LA HERENCIA VALDEMAR – Arnau Bataller
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
La Herencia Valdemar is the first film of a two-part Spanish mystery-horror-thriller series written and directed by José Luis Alemán. Steeped in Lovecraftian imagery and themes, it stars Silvia Abascal as Luisa Lorente, an expert on inheritance tax relating to old buildings, who visits an enormous Gothic mansion called Valdemar to conduct an audit following the death of the owner. When she disappears in mysterious circumstances, her boss hires a private detective named Nicolás Tremel (Oscar Jaenada) to find out what happened to her. However, upon his arrival at Valdemar, Nicolás discovers much more than he bargained for – an-age old horror beyond imagination. The film, which also stars Daniele Liotti, Laia Marull and Rodolfo Sancho, was a popular success in it’s native Spain when it opened there in January 2010, but by far the most impressive aspect of the entire production is the score by 33-year old composer Arnau Bataller.
Bataller studied at USC in the United States in the 1990s, and has scored 30 or so films and TV series in Spain since making his film music debut the early 2000s, but none of them reached an international audience. La Herencia Valdemar, despite having not been released in theaters outside Europe, had a soundtrack released on the Saimel label, and has come to the attention of movie music people in other parts of the world. And for good reason too: La Herencia Valdemar is fantastic, a huge, bold, orchestral and choral tour-de-force of epic proportions, which celebrates the Gothic horror genre in a way not heard since Christopher Young was making a name for himself on the Hellraiser series.
Setting his stall out early, Bataller opens the score with the truly staggering “Titulos de Crédito Iniciales”, which builds from a sinister whispered chant, tinkling chimes, and brooding cello chords into an absolutely enormous theme for the entire orchestra and choir. Strings whirl furiously in circular ostinatos, the brass blares powerfully, the choir vocalizes menacingly, bells toll in the distance. In case anyone was wondering whether this score was going to give you the chills, Bataller leaves you in no doubt with these first three minutes. This is the kind of music which I, as a film music reviewer, live for: young, talented composers using a full orchestra to write music of power, energy, creativity, and a strong thematic core.
After this astonishing opening, the score settles down a little thereafter, presenting a more pastoral theme for woodwinds and piano in “Dosier”, most likely to accompany the day-to-day life of Luisa Lorente before her mysterious demise. Much of the rest of the score is filled with wonderfully dark passages for churning strings, subtle restatements of the main theme in calmer settings, and more lyrical moments for pianos, woodwinds, and more soothing choral work, which are often combined with magical-sounding accents – chimes, harp waves, and the like. The net effect is to give the entire score a sense of danger and beauty combined: the faded glory and tattered majesty of Valdemar Mansion itself is clearly hiding something awful behind its frayed tapestries, dusty statues and peeling wallpaper. Cues such as “Entrando en la Casa”, the gorgeous “Leonor y Lázaro”, “Detencion de Lázaro”, the tender and intimate “En el Casino”, the florid opening moments of “En Su Actual Estado”, and the gentle “La Adopción de Claudia” are great examples of this element of the score.
Some of the choral work, in cues like “Fotos en el Baúl” and “Hubo Contactos”, ranges from the beatific to the downright creepy, with the vocalists repeating the whispered phrases from the opening cue to bone-chilling effect. Listening to pieces like this in the dark while wearing headphones is quite a disturbing experience. Similarly, some of the all-out action and horror moments, such as “El Cadáver de Orquicia”, “Ha Estado Alli?” and “Engañando a Gadea”, see Bataller breaking out the Herrmann-esque string stingers, rampaging brass and percussion-led rhythmic sections, and more impressionistic and dissonant orchestral textures, as the luckless Luisa discovers the horrors that lie within the mansion. Some of the action/chase writing here is very impressive too, as Bataller passes the rhythmic center of the cues around between low-end strings, brasses and pounding timpani, maintaining the energy of the piece while keeping the instrumental combinations fresh.
However, as the film and score moves towards its climax, Bataller gradually increases the size and scope of the music, revisiting the enormous orchestral forces heard in the opening cue. Beginning with “El Rito”, which opens with some eerie brass and clarinet interplay, nervous rattling percussion, and more of that choral scariness, the score builds and builds through the next five cues, into a superb finale. “El Rito Fracaso” is a monstrous explosion of choral and orchestral carnage, a barrage of whooping brass clusters, booming percussion rhythms, frantic string writing, ominous Latin chanting, and powerful statements of the main theme. “La Huída” brings the choir more to the forefront of the score, featuring the Latin chants more prominently, and “Leonor Contra el Davorador” and “Final” are almost unbearably tense, before everything concludes on a more hopeful with the lush and sweeping “Desenlace de Leonor”.
Arnau Bataller is just one of several composers who seem to be part of an “Iberian Revolution” in film music at the moment. It used to be that the best film music from the European mainland came from France and Italy. Now, with Spanish and Portuguese composers like Bataller, Fernando Velazquez, Nuno Malo, Oscar Araujo, Marc Vaillo, Xavier Capellas, as well as more established names like Javier Navarrete, Alberto Iglesias and Roque Baños, there seems to be a significant swing to the west in terms of where all the best European music is coming from – and, if this is indicative of the quality of stuff we can expect from these guys in the future, long may it continue.
Anyone who loves the big, in-your-face horror writing of Christopher Young or, to a lesser extent, Marco Beltrami, will reap numerous rewards from La Herencia Valdemar, and I truly hope that the international awareness of this score, coupled with his International Film Music Critics Association award nomination, helps Bataller’s career to flourish.
Buy the La Herencia Valdemar soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Titulos de Crédito Iniciales (3:04)
- Dosier (2:02)
- Entrando en La Casa (2:25)
- Fotos en el Baúl (2:09)
- El Cadáver de Orquicia (3:11)
- Ha Estado Alli? (2:32)
- Leonor y Lázaro (2:56)
- A La Luz del Fuego (1:54)
- Detencion de Lázaro (2:39)
- En El Casino (2:32)
- El Calabozo (2:14)
- Engañando a Gadea (2:37)
- En Su Actual Estado (3:37)
- El Hombre Más Siniestro (1:48)
- Hubo Contactos (5:21)
- Enfado Leonor (1:57)
- La Adopción de Claudia (1:45)
- El Rito (2:06)
- El Rito Fracasa (3:26)
- La Huída (3:04)
- Lázaro Moribundo (3:24)
- Leonor Contra el Davorador (3:29)
- Final (1:27)
- Desenlace de Leonor (2:30)
Running Time: 63 minutes 09 seconds
Saimel 3998916 (2010)
Music composed by Arnau Bataller. Conducted by David Hernando. Performed by The Bratislava Symphony Orchestra. Recorded and mixed by Martin Roller and Marc Blanes Matas. Album produced by Arnau Bataller.