Home > Reviews > FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD – Craig Armstrong

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD – Craig Armstrong

farfromthemaddingcrowdOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel Far From the Madding Crowd is one of the classics of Victorian-era English literature. The story is an examination of the changing British attitudes and morals of the time, looking at the cultural clash between traditional rural life, the power of the military, and the increasing dominance of wealthy city folk, through the eyes of the central character, the headstrong Bathsheba Everdene, whose relationships with several different potential suitors are intended to represent cross-sections of British society. Director Thomas Vinterberg’s film is at least the fifth theatrical version of the story; written by David Nicholls, it stars Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge and Michael Sheen as the suitors Farmer Oak, Sergeant Troy and Mr. Boldwood, and Juno Temple as Bathsheba’s servant girl Fanny Robin.

The score for Far From the Madding Crowd is by Scottish composer Craig Armstrong, and is his first major cinematic endeavor since he collaborated with hip-hop mogul Jay-Z on the score for The Great Gatsby in 2013. If you know anything about Thomas Vinterberg’s prior work as a director, you might expect this film to have a very understated score, or even no score at all – Vinterberg was one of the proponents of the dogme style of filmmaking that forbade any use of non-diegetic music – but, in this case, nothing could be further from the truth. The score for Far From the Madding Crowd is a rich, romantic work, steeped in both traditional English folk music and the classical music of the period, and plays an important part in conveying the emotions inherent in the story. As the centerpiece of his score, Armstrong features a virtuoso solo violin of singular, exquisite beauty; listeners will likely be reminded of Hilary Hahn’s contribution to James Newton Howard’s The Village, Jack Liebeck’s performances for Dario Marianelli on Jane Eyre, and Joshua Bell’s superb playing on James Horner’s Iris.

The “Opening” sets the tone for the score to come, introducing the score’s sumptuous main theme, a vivacious, elegant violin melody underpinned by rolling, flowing piano chords and that pastoral, elegant orchestral sound often associated with composers like Ralph Vaughan Williams. The theme briefly transfers from violin to flute in the cue’s second half, offering a calming and more introspective interpretation, but it is the violin that is the theme’s heart and soul. Later, cues such as “Never Been Kissed,” and the rapturous “Hollow in the Ferns” luxuriate in the sound of the violin, combining with light, twinkling harp glissandi and floating, feather-light woodwind phrases to mesmerizing effect.

However, for much of the rest of the score, the main theme disappears entirely, and is replaced instead by a trio of themes for the men in Bathsheba’s life. The simple country life of Farmer Oak is conveyed through resolute orchestral passages in cues like “Corn Exchange,” “Spring Sheep Dip” and “Oak Leaves,” which combine a gently romantic violin/woodwind motif with more sprightly, rhythmic ideas for the rest of the string section and what might be a Riddle drum, an English variant on the traditional Irish bodhrán. “The Great Misunderstanding” introduces the musical identity for the career soldier Sergeant Troy, a slightly darker theme which is given a touch of uncertainty by staccato strings and minor-key woodwind writing, and which is reprised later in the much more downbeat “Bathsheba and Troy Wedding” and “Fanny and Troy”. Bathsheba’s final suitor, the dependable and solid landowner Mr. Boldwood, receives an equally dependable and solid theme in “Boldwood Variation,” a highbrow, refined piece for strings that conveys the steadfastness and seriousness of a true Victorian gentleman.

However, despite being perfectly lovely pieces in and of themselves, the solo violin is such an integral part of the score that cues such as these, which do not feature it strongly, feel somehow empty, missing a vital component; as such, it’s reappearance in the “End Credits” is like reuniting with an old friend. The final cue is the staggeringly beautiful “Far from the Madding Crowd Love Theme,” and is my favorite cue on the album, not only because the piece contains one of the score’s few moments of noticeable brass, and not only because of the opulent cello countermelody, but because of how the violin interweaves through it all. The swooning, unashamedly expressive flourishes in this cue are simply magnificent, and it builds to several lovely crescendos during its almost 4-minute running time.

In addition to Armstrong’s score, the soundtrack features performances of a couple of traditional hymns by The Dorset Singers and the Yeovil Chamber Choir, several lively dances and reels performed by English folk musician and fiddle player Eliza Carthy’s band (featuring melodeon specialist Saul Rose), and a memorable a cappella rendition of the old English folk song “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme” – a warning to young girls to maintain their decency and chastity – performed by lead actors Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen.

Despite having written some astonishingly gorgeous music for films like William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet in 1996, Love Actually in 2003, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007, Craig Armstrong is under-valued as a ‘beauty composer’, and hopefully his writing here will redress that balance. Far From the Madding Crowd is a superb score in the great classical tradition; although it has no action sequences, and maintains a generally consistent tone throughout, the emotions that come flowing from the score are effortlessly beautiful, and the violin solos are worth the price of the purchase alone.

Buy the Far From the Madding Crowd soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Opening (4:40)
  • Jerusalem the Golden (written by Alexander Ewing and John M. Neale, performed by The Dorset Singers and the Yeovil Chamber Choir) (1:56)
  • Corn Exchange (1:27)
  • The Great Misunderstanding (2:25)
  • Spring Sheep Dip (2:29)
  • Oak Returns (2:18)
  • Let No Man Steal Your Thyme (traditional, performed by Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen) (2:05)
  • Never Been Kissed (3:01)
  • Hollow in the Ferns (3:39)
  • Bathsheba and Troy Wedding (3:06)
  • Dribbles of Brandy (written by James Aird, performed by The Eliza Carthy Band feat. Saul Rose) (1:10)
  • Swiss Boy (traditional, performed by The Eliza Carthy Band feat. Saul Rose) (1:50)
  • Fanny and Troy (4:05)
  • Troy Swims Out (1:17)
  • O Come O Come Emmanuel (traditional, performed by The Dorset Singers and the Yeovil Chamber Choir) (2:47)
  • Boldwood Variation (2:32)
  • Michael Turner’s Waltz from Six German Dances KV 536, No.2 (written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by The Eliza Carthy Band) (1:47)
  • Jenny Lind Polka (written by Anton Wallerstein, performed by The Eliza Carthy Band feat. Saul Rose) (1:52)
  • Time Moves On (1:08)
  • Oak Leaves (1:11)
  • Bathsheba and Oak Unite (1:36)
  • End Credits (2:08)
  • Far from the Madding Crowd Love Theme (3:43)

Running Time: 54 minutes 01 seconds

Sony Classical SK 503230 (2015)

Music composed and conducted by Craig Armstrong. Orchestrations by Dave Foster, Jake Parker and Rob Sneddon. Recorded and mixed by Andy Bradfield. Edited by Yann McCullough. Album produced by Craig Armstrong.

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  1. Scott Weber
    May 5, 2015 at 5:34 am

    Agreed…I got this last week and have been really loving it…just gorgeous, wonderful music…I hope he scores more in the future…his projects seem few and far between as of late.

  1. August 16, 2015 at 10:18 pm

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