With the release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s highly anticipated film 'The Master', we take a look at his acclaimed collaboration with composer and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. We begin with a look at their first work together, Greenwood’s score for Anderson’s 'There Will Be Blood'.
'There Will Be Blood' is a mighty work of American cinema, but few would deny that much of the film’s success can be credited to Jonny Greenwood’s remarkable score. The Radiohead guitarist had never scored a film before, so the results of his work for director Paul Thomas Anderson aroused great interest. The resulting work has been acknowledged as one of the finest scores ever written for a film, and launched Greenwood’s career as a film composer that has included work for 'Norwegian Wood' (2010) and 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' (2011). None have compared to his first work, though, a score that has influenced and inspired many composers since.
The album opens with ‘Open Spaces’, and establishes the musical tone, texture and ideas of the rest of the score. Greenwood puts heavy emphasis on strings, especially cello, and beautifully evokes the arid and gothic landscapes of 1800s America. Slight electronic manipulation gives it an almost alien feel. It is beautiful but uncomfortable, a seething menace hiding beneath. These ideas continue with ‘Henry Plainview’, aligning themselves with Daniel Day-Lewis’ character, the music signaling a monster preparing to strike, and reach their diabolical climax with the title track, ‘There Will Be Blood’, a horrifying composition like that of Penderecki or Ligeti. It is a mighty piece of music, and captures the psychological scope of Anderson’s film.
A second musical idea is launched in ‘Future Markets’, that of movement and action, a rhythmic energy that keeps the score from falling into dark tonal monotony. In the film, this musical idea is most associated with industry and construction, and if the first idea is the sound of Daniel Plainview, this is the sound of oil itself, the heartbeat of the land from which this black blood is sucked out. ‘Proven Lands’ takes this idea further, building on the menace that had begun to emerge earlier.
The religious subtext of the film isn’t ignored by Greenwood, and ‘Eat Him By His Own Light’ and ‘Stranded The Line’ evoke old-world fire and brimstone with their delicate flowing musicality. These ideas are further explored in relation to the film's more human sphere, especially that of H. W. Plainview, Daniel’s young son and partner. They act as a counterpoint to the crippling darkness of his fathers sound, and lend the score a much-needed innocence and sadness.
Greenwood has a terrific understanding for the sound of the era Anderson explores with the film, and while electronic music does play a minor part in the score, his focus is primarily on traditional chamber strings and occasional piano. There is a rawness to the score, an undiluted roughness. This may be an intentional result of the recording, but it only adds to the power of the score. A sign of a good film score is whether it can exist separately to the film it was written for, and this is certainly a case of this. The album is well constructed, and the music is ordered in a fashion that, while not matching its chronology in the film, allows the musical ideas of the score to flow more easily. At just over half an hour, it never overstays its welcome. In some ways, it’s more useful to think of 'There Will Be Blood' as a piece of modern classical composition rather than a traditional film score. The only music in films you can liken it to would be that of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, but in many ways, this work exceeds theirs. Greenwood has composed something very distinct and intelligent, and not quite like anything heard in films in some time.
'There Will Be Blood' is a mighty work of American cinema, but few would deny that much of the film’s success can be credited to Jonny Greenwood’s remarkable score.
Unfortunately, his work was deemed ineligible for Oscar consideration, as part of the score was adapted from Greenwood’s previous work. He was, however, nominated for both a BAFTA and a Grammy, and received almost unanimous critical acclaim. The soundtrack is released through Nonesuch Records, and is easily available on CD and iTunes. It is a pity that the score was released just before vinyl became an industry again, as it would have been stunning to hear on LP.
If you haven’t experienced this mighty important work, rectify this immediately. You really don’t know what you’re missing.
Greenwood’s score for 'The Master' has now been released on CD and iTunes through Nonesuch Record, and will be released on vinyl soon. We will be reviewing the score along with the film in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.