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Angela's Ashes
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

Solos Performed by:
Randy Kerber
Steve Erdody
John Ellis
JoAnn Tuovsky

Sony Classical

Release Date:
December 7th, 1999

Also See:
Presumed Innocent
Saving Private Ryan
Seven Years in Tibet
Schindler's List
Far and Away
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Audio Clips:
Sony Album:

1. Theme from Angela's Ashes (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (248K)
Real Audio (62K)

6. Plenty of Fish and Chips in Heaven (0:27):
WMA (181K)  MP3 (224K)
Real Audio (56K)

17. Back to America (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (246K)
Real Audio (153K)

18. Angela's Ashes Reprise (0:32):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (63K)

All versions are regular commercial releases. The Sony printing in America contains narration from the film, whereas the Decca printing in Europe and elsewhere does not.

  Nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

Angela's Ashes

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Used Price: $0.50

Sales Rank: 67356

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Buy it... if you are moved by all of John Williams' scores of immense weight for historical dramas, despite the potentially cold atmosphere necessitated by Angela's Ashes' grim, unglorified story.

Avoid it... if you seek vibrant instrumental solos or distinctive vocals in your dramatic Williams scores of the 1990's, or if you're potentially bothered by the fact that the composer's theme is highly derivative of others in his career.

Angela's Ashes: (John Williams) While popular on paper, few could argue that Angela's Ashes is a pleasant viewing experience. Frank McCourt's memoirs of a poverty and hunger-stricken childhood in 1930's Ireland are powerful in their examination of survival and the human soul, though despite the author's good natured perspective, there's frightfully little light at the end of the tunnel that doesn't involve a dream of returning to America (from which his family was one of few to leave the new land and return to Europe). Director, screenwriter, and producer Alan Parker's film adaptation of the book does virtually nothing to gloss over the dirty atmosphere that plagued McCourt's family. A streaming narration from his perspective accompanies grim shades of gray at every turn, with rain, mud, and every visual representation of stench possible serving as the defining element of the film's atmosphere. This is as weighty a drama as there is, and the film was met with far more critical praise than popular demand. For John Williams, Angela's Ashes was a project in keeping with the composer's general shift towards dramatic films of cultural emphasis. From 1997 to 2000, historical dramas dominated the composer's output. This is, though, with the exception of two sequel efforts, one of which diminished advance interest in Angela's Ashes almost completely. In a year overshadowed by a not-so-phantom menace of galactic proportions, Williams left 1999 with a score that some listeners wrote off as only an afterthought. Still, Angela's Ashes reaches back to the emotional roots of Williams' ethnic storytelling abilities, overwhelming the listener with a heartfelt tale of pride, family, and heritage. Williams' qualifications for the topic were undoubtedly superior to those of any other composer alive, and, in short, he proves it. The Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for this score rather than Star Wars: The Phantom Menace may irritate more mainstream listeners (and arguably be a mistake or oversight on many technical levels), but Angela's Ashes remains worthy of significant respect.

Without a doubt, Angela's Ashes was to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 1999 what Schindler's List was to Jurassic Park in 1993... completely different breeds from Williams, but both with distinctive merits. In the process of pulling every dramatic stop for Angela's Ashes, Williams' final accomplishment of the 1990's was often cited at the time as being among the strongest scores in the drama genre since Schindler's List. In retrospect, when you place the score amongst Williams' similar ventures of the era, that kind of praise for Angela's Ashes was likely overblown (and yes, for you Star Wars nuts, The Phantom Menace is indeed the better score). During that era, Williams had been entranced by the use of a famous soloist in most of his dramatic efforts, and it was refreshing to hear Williams skip that tactic in Angela's Ashes and instead rely upon the heavy power of the entire symphony orchestra for nearly every cue. The weight of the string section, often a clear indicator of Williams' dramatic intent with a score, is similar to Seven Years in Tibet in volume and gravity, but at an entirely different register. For the gloom of Angela's Ashes, Williams shifts the emphasis of power to the basses and cellos, creating a "heavier" listening experience more appropriate for the nature of the memoirs. Those ordeals inspire dark undertones in both the character and rendering of the primary theme for the film. Instead of offering multiple themes of distinct representation, Williams merges several less-developed ideas into one overarching series of motifs that in turn create the theme. It's an interesting approach to take for the representation of a group of people that together define a culture. The lack of distinct themes for the individuals of the family, as well as for the land, causes them to form a more general sound of despair that prevails in that definition. Even outside of the thematic statements in Angela's Ashes, which are almost continuous, the score maintains its battered, resilient stature until the final cue.

The title theme for Angela's Ashes is adequate in every sense, and it emulates the style of many of Williams' other dramatic scores at the time. The interesting aspect of Angela's Ashes in particular, however, is that it represents one of the few occasions when the composer falls back on cannibalizing his own material for a new project. While the grandiose nature of Williams' many themes in the genre may be consistent, rarely does he so outwardly take inspiration from his previous ideas. The title theme, divided into three or four sections that make up its whole, sequentially references themes from Presumed Innocent, Jane Eyre, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The similarities to the first two are particularly startling. Both the elegantly minor-key progressions and delicate piano performances early in the concert arrangements of the theme (and reprised throughout the score) are blatant carry-overs from Presumed Innocent, as is the tumultuous string and woodwind development that follows. Williams sheds some of these tethers when he transfers the theme to harp in the middle of the score. That instrument carries most of the task of defining the ethnicity of the work, and perhaps the most surprising aspect of the music for this Irish tale is the distinct lack of all the stereotypical elements that Williams used in Far and Away. Anybody hoping for a reprise of the lovely penny whistle and other ethnically appropriate beauty from that outstanding score will be disappointed. It's possible that Williams and Parker intended to tone back the depth of the ethnicity due to the fact that the narrator was looking back at the story from a good-natured, American perspective of adulthood. Still, the lack of a truly strong ethnic definition to the score is one of its more curious aspects. In spirit, Angela's Ashes never becomes as burdensome for the listener as Presumed Innocent, because a sense of pride envelopes almost every moment. Consistent in this tone and introverted style throughout, the music flows beautifully from cue to cue.

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That is, unless you're trying to enjoy every moment of it on Sony's American album release. The narration from the film is mixed seamlessly with the music in nearly every track and has been the source of much controversy. Purists were left with only three or four cues without vocal interruption, and while they help the album be as coherent as the tale itself, their presence in a cue like "Back to America" is unforgivable. That cue offers the only unrestrained major-key ensemble performance in the score, not to mention a fresh Williams theme for just that moment. It's a slight snippet of Williams' traditional style of Americana writing, complete with noble brass tones from Amistad for just that one cue. For people purchasing the Angela's Ashes album because of an appreciation for the film, the quotes will be a nice treat. They set up their respective cues very well and, outside of the last cue, they overlap sequences when Williams' music is minimal, if not barely audible. There has been speculation about the actual performance of the words by Andrew Bennett, whose tone is completely stale compared to McCourt's own audio book recordings of the text; this is usually a problem restricted to only the film, but given that majority of albums pressed for Angela's Ashes featured these performances, it's perhaps necessary to speculate that the author's own voice would have diminished the negative response to some degree. For Williams fans who cannot accept the quotes at all, their luck would change upon the non-American pressings of the album by Decca, which featured the same musical contents but none of the narration. A slightly higher import price is expected for these items, though beware of mix-ups between the two on the secondary market (despite slightly different artwork). Two source songs in the middle of both albums detract from the score. Overall, Angela's Ashes is sweepingly historical, but morbidly cold in parts. For better album enjoyment, seek Williams' more engaging Seven Years in Tibet or Amistad, both of which offer warmer ensembles and distinctive instrumental or vocal contributions in addition to the weighty orchestral majesty you hear alone in Angela's Ashes. **** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 338,233 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.87 Stars
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   Re: Version without quotes!
  Michael Björk -- 4/25/09 (3:43 p.m.)
   Re: Angela´s Ashes
  Michael Björk -- 3/26/08 (2:39 a.m.)
   Tracks unspoiled
  Tomo Shiratori -- 9/28/04 (11:57 a.m.)
   Angela´s Ashes
  Kjell Jonsson -- 9/26/04 (12:36 a.m.)
   one of the best books and adaptive scores
  laura kane -- 12/4/03 (6:42 a.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 58:50

• 1. Theme from Angela's Ashes (6:18)
• 2. My Story (2:19)
• 3. Angela's Prayer (4:47)
• 4. My Dad's Stories (1:55)
• 5. Lord, Why do You Want the Wee Children? (4:03)
• 6. Plenty of Fish and Chips in Heaven (3:41)
• 7. The Dipsy Doodle - performed by Nat Gonella & His Georgians (1:30)
• 8. The Lanes of Limerick (3:37)
• 9. Looking for Work (3:31)
• 10. Pennies from Heaven - performed by Billie Holiday (2:11)
• 11. My Mother Begging (3:46)
• 12. If I Were in America (2:34)
• 13. Delivering Telegrams (2:23)
• 14. I Think of Theresa (1:50)
• 15. Angels Never Cough (2:38)
• 16. Watching the Eclipse (3:00)
• 17. Back to America (2:38)
• 18. Angela's Ashes Reprise (6:16)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes extensive photography from the film, but no extra information about the score. The cover art is among the ugliest in the Filmtracks collection.

  All artwork and sound clips from Angela's Ashes are Copyright © 1999, Sony Classical. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 12/17/99 and last updated 4/24/08. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1999-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.