By Jim Ware
The intricacies of the Second Schleswig War will probably not be familiar to anyone outside of Denmark; taking place in 1864 and lasting a little under a year, it’s the subject of a recent Danish television miniseries epic – the appropriately titled 1864. The series has yet to air outside of Denmark but as with all things Scandinavian it has been picked up by BBC Four for UK transmission later this year. The series is the most expensive ever produced by the state-funded broadcaster DR and the extravagant budget also extended to the music. Director Ole Bornedal turned to his previous collaborator Marco Beltrami who provided a little under four hours of music for the series. The recent release by Moviescore Media distills that mammoth body of music down to an album of a little under an hour.
Beltrami’s music is primarily orchestral in nature, performed by the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Electronics appear periodically, both to add ambient texture and to subtly bolster the occasionally limited orchestral forces. The instrumentation is considerably less eclectic than that used in The Homesman but there are similarities of melodic approach. The main theme introduced in the first cue is subdued yet patriotic and sounds almost as if derived from a folk tune. This theme forms the heart of the score and is repeated in a number of different guises throughout, often just a phrase or two at a time.
Several additional thematic ideas are introduced in ‘An Inevitable War’. It’s a fitting title, as the building chords of the theme give a sense of building tension and inevitability. A countermelody in the flutes gives the piece a Michael Nyman-like quality, recalling the lengthy crescendos of Prospero’s Books. This secondary material is most prevalent in the score, consisting mostly of fragments, motifs and gestures that are often combined with phrases of the main theme. The underlying rhythm figure in this cue regularly used to give a sense of forward motion or the passage of time.
This would not be a Beltrami score without at least one angular odd-metered action cue. At just under five and a half minutes ‘The Hussars are Coming’ is the longest cue on the album and is a bleak depiction of a winter battle scene. The aforementioned jagged rhythms are interspersed with periods of quiet stillness. Although there are moments of dark and percussive militarism (‘Bloody Hands’), the action cues are few and far between giving Beltrami the chance to exercise his melodic gifts.
The presentation of the score on album is not without issue. Despite the flexibility of the thematic material and its presentation in a myriad of different ways, it does become somewhat repetitive. A number of the shorter cues feel unresolved and without direction, suffering from a lack of development. An occasionally unavoidable side-effect of divorcing a score from the pictures. The album would perhaps be a more satisfying listening experience if it were fifteen minutes shorter, but in the grand scheme of things these are minor complaints; in this day and age it’s trivial to rearrange an album to fit your listening preferences.
If you’re a fan of Beltrami’s occasionally bleak orchestral side you will find much to enjoy in this score. It has a grand sweep to it that the composer has not really employed since Knowing (2009) which bodes well for his next upcoming score for the fantasy epic Seventh Son, recorded in London some time ago. He has successfully escaped being pigeonholed as a ‘genre’ composer and continues to demonstrate that he is one of the most proficient and versatile musical voices writing for film and television today.
1864 is out now from MovieScore Media