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PETER AND WENDY – Maurizio Malagnini

December 18, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

peterandwendyOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

J. M. Barrie’s story of Peter Pan has inspired numerous adaptations and spin-offs since it was first performed as a stage play in London in 1904. The latest of those is Peter and Wendy, a British TV movie directed by industry veteran Diarmuid Lawrence. Framed within a more contemporary setting, it tells the story of a young girl named Lucy who is about to receive open heart surgery at the famed Great Ormond Street Hospital. To help assuage her fears about her upcoming procedure, Lucy’s mother reads her the classic Peter Pan novel, and the famous story of Neverland, Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, Lost Boys, and the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up unfolds inside her imagination, with herself as the heroine. The film, which airs in the UK on Christmas Day, stars Stanley Tucci as Captain Hook, Paloma Faith as Tinker Bell, Laura Fraser as Mrs. Darling, and newcomers Zac Sutcliffe and Hazel Doupe as Peter and Wendy respectively.

The Peter Pan story has inspired some terrific film music over the years, ranging from the 1953 Disney animated classic, to John Williams’s Hook, James Newton Howard’s Peter Pan, and John Powell’s Pan earlier this year, and now we can add Maurizio Malagnini’s score for Peter and Wendy to this list. 38-year-old Malagnini is an Italian composer who has been working in the UK since the early 2000s, and has received a great deal of critical acclaim for his scores for the massively popular TV series Call the Midwife and The Paradise, the latter of which earned him an Emmy nomination in 2015. Whatever type of acclaim those scores got, they pale in comparison to the quality of Peter and Wendy. Try to think of what Peter Pan music should sound like, and Malagnini’s score captures it all and more: it’s warm, energetic, exciting, magical, swashbuckling, fully orchestral, filled with memorable themes, vivid action music, and a sense of innocence and wonderment that will charm even the hardest of hearts.

The score is built around several recurring themes, including motifs for each of the four lead characters, and for the relationship between Peter and Wendy, but what Malagnini does with them is nothing short of wonderful, and for me is the best part of the score. Each theme is distinct and identifiable, and Malagnini allows each of them to have at least one moment in the sun, but also he blends them together in increasingly clever ways, playing them contrapuntally, in numerous different variations, across multiple cues throughout the score. I have always adored this sort of leitmotivic structure in film music, as it shows a composer who completely understands his film, and has a grasp of the nuances of the storytelling process; as such, for me, Malagnini’s efforts on this score make it one of the most engaging, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally fulfilling scores of the year.

The main theme is the theme for the character of Peter Pan and the concept of Neverland, a big, flourishing fanfare full of whooping strings, flighty woodwinds, and passionate brasses, that first appears in the “Peter and Wendy Main Titles”. This theme also yields a secondary motif, what I’m calling the ‘Pan Fanfare’, a four-note brass idea that often appears when Peter arrives, announces his presence, or does something especially heroic. The second main theme is the theme for Lucy/Wendy, a more romantic, tender piece which acts as a recurring idea for both characters . The real-life Lucy imagines herself as Wendy in her Neverland dreams, so it makes sense for the same musical trope to signify them both.

Peter and Wendy’s Love Theme is a variation/extrapolation on the B-phrase of the main theme, and is extraordinarily beautiful, occurring in moments of tenderness between the pair, but also sometimes expressing the concept of Wendy’s love for Neverland itself. Tinker Bell has a theme, a playful scherzo for fluttering flute lines and light, effervescent strings that perfectly captures the energetic nature of the fierce and loyal fairy who accompanies Peter on all his adventures. Finally, there is a theme for Peter’s nemesis, the pirate Captain Hook, whose music is a dark, swaggering, swirling march for horns, with jaunty nautical overtones that allude to his flamboyant demeanor, but still retain a sense of menace and authority.

These half dozen or so themes combine expertly throughout the entire length of the score, painting a vivid picture of high adventure, grand romance, and magic, with many superb variations. “Great Ormond Street Hospital,” for example, offers the first performance of Wendy’s theme on tender strings and oboes, with an urgent string undercurrent and choral accents that alludes to Lucy’s life in contemporary London. Later, “Lucy’s Dream” is a wistful version of the theme for piano, harp and woodwinds, with an abstract, slightly distant atmosphere, like that foggy feeling you get when you first wake up from a vivid dream. Echoing effects and subtle synths lead to a dark finale.

“The Hospital Museum” introduces the dreamy Peter & Wendy love theme on high, searching strings, as young Lucy sees Peter’s picture in a book for the first time, and begins to fall in love with him in her dreams. Several subsequent cues feature especially lovely performances of both Wendy’s theme and the Love theme, which often complement each other, presenting sequentially within the same cue. “Bedtime for the Children,” for example, is a gentle, lullaby version of Wendy’s theme which segues into a beautiful, calming version of the Love theme, while “The Kite” is a romantic piano rhapsody version of the Love theme with a magnificent, soaring finale. Later, “What If Something Goes Wrong?” features an intimate performance of Wendy’s theme juxtaposed against the Love theme with a gorgeous flute solo half way through.

“Looking for the Shadow,” which underscores the scene where Peter and Wendy meet for the first time, begins with the four-note Pan fanfare and Tinker Bell’s fluttering flute lines, moves into a performance of the Love theme on warm oboes playing contrapuntally against Tinker Bell’s flutes, before ending with a lovely performance of Wendy’s theme accompanied by a magical choir. “The Flight to Neverland” is playful and energetic, with a chanting choir, a variation on Peter’s theme that jumps from brass to flutes to xylophones, and swashbuckling performances of both the Neverland theme and the Love theme transposed to brass.

Captain Hook’s theme is introduced, appropriately enough, in “Captain Hook”. Hook’s theme tends to appear most significantly in the various action sequences that come to dominate much of the score’s second half. In “Keep Your Eyes Open” the theme jumps between brighter trumpets and more menacing horns, accompanied by some fun action music, while “The Execution” is based around deconstructed versions of the Hook ideas, with the underlying ostinato on snares and pizzicato strings, and the melody on deep, threatening brass. Later, “The First Fight” re-imagines the Hook theme with a regal English sound, sort of like a classical dance, with the showmanship and effete manners of a member of the aristocracy embarking on a duel. High strings, triangles, and flighty woodwinds dominate the orchestrations, before it picks up pace and tempo in the second half, interpolating subtle statements of Peter’s four-note fanfare and the Tinker Bell motif.

The final half dozen or cues represent some of best scoring on the album, running a gamut of emotions from high drama and sword-fighting bravado, to desperate tragedy. It begins with “Hook Poisons the Medicine,” in which the Tinker Bell motif appears with bolder orchestration, offset by a jaunty, almost comedic performance of Hook’s theme, with guitars and accordions in the orchestrations. “Tinker Bell Drinks the Poison” and “I Believe in Fairies” represent the score’s true emotional high point, beginning with some sneaky caper-like music and ominous Howard Shore-esque choral parts, moving through heartfelt performances of the Love theme that become very tragic towards the end, before culminating in a glorious finale full of magic and joy, where undulating strings perform the Tinker Bell motif to celebrate her resurrection, thanks to the applause of those who believe in fairies.

“Back to the Ship,” “The Final Fight,” and “The Death of Captain Hook,” come together to form the story’s all-action finale. There are numerous variations on the Hook theme, nervous and anticipatory at the outset with snare drums and pizzicato textures, before it all explodes into full-throated action, with the Tinker Bell motif, the Hook theme, the Neverland theme, and Peter’s fanfare, all dancing around each other with heroic panache and a Korngold-esque sense of adventure and bravado. The music that accompanies the demise of the wily old pirate is a noble, almost heroic-tragic version of the Hook theme in a major key that affords him a gallant send-off.

“Peter’s Farewell” is a poignant contrapuntal combination of Wendy’s theme and the Love theme, with a softly cooing choir and a key change in the second half that adds even more emotional weight. Leaving the Hospital” opens with a slightly downbeat, dreamy statement of Wendy’s theme, including a return of the contemporary Great Ormond Street variation with chugging strings, but ends with a huge, upbeat, optimistic final performance of the main Neverland theme that leaves the listener on a joyous high. The conclusive song, “Peter and Wendy,” performed by Phoebe Fildes, is built around a combination of Peter and Wendy’s love theme and the undulating piano motif from “The Kite”. Despite its unusual tempo, unexpected chord progressions, and unconventional melodic structure, it somehow works, while the romantic lyrics speak to Peter’s fantastical origins, his child-like nature, and Wendy’s infatuation with him.

As you can clearly tell, I thought Peter and Wendy was an absolutely magnificent score in every respect, which ticks every single box in terms of what I want from a film score. The big orchestra, the recurring themes, the intelligent application of leitmotivic structure, and the emotional content, are all outstanding, and there are no dead moments or lulls anywhere on the album. In fact, controversial as this statement may be, I would almost be inclined to say that Peter and Wendy is the best score ever written for a film involving Peter Pan – and, yes, that includes John Williams’s Hook. It is undoubtedly one of the best scores of 2015, and I only hope that the fact that is was written by a comparatively unknown Italian composer for an under-the-radar British TV movie does not dissuade people from picking it up. Maurizio Malagnini is a composer whose future, at least from my point of view, is very bright indeed.

Buy the Peter and Wendy soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Peter and Wendy Main Titles (0:47)
  • Great Ormond Street Hospital (1:13)
  • The Hospital Museum (1:31)
  • Receiving the Book (0:49)
  • Looking for the Shadow (2:11)
  • The Flight to Neverland (2:31)
  • Lucy’s Dream (3:56)
  • Captain Hook (3:16)
  • The Bear and the Crocodile (0:51)
  • Keep Your Eyes Open (1:43)
  • The Lost Boys (1:47)
  • Lucy Is Alive (2:11)
  • A Beautiful Place to Live (1:25)
  • Bedtime for the Children (1:59)
  • The Execution (2:22)
  • The Mermaids (0:59)
  • The First Fight (4:04)
  • The Kite (3:14)
  • What If Something Goes Wrong? (2:48)
  • Hook Poisons the Medicine (2:28)
  • Tinker Bell Drinks the Poison (2:48)
  • I Believe in Fairies (2:54)
  • Back to the Ship (3:58)
  • The Final Fight (3:26)
  • The Death of Captain Hook (1:46)
  • Peter’s Farewell (2:11)
  • Leaving the Hospital (2:40)
  • Peter and Wendy (performed by Phoebe Fildes) (4:07)

Running Time: 65 minutes 55 seconds

Silva Screen SILED4821 (2015)

Music composed by Maurizio Malagnini. Conducted by Jeff Atmajian. Performed by The Chamber Orchestra of London. Orchestrations by Maurizio Malagnini and Jehan Stefan. Recorded and mixed by Rupert Coulson and Jake Jackson. Album produced by Maurizio Malagnini.

  1. Scott Weber
    December 19, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    I wish I could find this one for sale…not seeing it really available anywhere…any idea where/when it might be offered for sale?

    • NaChiKyoTsuki97
      December 21, 2015 at 12:20 am

      My sources all seem to be pointing at Xmas Day on the dot.

  2. December 25, 2015 at 2:35 pm
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