Home > Reviews > THE CHORUS (LES CHORISTES) – Bruno Coulais


January 14, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

thechorusOriginal Review by Peter Simons

France’s submission for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, The Chorus (Les Choristes) tells the somber story of music teacher Clement Mathieu (Gerard Jugnot) accepting a position at a remote school for difficult students. While the school’s headmaster believes in strict discipline and runs the place like a prison, the new teacher believes that a little love and goodwill can go a long way. As Mathieu succeeds in bringing his deviant pupils together in a choir, they discover a hidden talent within themselves.

Adapting his own screenplay from a French production called The Cage of Nightingales, director Christophe Barratier makes his feature debut with The Chorus. Composer Bruno Coulais was brought in to underscore the many choral sequences, to adapt some of Barratier’s own melodies and, of course, to add a good portion of his own musical ideas. Though the story of a good teacher bringing out the best out of a group of delinquent students is not entirely original (we all know Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dangerous Minds or Renaissance Man), The Chorus was a huge success in France. Even the film’s soundtrack spent several weeks at the top of the country’s album charts selling roughly a million copies. As I write this, the score has also just been nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Score.

Having already scored over a hundred movies since the late 1970s in France and Europe, French composer Bruno Coulais is finally gaining international recognition. Some of his better known works include Winged Migration, The Crimson Rivers, the European version of Harrison’s Flowers (which was scored in the US by Cliff Eidelman) and Microcosmos. On The Chorus, Coulais worked very closely together with director Barratier, who himself is somewhat of a composer, and who co-wrote the lyrics and the score’s main theme.

The album kicks off with “Les Choristes” presenting the score’s main theme written by Barratier and Coulais. It’s a quirky and memorable theme for choir and woodwinds. “In Memoriam” is a solemn cue that is arguably the score’s most impressive track despite owing a bit to Mozart’s Requiem and perhaps even a little to John Williams’ Schindler List. While many of the tracks on the soundtrack are written to serve as source music (i.e. as songs sung by the film’s choir) “L’Arrivée à l’École” is the album’s first score cue, featuring a low key rendition of the In Memoriam-theme with wordless vocals adding a sense of mystery or perhaps even doom, not unlike Horner’s use of choir in Willow or Brainstorm. “Pepinot” is a lovely orchestral version of the film’s two main themes with an emphasis on piano and woodwinds; and with its see-sawing motion in the string it brings some of Mychael Nyman’s orchestral stylistics to mind. It’s an outstanding track on an album full of highlights.

While the album continues to impress cue after cue it is ultimately a mono- or rather bi-thematic score with the Les Choristes-theme and the In Memoriam-theme forming the basis of virtually every track. “Les Partitions” is an orchestral cue for strings with brass subtly adding depth and gravitas. “Lueur d’été” features the choir singing a joyful tune in canon with a bass piano providing a rhythmic accompaniment, while the mere 58-second “Cerf-volant” is the score’s single most heartbreakingly beautiful track.

“Sous la Pluie” is a mournful variation on the Choristes-theme with a bassoon taking centre stage. On an album that as whole leaves a melancholy impression, “Compère Guilleri” is a fast-paced bouncy track which would not sound out of place during the Christmas holiday season, short though it is. Another mournful track, “La Désillusion” prominently features harp, clarinet and French horn. Written by Jean-Philippe Rameau, “La Nuit” is the album’s sole source cue, though it fits in flawlessly. “L’évocation” and “Action Réaction” are two more orchestral score cues with the former being a slow elegant piece and the latter being a dark cue for ominous string chords, remotely reminiscent of some of Hans Zimmer’s darker cello passages. “Seuls” is an almost magical cue for harp, glockenspiel, woodwinds and wordless choir.

The last three tracks surprisingly manage to ruin the great listening experience The Chorus has been up until then. “Morhange” features another beautiful performance of the main theme; this time performed by oboe accompanied by a rhythmic string pattern. Unfortunately the cue also contains dialogue which, needless to say, is an unpleasant addition to the album. “In Memoriam A Cappella” is a vocal-only track that adds little to the CD; and “Nous sommes de Fond de l’Étang” appears to be a scene taken straight out of the film with the boys rehearsing their tunes, including dialogue and sound effects. This is a rather unfortunate ending to an otherwise marvelous soundtrack album.

Bruno Coulais is one of France’s – and perhaps Europe’s – most promising and talented composers. His scores tend to be innovative and consistently provide rewarding listening experiences away from the film. If I compared Coulais’ work for The Chorus to other classical and contemporary composers it was only to put the score in a recognizable frame. It has already been embraced by a million moviegoers in France; and with its enchanting melodies and heart warming orchestrations it is easy to hear why.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Les Choristes (1:32)
  • In Memoriam (3:25)
  • L’Arrivée à l’École (1:32)
  • Pépinot (1:50)
  • Vois sur ton Chemin (2:19)
  • Les Partitions (1:03)
  • Caresse sur l’Océan (2:10)
  • Lueur d’Été (2:02)
  • Cerf-Volant (0:58)
  • Sous la Pluie (1:05)
  • Compère Guilleri (0:35)
  • La Désillusion (1:22)
  • La Nuit (2:20)
  • L’Incendie (1:23)
  • L’Évocation (1:45)
  • Les Avions en Papier (1:28)
  • Action Réaction (1:45)
  • Seuls (1:53)
  • Morhange (1:57)
  • In Memoriam a Cappella (3:19)
  • Nous Sommes de Fond de l’Étang (2:46)

Running Time: 38 minutes 29 seconds

Nonesuch 61741-2 (2005)

Music composed by Bruno Coulais. Conducted by Nicolas Porte. Performed by Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc. Orchestrations by Bruno Coulais . Featured musical soloists B>Jean-Baptiste Maunier, B>Raoul Duflot and B>Dominic Faricier. Recorded and mixed by Didier Lizé. Album produced by Bruno Coulais and Paul Lavergne.

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