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Master and Commander
Co-Composed, Co-Orchestrated, Conducted and Co-Produced by:
Christopher Gordon

Co-Composed and Co-Produced by:
Iva Davies

Co-Composed, Co-Orchestrated, and Co-Produced by:
Richard Tognetti

Drums Performed by:
Mike Fisher


Release Date:
November 11th, 2003

Also See:
Moby Dick (TV)
Pirates of the Caribbean

Audio Clips:
1. The Far Side of the World (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

2. Into the Fog (0:32):
WMA (209K)  MP3 (258K)
Real Audio (160K)

10. The Galapagos (0:29):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (235K)
Real Audio (146K)

13. The Battle (0:32):
WMA (209K)  MP3 (258K)
Real Audio (160K)

Regular U.S. release.


Master and Commander

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Sales Rank: 3745

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Buy it... only if you specifically enjoyed the combination of classical pieces and traditional folk music heard in the film, for the textured original score is badly underdeveloped by comparison.

Avoid it... if you expect to hear an adventurous, thematic, dynamic, or spirited orchestral score for the high seas or, for that matter, any addressing of the fear, romanticism, or perseverance in the genre whatsoever.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World: (Iva Davies/Christopher Gordon/Richard Tognetti) Based on the best-selling novels of Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World portrays the crew of the wooden battleship H.M.S. Surprise, with Russell Crowe as Captain "Lucky" Jack Aubrey, in a duel with a larger, better armed, and ruthless enemy predator. The chases and battles between the two ships send both on a journey to the far side of the world, with the crippled, British underdogs doing their best to maintain Royal authority over the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars. The film was the first major cinematic drama to feature wooden battleships in close range combat in many years, stirring up interest by offering a realistic edge to the swashbuckling heroics of Hollywood's Golden Age with modern, digital effects. In the case of Master and Commander, music would inherently play a more personal role in the film than it had in previous incarnations of similar stories. The captain of the ship is a character skilled on the violin, and in the novels he would perform duets with the ship's surgeon, who accompanies the captain with a cello. The playing of music was a great release for both characters, and to show authenticity in his performance on screen, Crowe studied with Australian Chamber Orchestra director and lead violinist Richard Tognetti to ensure that his acting in these scenes was authentic enough to suffice. Director Peter Weir had often been known for his eclectic choices in music for his films, and Master and Commander was certainly no exception. Instead of choosing a mainstream composer to raise the sonic marvels of swashbuckling legend Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Weir decided upon an unusual collaboration between composers, singers, and performers in the form Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon, and Richard Tognetti.

The three artists had worked together on Davies' acclaimed recording called "The Ghost of Time," bringing three distinct, but equally respected Australian talents together for an album and noteworthy live performances. As a composer and songwriter, Iva Davies (the primary composer for this project) had written over one hundred published songs, though his only prior film score was written for Russell Mulcahy's thriller Razorback in the mid-1980's. Tognetti, as already mentioned, was a famed violinist in Australia, and had served as the Artistic Director and Leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra since 1989. Most score fans will recognize Christopher Gordon as the most regular film composer of the three (with his 1998 television score for Moby Dick showing much promise for this genre), and although his output as a composer had been limited in the previous few years, he continued his prolific career conducting and orchestrating other scores, including the Melbourne and Sydney orchestral recordings for songs in the hit 2001 musical Moulin Rouge. Their combined contributions to Master and Commander would be accompanied by Weir's choice of several classical and traditional folk pieces to be heard prominently in the film. When you put these four elements together, you end up with a score that couldn't be further from Korngold's swashbuckling ventures. In fact, many score collectors were likely to be disappointed for a second time in 2003, with neither Pirates of the Caribbean nor Master and Commander offering the traditional, swinging brass of historical high seas adventure. Those who heard Brian Tyler's melodic music from Children of Dune in the lengthier trailers for Master and Commander were unfortunately met with a soundtrack that offers nothing even remotely that coherent, thematic, or exciting.

It is difficult to evaluate Master and Commander by these standards, because Weir very clearly had a dramatic score of introverted style in mind rather than a traditionally dynamic alternative. The soundtrack as a whole suffers because of inconsistencies in the styles of the three composers, as well as in the context of the classical pieces. Ironically, the classical and folk selections offer more of the spirited character of "Lucky" Jack in the soundtrack, from the intimate solo performances to the rousing fiddle and drum folk that you'd hear on the decks of the ship. The classical pieces (some of which regular favorites) also encompass the melancholy moments of the journey, underscoring the heavy drama of the equation with sufficient roots in the time period. You get the sense that these pieces were probably chosen first for inclusion as source material in the film, and the score was a necessity only to fill in the gaps and provide basic power for battle sequences. The original score, therefore, is confined to the moments of mystery, anticipation, and battle. Davies and Gordon's score is not thematically constructed, but instead relies primarily on texture and electronic soundscape for its power. If you're looking to be overwhelmed by thematic bravado, your money will be wasted here. Well-known percussionist Mike Fisher was employed for his pounding Taiko drums, sending the ships into journeys and battle with a rhythmic, charged set of strong performances. Outside of the drums, however, the actual orchestra performs only in textured, troubled layers, not often harmonious, and very rarely do they expand upon a motif. A four to five note bass string theme signals danger, and it would be an excellent secondary theme to the score if Davies and Gordon had been able to give the effort an identity with a title theme. This bass motif explodes in "Into the Fog" with the drums in tow, both very reminiscent of James Newton Howard's Waterworld.

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There is no dynamic enthusiasm to the score, no memorable touch. Instead, brass is confined to a wishy-washy wavering between notes and octaves (in The Matrix style) and woodwinds are seemingly nonexistent. The string work by Tognetti is often in sharp contrast to the rest of the score because of its solitary, classical nature, further clouding the overall effect. Elongated, dissonant notes on violin in "Smoke N' Oakum" and "The Phasmid" are irritating in their sharp intensity, typifying the score's reliance on the simplification of every motif, solo performance, and orchestral element. As a whole, the score for Master and Commander is repetitive, simplistic, and uninspiring, with even the meager attempts at counterpoint striking in their basic and obvious construction. Compared to the classical and folk tunes heard throughout the film and album, the score is a muddy mixture of ineffective textures and basic rhythms. There is no dynamism, no pointed emphasis on scene changes, and not enough substance outside of the drums to retain the listener's interest. In the film, several helicopter-shot vistas of the open seas rely only on the visuals for their appeal, with music that raises none of the basic elements of fear, romanticism, or perseverance in the genre. It's tempting to call this music amateurish, because it is so blatantly underdeveloped. The album is evenly divided between score and traditional pieces (30 minutes per), and when intermingled with the classical material on the album, the deficiencies of the score become all the more obvious. Inconsistent mixing is another issue, causing passages in the score to be inaudible. Overall, this film may not have required an overtly swashbuckling score of the Korngold variety, but the comatose one that was utilized was an extreme detriment to the production. The immense popularity of the soundtrack was caused almost exclusively by the traditional and classical source adaptations. The original score remains amongst the most underachieving and disappointing missed opportunities of the entire decade. ** Price Hunt: CD or Download

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 2.79 Stars
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 59:45

• 1. The Far Side of the World* (9:19)
• 2. Into the Fog* (2:12)
• 3. Violin Concerto No. 3 "Straussburg" K.215, 3rd Movement - written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1:19)
• 4. The Cuckold Comes Out of the Amery (traditional) (3:27)
• 5. Smoke N' Oakum* (5:27)
• 6. Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis** - written by Ralph Vaughan Williams (5:14)
• 7. Adagio from Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 8 in G Minor, "Christmas Concerto" - written by Arcangelo Corelli (1:56)
• 8. The Doldrums* (2:46)
• 9. Prelude from the Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007*** - written by Johan Sebastian Bach (2:28)
• 10. The Galapagos* (1:39)
• 11. Folk Medley: O'Sullivan's March, Cuckold Comes Out of the Amery, Mother Hen, Mary Scott, Nancy Dawson (traditional) (5:12)
• 12. The Phasmid* (2:34)
• 13. The Battle* (5:07)
• 14. Boccherini La Musica Notturna Delle Strade di Madrid, No. 6, Op. 30 (String Quintet in C) - written by Luigi Boccherini (9:23)
• 15. Full Circle (with dialogue)* (1:34)

* Original score by Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon, Richard Tognetti
** Performed by the New Philharmonic Orchestra
*** Performed by Yo-Yo Ma, Cello

Total score time: 30:38

 Notes and Quotes:  

The Insert includes no extra information about the score or film. The composers with the director:

    Davies, Weir, Gordon, Tognetti
    Davies, Weir, Gordon, Tognetti

  All artwork and sound clips from Master and Commander are Copyright © 2003, Decca/Universal. 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 10/20/03 and last updated 3/8/09. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2003-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.