Film scores

Soundtrack review: Woman in gold (Martin Phipps and Hans Zimmer – 2015)

woman

There’s been a lot of hype and praise around me for “Woman in gold”. I’ve been quite intrigued by how positively the movie was received and how many people noticed the score while watching it. It’s safe to say that for about two month this has been the most anticipated score release, especially when it wasn’t clear that it was going to get a release. Hans Zimmer is involved, which makes it even more exciting, but Martin Phipps wrote most of the score.

When Martin Phipps’ first melancholic and poignant piano theme started I instantly wonder how Hans’ music would fit with this sound. After all, the story is set in Vienna and there’s a special sound to that place. “Restless”, the first Zimmer moment from “Woman in gold” lets us discover a surprisingly subtle and tender Hans. I haven’t heard him write like that in a while. It’s a welcome retreat to a monastery of sound he likes to spend time in every now and then. He goes quiet then and lets his partner for this score soar with the amazing theme for the main character. “Maria Altman” is a piano theme I could listen to forever. It’s makes me think of a special, elegant and determined woman; it makes me think of someone I would like to meet, someone maybe quiet on the outside but with an eternal fire burning inside her.

Vienna is my favorite city in the world. There’s a special feeling about that town to me and I seem to revisit steps taken hundreds of times when I hear “Belvedere” or “Apotheke”. Martin Phipps writes the more intimate themes for the city while Hans gets the more grand moments which still feel wonderfully confined within the castles of that capital. The “Vienna” theme itself has an elegance that will stun many people who keep complaining about how Hans Zimmer is ruining film music. They should just listen to “Open the door” which starts with a cello motif that gives me goose bumps.

Hans leaves the reflective confines of that monastery with “Fleeing Vienna”, a dangerous and exciting storm of sounds which build up and twists and turns fueled by an insane broken piano ostinato. This cue and “Flight 12 to Cologne” (a tense and suspenseful game) break the elegant mood “Woman in gold” had set.

The two composers become the most unlikely twins for “Woman in gold”. I can hardly tell where Martin Phipps’ playful and almost royal musical musings end and where Hans Zimmer’s more serious and darker interludes begin. This is not a loud score; it deals in whispers and unanswered questions and hides a permanent pain in the background. I can’t believe I am saying this and I will deny ever doing so but the score made me think of Alexandre Desplat’s usual fervor. I am not a fan, not by any means, but something must have stuck. Maybe the playful piano, maybe the general atmosphere, I am not sure. This would be my only complaint about this score. The Desplat like moments make me lose sight of the identity of “Woman in gold” and give me very conflicting feelings.

Luckily Martin Phipps insists on introducing himself to me and leaving a lasting impression and the final four cues make me forget all my doubts. The music flows and caresses me like a warm summer rain I would love to take a walk in. In the end ‘Woman in gold” was a very interesting and rewarding listening experience. I recommend this journey to every film music lover. If you love piano and if you love beautiful music, you shouldn’t miss this.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 14 / 36

Album excellence: 39%

Highlights:

Restless

Maria Altman

The Belvedere

Vienna

Fleeing Vienna

Statues

Final Testimony

The Language Of Our Future

I Lived Here

 

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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