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Memoirs of a Geisha
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

Solo Performances by:
Yo-Yo Ma
Itzhak Perlman

Sony Classical

Release Date:
November 22nd, 2005

Also See:
Schindler's List
Seven Years in Tibet

Audio Clips:
2. The Journey to the Hanamachi (0:28):
WMA (182K)  MP3 (224K)
Real Audio (158K)

6. Becoming a Geisha (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

10. The Garden Meeting (0:36):
WMA (236K)  MP3 (298K)
Real Audio (210K)

16. Confluence (0:32):
WMA (213K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

Regular U.S. release.

  Winner of a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award, and a Grammy Award. Nominated for an Academy Award.

Memoirs of a Geisha

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Sales Rank: 128938

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Buy it... if you are accustomed to John Williams' elegantly simple and undemanding writing for intimate character stories.

Avoid it... if you'd rather bounce off the walls with the pomp and bravado of the maestro's fanfares.

Memoirs of a Geisha: (John Williams) It's taken four years for this long-anticipated project to finally debut on the big screen. The internationally acclaimed novel of the same name by Arthur Golden tells the story of Nitta Sayuri, sold to a geisha house at the age of nine and eventually trained to be among the best in the trade. Not only does the film follow her young progression, but also culminates in her love for a kind, but unreachable patron. As much a historical documentary as it is a close character story, Memoirs of a Geisha is a project that immediately attracted the very public attention of director Steven Spielberg, and a film adaptation was to be one of his triumphs sometime between 2001 and 2003. Scheduling conflicts and studio bickering over the rights to the next film of final director Rob Marshall delayed the film's production until 2005, but no less was the anticipation for such a promising adaptation. One person who made sure to work Memoirs of a Geisha into his schedule was composer John Williams, whose relationship with Spielberg is so strong that he composed music for both this film and Munich (the 1972 Olympics docudrama) in 2005 rather than continue his relationship with the Harry Potter franchise. Williams, like Spielberg, has had Memoirs of a Geisha on his radar for many years, having fallen in love with Golden's novel, and has long planned to use it as an opportunity to collaborate with two of his favorite performers: Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. Having worked first with violinist Perlman on Schindler's List in 1993, a score that has achieved legendary status in the modern history of film music, Williams then collaborated with cellist Ma on the far less successful Seven Years in Tibet in 1997. Williams would conduct both artists in separate concerns thereafter, producing albums of those performances with Perlman and Ma individually. There is no doubt that Williams' writing suits those two string soloists well, and it is no surprise that both eagerly signed on to be part of the recording for Memoirs of a Geisha. Their roles in the score are appropriately front and center, and an easy selling point.

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As a character story, Williams' work for Memoirs of a Geisha is restrained and intimate, refraining from any semblance of the pounding, robust scores for Revenge of the Sith and War of the Worlds earlier in the year. The pace of Memoirs of a Geisha is relatively slow as well, being a light, rhythmically driven score for much of its length. It requires patience and attention to the details of the plucking and tapping rhythms beneath in order to be fully satisfied by the similarly drawn-out solo performances on cello and violin. Interestingly, it is Yo-Yo Ma's cello that makes a far more important contribution in the score, performing the elegantly beautiful theme for Sayuri herself. Williams then gives Perlman his primary role as the performer of the secondary theme served in concert form in "The Chairman's Waltz." While Perlman's performances are perhaps more intoxicating than Ma's in general, the cello really stands above and beyond the violin. Williams is very loyal to his primary theme, introduced in the opening cue, and it is Ma's solemn performances that provide the lasting beauty ("Becoming a Geisha" is the highlight cue). The evolution of this theme throughout the score is remarkable, remaining stark and barely accompanied until its climax in "Confluence," in which the full ensemble (including brass) provide one last noble statement. The concert suite piece appears over the end titles, and inserts Perlman's violin and the ensemble into the Sayuri theme for balance. The light rhythms that carry the minimally-constructed underscore cues are remarkable in their ease; only in "Brush on Silk" does dissonance interrupt the perpetually quiet and pleasant listening experience. The score is saturated with Williams' harmonic and technical styles, including a slurring of string notes that will remind of Rosewood. One interesting note is that Williams uses the shakuhachi flute in "The Journey to the Hanamachi" in much of the same wailing fashion as James Horner has done in his entire career (but whereas Horner does it everywhere, including his Zorro music, Williams restrains it to its proper ethnic setting), with the ambient sound design actually resembling Horner's Vibes for a few moments. Overall, Williams very masterfully illuminates Japanese styles and instrumentation in the environment of a Western orchestra to make the score enjoyable for the mainstream. But it is a very restrained piece until its final moments, so don't expect any level of pomp or bravado. Elegantly simple and undemanding. **** 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 338,227 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.6 Stars
Smart Average: 3.42 Stars*
***** 551 
**** 367 
*** 257 
** 196 
* 170 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   This Review is from a Western Perspective
  Hyun21K -- 7/17/12 (12:44 p.m.)
   Its not sayuri's theme, its 'going to schoo...
  S.Venkatnarayanan -- 11/5/08 (4:22 a.m.)
   Review at ScoreStats
  Derek Tersmette -- 7/22/06 (11:34 a.m.)
   Re: Snow Dance
  Joshua Roth -- 7/10/06 (11:26 a.m.)
   beautiful music
  Rachel -- 6/8/06 (7:39 a.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 61:02

• 1. Sayuri's Theme (1:31)
• 2. The Journey to the Hanamachi (4:06)
• 3. Going to School (2:42)
• 4. Brush on Silk (2:31)
• 5. Chiyo's Prayer (3:36)
• 6. Becoming a Geisha (4:52)
• 7. Finding Satu (3:44)
• 8. The Chairman's Waltz (2:39)
• 9. The Rooftops of the Hanamachi (3:49)
• 10. The Garden Meeting (2:44)
• 11. Dr. Crab's Prize (2:18)
• 12. Destiny's Path (3:20)
• 13. A New Name... A New Life (3:33)
• 14. The Fire Scene and the Coming of War (6:48)
• 15. As the Water... (2:01)
• 16. Confluence (3:42)
• 17. A Dream Discarded (2:00)
• 18. Sayuri's Theme and End Credits (5:06)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes extensive pictures from the film, but no extra information about the score or film.

  All artwork and sound clips from Memoirs of a Geisha are Copyright © 2005, 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 11/18/05 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2005-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.