Oscar-Nominated Scores: 'Notes On a Scandal' NPR's movie-music expert Andy Trudeau does a roundup of this year's five Oscar-nominated scores and profiles one more composer: Philip Glass for Notes on a Scandal.
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Oscar-Nominated Scores: 'Notes On a Scandal'

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Oscar-Nominated Scores: 'Notes On a Scandal'

Oscar-Nominated Scores: 'Notes On a Scandal'

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(Soundbite of music)

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Tonight, that wistfully sad tune hopes to waltz away with film music's biggest prize, the Oscar. It's the 79th annual Academy Awards ceremony from Hollywood. Spaniard Javier Navarette is the name of that hopeful for his score to the Guillermo Del Toro fantasy, "Pan's Labyrinth." It's one of the five scores in the running and one of the five we've been running for the past two weeks as we've listened to selections from the soundtracks nominated in the category of Best Original Score.

This is our final installment, and here once again for our third week together is Andy Trudeau. Andy, welcome back, and before we get to the five nominated scores, this is my favorite part, when I ask you, are there any on your list that didn't get the nomination, didn't get the nod?

ANDY TRUDEAU: Well, I have a list, and I'll start, though, by saying one name that's not going to be on the list, sad to say, is Basil Poledouris, a fine composer who never really had a breakthrough score. You're asking: who's this guy?

HANSEN: Yeah.

TRUDEAU: Well, he tended to get the kinds of films that you don't want to admit to other people that you've seen: "Hunt for Red October," "Robocop," these are his kinds of scores, but good orchestrator, really knew how to handle the band.

That said, you know, you put two film music buffs in the same room, ask them to pick five each, you're going to come with 10 different titles. I would've been happy if we'd been talking about John Powell's score for "United 93," Howard Shore's score for "The Departed," Mark Isham, the score to "Black Dahlia," which was a case of a great score sunk by a bad picture, and my guilty pleasure, David Arnold, "Casino Royale."

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: That's a great list, but it's your list. It's not the one that counts. It's not the one the Academy members are voting on. That list of nominations for Best Original Score include "Babel" by Gustavo Santaolalla, "The Good German" by Thomas Newman, "Notes on a Scandal" by Philip Glass, "Pan's Labyrinth" by Javier Navarette, and "The Queen" by Alexandre Desplat. And listeners who have been taking notes the past two weeks know that we have one left to hear, and that's Philip Glass's "Notes on a Scandal."

TRUDEAU: This is Philip Glass with a difference, but make no mistake, it's still Philip Glass.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: We've encountered Glass twice before, according to my reckoning; 1997 we talked about a score to "Kundun"; 2002 we talked about a score for "The Hours." I have to say that listening to those previous nominations, I always thought he was a little too tied to that minimalist style to be dramatically compelling.

He's shifted gears somewhat. You're going to still hear those interlocking cells of rhythmic thematic material, but on top of that he's actually got some rather interesting melodic writing going on here. Listen to how the moody oboe theme that he writes lies atop a minimalist background, if you will, which then rises up and takes over the spotlight.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Those pulsing strings are another trademark.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Now the wind figures rise up.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: If you're counting measures, you know a change is coming.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: And change.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Even when he's sticking pretty much on that minimalist path, he finds some interesting ways of varying the music. Listen here to how he contrasts fast notes played by the low strings with longer notes for the higher strings and then how the base line is shifting underneath.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Low strings, fast notes.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Strings holding longer notes.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Now they'll do variants on those notes.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Listen to the low strings now.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Really before your mind focusing on the fact the music has changed, it gives you that sense of propulsion and difference. The Glass scores we've heard before have always seemed to me to lack those moments of explosion when the composer is really writing for everybody.

There is a portion of this score that reaches that level, and you can hear those conflicting elements, if you will, the yearning for a melodic line with that repetitive figure. This is a cue that opens pretty dramatically with a percussion solo.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Almost old-fashioned string figure there.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: And here comes our melody.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Some of the music nominated for a Best Original Score Oscar. The ceremony is tonight. The music is by Philip Glass from the film "Notes on a Scandal."

Time to run down the other scores nominated for this year's Academy Award, and then we get your vote, Andy. Let's do the films alphabetically by title. First up is "Babel" by Gustavo Santaolalla.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: There's a strong feeling about improvisation about parts of this score. This is a film from a director who's guided in his filmmaking by what he calls a personal soundtrack. He literally mind-melds with the composer, and the result is a score that's somewhat improvised, sometimes it's composed in the spirit of the local pop music that inspired the director.

The film director actually sequenced the soundtrack album, and listening to it, it's hard to tell where the director's soundtrack ends and the composer's contribution begins.

HANSEN: The next nominated film score is from a composer whose work we've heard before, Thomas Newman, and this time it's for a World War II drama, "The Good German."

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: If there ever was music that says black and white, this is it, but it's much more than a pastiche of Golden Age scores. Newman brings his typical adventurous spirit in this homage to those big symphonic scores of 50 years ago to create something that's both old and new. I found it an ear-opening outing for a composer who was becoming a wee big predictable.

HANSEN: The next Oscar score nominee is music for a very dark fantasy from the Spanish director Guillermo Del Toro. "Pan's Labyrinth" is scored by Javier Navarette.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: Scoring a fantasy is a real challenge. If you respond too much to the dark side, if you will, it becomes a horror score. If you emphasize the lighter elements, you risk it becoming comedic. Composer Javier Navarette does a fine job walking that line. His score is rich when it needs to be, intimate when required, and I like the way he handles the good-evil transformation throughout the score.

HANSEN: There's one left in the list of five. "The Queen," the film, explores how Queen Elizabeth II responded to the death of Princess Diana. The music was by a Frenchman, Alexandre Desplat.

(Soundbite of music)

TRUDEAU: This is what I call a see-through symphonic score. There's a lot of transparency. You can hear all the levels at work. Desplat nicely handles the themes for the queen, Tony Blair, and even characterizes their relationship as a slow waltz, which is a very nice touch.

I think it manages the transitions that the movie makes, from the great tragedy at the score, the times of near farce, and it handles it very well.

HANSEN: Alexandre Desplat, Philip Glass, Javier Navarette, Thomas Newman and Gustavo Santaolalla; those are the candidates. Andy, who'd you cast your vote for?

TRUDEAU: Well, I find myself in total agreement with the great Ennio Morricone, who's getting an honorary Oscar this year. He believes very strongly that the best film music can stand on its own outside the film, so that is really the key criteria I apply to my decision here.

You know, looking back over my picks over the year, I'm not going to argue who was right and who was wrong. I will say that in almost every case, the scores that I picked still have secrets to reveal when I go back to them years later.

So with that in mind, I think the score that's still going to be communicating something for me in the years to come is the "Pan's Labyrinth" score by Javier Navarette.

HANSEN: Andy Trudeau is our guide for our annual Academy Award feature on Best Original Film Score nominees. What a pleasure to listen to all of them this year, Andy, and I suppose we'll know later on what your score is, if your candidate won. Thanks a lot again.

TRUDEAU: I enjoy it, Liane.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You can hear selections from "Notes on a Scandal" and all the other Oscar-nominated scores on our Web site, npr.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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