Film scores

Soundtrack review: Testament of youth (Max Richter – 2015)

“Testament of youth” is the screen adaptation of a well know British memoir depicting World War I from the perspective of a woman who postponed her studies at Oxford to serve as a voluntary nurse. The book is very well regarded. The score of the movie was written by Max Richter and this is a composer that’s very firmly on my radar after he wrote one of the best scores of 2014 “The leftovers”. He displayed an unreal sensitivity and depth there and i couldn’t wait to hear his next composition.

Right away I find myself slowly being shrouded in the thin but firm cocoon of piano wonder that Max Richter quietly weaves. “Love and imagination” is the tenderest of themes grabbing you from the bottom of your pants and demanding you attention like a small child. I just want to take this theme and cradle it and make sure nothing bad happens to it. It’s sweet and innocent and it gives me the sensation of the sun gleaming on the surface of the sea. “Pools of gold” is beautiful and eerie as if I dove beneath the surface of that sea and found unspoken treasures.

The piano changes pace for “Never did run smooth” and gets livelier. Max Richter can play a wide range of emotions mainly with just one instrument and I love listening to these variations. I also love the rich minimalism in this score. I don’t hear a lot on instruments but the layers of emotions run deep. I listen to “Each others minds” and i can almost see the looks in the two lovers’ eyes. They don’t need words because their connection transcends that.

War movie scores usually have a certain weight to them but Max Richter chose to write differently. “The rising of the sun” could have very well have found its place on the score of a movie like Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee. It has that childlike tenderness and magic

When the score gets dramatic the strings work together and “Anathemata” brings a dark cloud over this story. The music still isn’t overly heavy. The composer makes his point with just a few different strokes, as he does in  “Departed”. Both these cues are dramatic in the same snow globe dimension that keeps the rest of the score confined. “Action at a distance” is another brilliant cue because it sounds just like an echo. The piano marks the lonely heartbeats of the ones seeking shelter.

I love the intimate and personal feeling of this score. This is a movie based on a memoir and I get that first person perspective from the music. Max Richter’s composition sounds as if it’s coming from the inside and not depicting the surrounding world. I can understand the quiet revolt of “Before the ending of the day” because I’ve felt it before. “The chambers of the heart” just makes me happy.

“Vergiessmeinnicht” is so slow that it almost stops at one point. Then it slowly builds up into my favorite track from this score. The way it’s constructed is priceless. I always love a good buildup cue and this one is great. The title means “Forget-me-not” in German and the storm this piece creates fits that desire and feeling perfectly.

I listen to this score and I imagine Max Richter as a quiet and serious person. Whenever I interview a composer this is one of the questions I ask: how much the music represents him or her. If “Testament of youth” is any representation of the composer than he must be a quiet, serious and interesting person. I love what he’s telling me and I could spend hour listening to it. There’s something in his music that reminds me of the lord of minimalism, Arvo Part. Sometimes this score sounds almost religious in the way it prays. “Et in terra pax”(“And on Earth piece”) is the deepest and most sacred piece from this composition.

The end of the story (“I will not forget you”) has the weight of a wave goodbye in a train station. The farther the train goes the more the sadness grows. The strings just clutch the heart and give this moment a feeling of eternity. “Testament of youth” is a fragile and sensible composition that I will not easily forget. Max Richter is firmly establishing himself as a unique composer and I now know where to find him, sitting alone in the cathedral of music he built for himself.

Cue rating: 89 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 21 / 42

Album excellence: 49%

Highlights:

Love and Imagination
Pools of Gold
Never Did Run Smooth

Each others minds

Action at a distance

Before the Ending of the Day
The Chambers of the Heart
Vergissmeinnicht

Et in Terra Pax
I Will Not Forget You

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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