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MAGDALENE – Cliff Eidelman

September 6, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Do you remember what you were doing when you were 24? Maybe you were just starting out at your first proper job, maybe you just got your first apartment, maybe you were embarking on your first relationship. Maybe you were even still at university, dreaming of what your future life might bring once you leave academia and head out into the big wide world. Whatever you were doing, I’m pretty sure you weren’t doing what Cliff Eidelman was doing when he was 24 – which was conducting 120 musicians of the Munich Symphony Orchestra for his debut film score, Magdalene. To say that Eidelman’s rise was meteoric is an enormous understatement; just a year prior to scoring Magdalene he was still a student at the University of Southern California, but this all changed when German film director Monica Teuber somehow heard a performance recording of a ballet score Eidelman had written on commission for Santa Monica City College. On the strength of that music alone Teuber hired Eidelman to score her film; after it came out the score was so well received that it immediately led to other assignments, and within three years he was scoring major studio blockbusters like Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – and a career was born.

The film itself is largely forgotten by most people these days, except for those curious soundtrack fans who seek out astonishingly good music by exceptionally talented film composers at the very beginnings of their careers. The film is a historical romantic drama set in the religious hierarchy of Salzburg in the early 1800s. Former Chippendale dancer and daytime soap opera actor Steve Bond plays Joseph Mohr, a Catholic priest whose faith is tested when he meets and falls in love with a former prostitute, the Magdalene of the title, played by Nastassja Kinski. As Mohr struggles with his feelings he also becomes embroiled in the affairs of a corrupt church official, whose dealings with a wealthy Baron underpin all the politics in the area, while the local populace threatens to revolt against the landowners who keep them downtrodden. To help him cope with all these pressures, Mohr also turns to his second loves – music and poetry – and with the help of his old friend, composer Franz Gruber, pens the lyrics to what would eventually become one of the most beloved Christmas songs ever written: “Silent Night”. It’s a somewhat convoluted story, and unfortunately the film did not resonate with audiences, and was given little more than a cursory release in theaters the United States.

None of this had any effect on Eidelman, though, who grasped this opportunity and threw his heart and soul into the project. His approach to the score was to go big: his inspirations for the music were the first four bars from Mozart’s Requiem Mass, early eighteenth century period choral music, and the song Silent Night, all of which he surrounded with his own sumptuous orchestral scoring for the 120-piece orchestra. The resulting work is quite stunning: a bold, thematic, romantic, sweeping epic of quite gigantic proportions which probably overwhelms the movie in context, but sounds quite magnificent when heard separately, which is how the vast majority of people will experience it. In addition to the orchestra, Eidelman uses sung Latin lyrics throughout much of the score as a way to magnify the importance of the church at the centerpiece of the entire story, but he cleverly sets them differently depending on the circumstances, allowing them to be soft and intimate for the romantic scenes, reverential and serious for the high church, bold and boisterous for the scenes of revolution and rebellion. There are also several recurring themes which weave in and around each other as the score progresses, including character specific themes for Father Mohr and Magdalene, a theme for their developing relationship, and what appears to be a theme representing Mohr’s relationship with the church. In terms of orchestration, for the most part Eidelman allows strings and woodwinds to carry his melodic writing, with prominent accents from pianos and harps, as well as the aforementioned choir.

However, the whole thing kicks off with “The Revolution,” an enormous piece of bold, bombastic music that underscores the peasant revolution led by the agitator Janza, who trying to overthrow the tyrannical Baron, and whose story provides the backdrop against which Mohr’s more intimate tale is set. Janza’s war is underscored with swirling dramatic strings, bold writing for horns, cymbal crashes, and huge portentous Latin chanting that is quite magnificent – talk about making an entrance in the first cue of your first score! This style of writing returns later in “The Aftermath of War,” which is a little more brooding and melodramatic, “Absolve Me of My Sins,” which uses snare drums and cymbal clashes to make the orchestra sound dramatic and important, the euphoric “Freedom in Salzburg,” and the stunning “Magdalene’s Prayer,” which builds with ominous portent through a series of staccato rhythms, features a lyrical interlude, and concludes with a triumphant, militaristic finale full of blaring, noble horns.

The romantic relationship between Father Mohr and Magdalene is encompassed by several cues of beautiful, intimate writing for strings and woodwinds, with especially notable passages for oboes, which are often augmented by harps and chimes. “Magdalene in Love” and “Temptation” are the pick of these, offering moments of both tenderness and forbidden passion, and there is some especially prominent contrapuntal writing from the cellos in the latter of those cues that gives it an extra dimension. Throughout his career Eidelman showed his talent for writing themes that expressed personal intimacy – in fact, by the end of his mainstream film music career during the late 1990s, he was doing very little else – and it was apparent right from this early age that he excelled at it. Later, in “Will You Forget Me,” the love theme is reprised in a more bittersweet fashion, and with the lead melodic line switched to a piano.

The associated individual theme for “Father Mohr” himself uses much the same sound palette, but offers a different melodic line and is phrased differently to sound solid, dependable, trustworthy, as a man of the cloth should be. This theme is also closely associated with the final main theme, which is the theme for the church itself, and which weaves its way through pieces like “The Death of Hans” and “Going to Heaven”. It is in these cues that Eidelman writes his most solemn and reverential music, including several beautiful settings of the ‘kyrie eleison’ chant with plainsong-inspired complementary vocals, but which often rises to embrace increasingly sweeping orchestral heights. The titlular “Kyrie Eleison” is probably the most traditional sounding of these settings, and sees Eidelman offsetting the words with a pipe organ, tubular bells, and gentle woodwinds, while a boy soprano soloiost and the choir builds to an impressively powerful, spiritual, conclusion.

The score album includes a couple of source music tracks. “The Archbishop’s Entertainment” is a dainty piece of renaissance whimsy for solo violin, recorder, and harpsichord; “Christmas Time” is a beautiful, lullaby for solo violin, harp, and harpsichord; and “Silent Night” pretty, waltz-like statement of the famous carol that Mohr and Gruber write over the course of the film. The whole thing concludes with “Mohr’s Farewell,” an expansive finale cue which encompasses all the score’s major thematic ideas performed by the full ensemble, and which grows to a large scale as it develops, with some especially expressive and florid trills in the woodwinds.

Aficionados of Cliff Eidelman’s writing will hear the genesis of many of his most famous and enduring works in Magdalene – everything from Triumph of the Spirit to Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, Leap of Faith, Free Willy 3, A Simple Twist of Fate, and even Star Trek 6. Eidelman has a very specific and recognizable sound that was clearly present in his work right from the earliest part of his career, and it’s mightily impressive to think about just how sophisticated and confident his writing was at such a young age. The strength and beauty of the themes, the depth of the orchestrations: Eidelman has it all, which makes it all the more inexplicable to look back on his career and realize that he hasn’t scored a theatrical film in six years, and has only written eight since the turn of the millennium. This is a man whose pure talent deserves better.

But, in terms of Magdalene, this is a genuinely outstanding score, which anyone who has ever enjoyed a Cliff Eidelman score will want to seek out. It was released by Intrada Records in 1992, six years after the film was released, and physical copies are somewhat difficult to acquire these days, but it does appear on the secondary market from time to time, and any chance you get to hear it should be taken immediately.

Buy the Magdalene soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Revolution (2:22)
  • The Death of Hans (4:07)
  • Magdalene in Love (1:06)
  • Father Mohr (3:45)
  • Going to Heaven (2:32)
  • The Archbishop’s Entertainment (1:52)
  • The Aftermath of War (4:45)
  • Christmas Time (1:59)
  • Absolve Me of My Sins (4:01)
  • Temptation (4:42)
  • Silent Night (written by Franz Gruber) (0:48)
  • Freedom in Salzburg (1:56)
  • Magdalene’s Prayer (5:11)
  • Kyrie Eleison (1:31)
  • Will You Forget Me (1:10)
  • Mohr’s Farewell (4:32)

Running Time: 44 minutes 46 seconds

Intrada MAF-7029D (1988/1992)

Music composed and conducted by Cliff Eidelman. Performed by The Munich Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Mark Watters. Recorded and mixed by Alan Snelling. Edited by Joe Tarantino. Album produced by Cliff Eidelman and Douglass Fake.

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