their overall impact through the ill-timed introduction of Gianni Oddi’s jazz saxophone, or Gilda Buttà’s ragtime piano.

In addition, some of Morricone’s cues seem to be deliberately structured to seem unfinished and, dare I say it, amateurish, as though performed by a fledgling pianist. As an example, listen to the melodies in ‘The Crisis’ and ‘Second Crisis’ – they constantly end on the wrong key, and never seem to come to a natural conclusion, instead just drifting away into nothingness. This kind of writing is frustrating in the extreme, and although it probably makes sense on-screen, does nothing to enhance the enjoyment of the album. By the end of the CD, when Roger Waters’ song “Lost Boys Calling” began, I had more than had enough. I don’t know what Roger Waters has been doing since he was part of Pink Floyd, and after his Rolf Harris-style warbling performance here, I don’t think I want to either.

There are two versions of the score to The Legend of the 1900 available on CD – this original version, which was released by Sony in Italy at the time of the film’s opening, and the new American version, which goes by it’s new title, has new cover art, re-arranged track listings and is much shorter. To be quite honest, I would recommend picking up the shorter American version as opposed to this one, as the shorter running time may make the end result more coherent and less abrasive to the ear. Morricone’s genius as a film composer is not and will never be in question, and his main theme here is truly remarkable – it’s just that, in film music as in life, you can have too much of a good thing.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Playing Love (4:26)
  • The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean (8:04)
  • The Crisis (2:46)
  • Peacherine Rag (written by Scott Joplin, performed by The Alexander Ragtime Band Ensemble) (2:37)
  • A Goodbye To Friends (2:32)
  • Study for Three Hands (0:59)
  • Tarantella in 3rd Class (1:28)
  • Enduring Movement (1:26)
  • Police (0:47)
  • Trailer (1:37)
  • Thanks Danny (written by Ennio Morricone and C De Natale, performed by James Sampson) (3:23)
  • A Mozart Reincarnated (1:57)
  • Child (2:44)
  • Magic Waltz (2:30)
  • The Goodbye Between Nineteen Hundred and Max (3:43)
  • Goodbye Duet (2:32)
  • Nineteen Hundred’s Madness No.1 (2:14)
  • Danny’s Blues (2:09)
  • Second Crisis (2:02)
  • The Crave (1:46)
  • Nocturne With No Moon (2:41)
  • Before The End (1:10)
  • Playing Love (3:02)
  • Ships and Snow (2:28)
  • Nineteen Hundred’s Madness No.2 (1:47)
  • I Can and Then (2:16)
  • Silent Goodbye (1:38)
  • 5 Portraits (3:57)
  • Lost Boys Calling (written by Ennio Morricone and Roger Waters, performed by Roger Waters) (5:17)

Running Time: 78 minutes 03 seconds

Sony Classical SK-60790 (1998)

Music composed and conducted by Ennio Morricone. Performed by Accademia Musicale Italiana. Orchestrations by Ennio Morricone. Additional music by Amadeo Tommasi and Jelly Roll Morton. Featured musical soloists Gianni Oddi, Cicci Santucci, Fausto Anzelmo, Gilda Buttà and Amadeo Tommasi. Recorded and mixed by Fabio Venturi. Album produced by Ennio Morricone.

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