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THE HOURS – Philip Glass

December 27, 2002 Leave a comment Go to comments

thehoursOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

In film music circles, Philip Glass is the victim of a certain degree of “reverse-snobbishness” that is rather unusual. As a classical composer, some of his film music work lacks the same depth of emotion as those by his contemporaries – not because he cannot write in this way but because, as he still maintains a high standing in the classical music world, he seems to embrace the “technique over emotion” standpoint favored by the classical glitterati. It is surprising, therefore, to discover that The Hours is by far his most emotional film score to date. Sadly, it sounds broadly like every other score he has written, and is repetitive to a point where you almost want to pull out your hair.

Directed by Stephen “Billy Elliot” Daldry, The Hours is the tale of three remarkable women living in three different time periods, all of whom are linked by one defining factor: the life and works of novelist Virginia Woolf. Nicole Kidman (wearing a much-publicized prosthetic nose) plays Woolf herself, whose life is shown as she begins writing what is probably her most successful novel, “Mrs. Dalloway”, in 1923. Julianne Moore plays Laura Brown, a lonely housewife in 1951 Los Angeles who discovers some things about herself and her life through reading the aforementioned book; and Meryl Street plays Clarissa Vaughan, a modern-day Mrs. Dalloway, who is arranging a farewell party for her terminally ill husband (Ed Harris).

It’s somewhat ironic that, having finally been given an opportunity to write an emotional score, many respected movie critics have called Glass’s work on The Hours over-wrought, overly-manipulative and intrusive in the finished film. The score does have an interesting history, having originally been composed by Stephen Warbeck, and subsequently rejected, leaving Glass with very little time to write a substantial replacement. This fact may explain why several cues have been adapted from existing Glass works (including “Satyagraha” and “Glassworks” among others), and again why the music is so familiar.

Glass’s music is, broadly, a work for strings and piano, with the strings laying tonal layers and musical foundations, and the piano providing the majority of the thematic content over the top. Throughout the score, the virtuoso performance of Michael Riesman dominates proceedings, climbing scales, batting out staccato tempos, undulating, pulsating, throbbing and cascading, creating an almost hypnotic mood. It’s interesting to read in the album notes that novelist Michael Cunningham wrote The Hours while listening to Glass’s music, and the associations he makes between Glass and Virginia Woolf herself: how the music has no beginning and no end, instead existing as its own entity, and going on and on and on. There’s a minimalism joke in there somewhere, but I won’t head down that path…

Tracks of note include ‘Something She Has To Do’, which has a slow, almost languid air of disassociation about it. This kind of music actually leaves me somewhat cold – instead of capturing the intensity of the scene, it instead seems to have an abstract detachment, as though Glass were more interested in mathematical precision and mechanical structure than emotional content. Similarly, ‘For Your Own Benefit’ has the minimalist air of Wojciech Kilar about it, featuring slightly darker chords.

‘Tearing Herself Away’ is the closest Glass gets to high drama, pitching his orchestra a faster tempo, with brooding piano clusters and undulating string phrases coming to the fore, reminding me of that which John Williams wrote for A.I. Artificial Intelligence. ‘Escape!’ is Glass’s action music (if you can call it that…), with a careful tempo and ominous piano chords that suddenly burst forth into a frenetic collision of piano triplets, not too dissimilar to those heard in Eyes Wide Shut.

The Hours is certainly one of Philip Glass’s more lauded works, having been nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTAs, but personally I feel that its unrelenting repetitiveness is its downfall. How many times has, for example, James Horner been lambasted for recycling themes and writing scores similar to previous ones, when Glass is just as guilty, if not more so, of plagiarizing his own back catalogue? From Kundun to Anima Mundi to Candyman to his scores for the Godfrey Reggio documentaries, a Glass score is a Glass score is a Glass score, and The Hours is no exception. Well performed, stylistically adept, but – in this reviewer’s opinion – a little boring.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • The Poet Acts (3:40)
  • Morning Passages (5:30)
  • Something She Has To Do (3:09)
  • For Your Own Benefit (2:00)
  • Vanessa and the Changelings (1:45)
  • I’m Going to Make a Cake (4:01)
  • An Unwelcome Friend (4:08)
  • Dead Things (4:21)
  • The Kiss (3:54)
  • Why Does Someone Have to Die? (3:53)
  • Tearing Herself Away (5:00)
  • Escape! (3:48)
  • Choosing Life (3:58)
  • The Hours (7:44)

Running Time: 57 minutes 33 seconds

Nonesuch 7559-79693-2 (2002)

Music composed by Philip Glass. Conducted by Nick Ingman. Orchestrations by Philip Glass. Featured musical soloists Michael Riesman, Rolf Wilson, Edmund Coxon, Nicholas Barr, David Daniels and Chris Laurence. Recorded and mixed by Jonathan Allen. Edited by Tony Lewis. Album produced by Philip Glass, Kurt Munkacsi and Michael Riesman.

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