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Comments about the soundtrack for The Legend of 1900 (Ennio Morricone)

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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review
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• Posted by: Mike Dougherty   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Sunday, August 3, 2008, at 6:15 p.m.
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(The following donated review by Mike Dougherty was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in August, 2008)

The Legend of 1900: (Ennio Morricone) It's essential to judge this score while keeping the film in mind, since Ennio Morricone's music plays such a major role in The Legend of 1900. The film tells the tale of a young man dubbed "1900" (Tim Roth) who is born, raised, and lives his entire life on board an ocean liner. 1900 has never set foot on land, and he makes a living as the ship's 'piano man,' entertaining the passengers with his remarkable gift at the keys. The music 1900 performs is at the heart of the film, and so is Morricone's score. Here, Morricone covers a vast area of different musical genres: 1900 features early American jazz, some ragtime, elements of classical, and Morricone's orchestral touch. In some respects, 1900 is a showcase of American music spanning from the turn of the century to the 1930s. Regardless of Morricone's Italian background, he is skilled enough as an orchestrator to capture the sound and enthusiasm of American music from that era.

Morricone's skill as an orchestrator is in top form in The Legend of 1900. His blend of jazz, ragtime, and classical makes 1900 a unique and refreshing listening experience. Tracks 4 and 13 make up the score's ragtime, the latter cue sounding similar to Marvin Hamlisch's rag arrangements in The Sting. The score's emphasis on 20's and 30's jazz comes in tracks 5, 10, and 18. The last two jazz cues deal with "1900's Madness," and the main character's eccentricity is obvious in the music. Tracks 6 and 8 spotlight the score's remarkable piano performances, both tracks making up the classical element. Overall, the score is jovial and upbeat, though it also has its share of more somber, heartfelt moments.

"1900's Theme" is a strong opening for the score; it's a beautiful piece of music performed primarily by the strings. What gives "1900's Theme" an element of the American spirit is the sudden appearance of a George Gershwin-esque piano performance. The theme is the among the best pieces of music the album has to offer, and one gets the feeling that it will appear in countless, yet-to-come movie trailers. Track 16, a piano solo, provides a final restatement of the full theme. Track 2, appropriately the longest cue on the album, keeps the promise that the score will be as great as expected. Here, Morricone's music evokes tremendous size, almost dwarfing the listener as would the film's ocean liner. The entire orchestra gradually builds up to a glorious melody, creating a very exhilarating listening experience. The piano performances in the "crisis" tracks seem unusual at first, but the broken chords really evoke the sense that the main character is experiencing his own personal crisis.

One of the score's few imperfections is its conclusion on an abrupt and dark note. A score of this caliber deserves a more memorable finale. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame performs the subtle and poignant end song "Lost Boys Calling." Though Waters' vocals are sincere, he restrains his singing voice and doesn1t hold a note. His lyric-reading is unsettling at first listen, and the song makes a less-than remarkable use of Edward Van Halen's talents at the guitar.

In late 1998, the film and score album received simultaneous release in some foreign countries under the title "The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean." Arriving on American shores, the film took on a new title, a shorter film length by 45 minutes, and a different score release. The American Sony Classical CD has different packaging and is approximately 20 minutes shorter than its foreign predecessor. For 1900, the Sony Classical label backs Morricone's music with an unusually strong promotional campaign as far as score albums are concerned; the record label advertises the album alongside the film's theatrical, television, and radio trailers. From 1900's promotion to its reviews, Morricone's score continues to generate a great deal of attention, even outside the arena of film score fans. It's hard to hear about the film without hearing of Ennio Morricone's name and his score. The score fulfills those high expectations, and it is a recommended purchase.

Some film critics compare 1900 to James Cameron's Titanic. Just the same, comparisons between Morricone's score and James Horner's Titanic are inevitable. Though difficult to determine which score is "better," Morricone's is definitely more versatile in its blend of early American music. His score isn't legendary or groundbreaking, but it is beautiful nonetheless. With The Legend of 1900, Ennio Morricone adds another gem to his astonishing volume of work. ****

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