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THE END OF THE AFFAIR – Michael Nyman

December 3, 1999 Leave a comment Go to comments

endoftheaffairOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

When Michael Nyman was nominated for a Golden Globe for Gattaca in 1997, he wrote an article in the Guardian newspaper in England chronicling his experience at the ceremony. The long and the short of was that he hated every moment of it, and in doing so questioned why he was writing film music in the first place, as it gave him far less pleasure than writing pure classical music. I have often wondered about Nyman’s work ethic since then, especially as his film music output has increased considerably, both in volume and quality, during the last couple of years. Has he changed his mind about liking film scores? Does he still consider its creation nothing more than a chore he undergoes in order to pay the bills? Or has he undergone a catharsis, awakening a new found love for the music of the silver screen?

In 1999 alone, Nyman has written four new pieces of music: the scores for the films Ravenous and Wonderland, and a classical piece commissioned to accompany a new book in Britain called The Commissar Vanishes. And then there is The End of the Affair, arguably the best of the four. Discounting the unconventional The Piano, Nyman has never written for a straightforward romance before, despite having a musical style quite obviously suited to the genre. The End of the Affair is directed by Neil Jordan, stars Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore, and is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Graham Greene. Set in post-war London, it tells the story of an ill-fated liaison between cynical novelist Maurice Bendix (Fiennes) and Sarah Miles (Moore), the bored wife of a hard-working government official Henry Miles (Stephen Rea), rekindling the passions that burned between the two before the outbreak war.

In the past, Michael Nyman’s music has always left me unmoved. Impressed, certainly, and acutely aware of his undoubted musical craftsmanship. But never moved. Wonderland was the first score to have any sort of emotional impact on me and, thankfully, The End of the Affair continues the trend. The familiar drone of the Nyman Band – heavy violin melodies over deep, pulsing cellos and double basses – opens the first cue, ‘Diary of Hate’, and the first reaction is to think “here we go again”. But, thankfully, Nyman varies his music considerably in the subsequent cues, showing a much lighter touch and more graceful orchestrations than usual.

Alexander Balanescu’s virtuoso violin performance in ‘The First Time’ is an unexpectedly delightful surprise, and the forceful ostinato underpinning the thrusting string motif in ‘Vigo Passage’ adds life to the stateliness. The five-minute ‘Jealous of the Rain’ is a highlight mainly because its length allows Nyman’s themes to become slightly better developed, and when his tiny brass section comes into play during the forbidding ‘Intimacy’ it makes for a welcome change of tone. A lovely piano rendition of the main theme appears in ‘Love Doesn’t End’, and by the time the finale, ‘I Know Your Voice, Sarah’ and ‘Sarah Dies’, come around, the searching strings and heart-shattering melody of the cues seek to break new emotional ground.

The one thing that constantly annoys me about Nyman, though, is the fact that there is no natural conclusion to any of his cues. They just stop, mid performance, and at the end of each track I find myself glancing up at the CD player to check that it hasn’t accidentally switched off or anything. I must point out that this is of no real detriment to the music as a whole, but this little detail has bothered me throughout Nyman’s entire career, and he’s still doing it now!

The final thought that struck me upon The End of the Affair’s conclusion was to wonder what Jordan’s regular composer, Elliot Goldenthal, would have done with this movie. Goldenthal, of course, was unavailable at the time, having been concerned with finishing the music for his wife’s movie Titus. Even so, I just couldn’t help but daydream about the possibility of Goldenthal writing a full-on romantic epic. But I digress. Despite its repetitiveness and familiarity, The End of the Affair still a lovely piece of music, and one which will undoubtedly appeal to Nyman’s many admirers in both the classical and film music fraternities. Just for once, though, I’d like him to try to find some musical middle ground – a score in which he doesn’t rely solely on strings, but also one in which he doesn’t go completely off the rails, Ravenous-style.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Diary of Hate (2:37)
  • Henry (1:47)
  • The First Time (2:15)
  • Vigo Passage (1:04)
  • Jealous of the Rain (5:29)
  • The Party in Question (3:44)
  • Intimacy (3:02)
  • Smythe with a ‘Y’ (1:54)
  • Dispossessed (3:21)
  • Love Doesn’t End (4:29)
  • Diary of Love (5:12)
  • Breaking the Spell (1:19)
  • I Know Your Voice, Sarah (4:08)
  • Sarah Dies (3:00)
  • The End of the Affair (2:57)

Running Time: 46 minutes 41 seconds

Sony Classical SK-51354 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by Michael Nyman. Performed by The Michael Nyman Band. Orchestrations by Michael Nyman. Featured musical soloist Alexander Balanescu. Recorded and mixed by Austin Ince. Album produced by Michael Nyman and Cameron Allan.

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