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Soundtrack review: War and peace (Martin Phipps – 2016)

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Soundtrack review: War and peace (Martin Phipps – 2016)


“War & Peace” is a British-American historical period drama television serial first broadcast on BBC One on 3 January 2016. It is a six-part adaptation of the novel War and Peace by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, written by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Harper. As the Russian conflict with Napoleon reaches its peak, five aristocratic families face the possibility of their lives being changed forever. I’ve read the book, I’ve watched adaptations and I’ve listened to and written about quite a few adaptations of this majestic story. Martin Phipps wrote the score and I know his from his beautiful collaboration with Hans Zimmer for “Woman in gold”.

I suppose it’s always a special challenge for composers, as well as filmmakers, to tackle a well know story which the public has seen in a lot of shapes and forms. Some choose to innovate, others choose to stay safe. Martin Phipps chose to stay true to the story at hand and to its setting so the opening cue is a somber and beautiful Russian choir piece which gives me goose bumps from the first moments. There’s always something special about the power and poignancy of Russian choirs and “St. Petersburg” delivers it. I am a big fan of hearing choirs in film scores.

The strong mail choir is more subdued in the theme for “The general”. A female voice joins the almost whispering male ensemble which evokes war and elegance in the same time. I am moved by this peace and I dare to dream that the entire score will be this affecting. “The general” was just an insert but gave me chills because of the way it was played. The general sounds like a somber and dark figure. Instead of lighting up the tone the score gets even darker with “Charge” which is only an ominous electronic piece with two male tenors threatening each other. It turns into another glorious Russian war anthem and I am more and more impressed by this score.

“Natasha”, the main female character of the story gets a tender and quiet piano theme. It suits the fragility and innocence she has at the beginning of the novel. I remember her from the novel and this theme fits. Pierre I remember as being a misfit and also the central character of the story. His theme stands out as it’s full of doubts and shadows. Nikolay is serious and quiet, Napoleon threatening. There are seven character themes on this score, all different from Andrei to Napoleon and the composer chose the most important character treat for each of them and put it on notes.

The way the music is constructed makes it feel as if it was the soundtrack to a theater play or opera. I feel as if the choirs are the characters themselves narrating the story, telling us of their tribulations and adventures, as if the focus should be on the inside and not on the outside world. There are choral parts in every single cue, here somber, there powerful and they give this score a unique sound. Even the “Battle” sounds quiet and poignant as if we are seeing it from inside a character. The difference between the battle and the retreat is very subtle because, in the end, in war, everything is bleak.

To me Martin Phipps’ “War and peace” is a stunning and unique composition. The way he uses voices to vessel different emotions and the subtle way the music of few instruments surrounds the vocal and choral parts like a chrysalis are unique. I don’t understand the words the voices are saying but I understand the feelings. This is a musical experiment that does the period, novel and, I’m sure, TV show, justice. The score breathes Russia, breathes the military and breathes emotion. If somehow you’ve overlooked this composition do yourselves a favor and return to it.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 43 / 43

Album excellence: 100%


St. Petersberg

The General








Before Thy Cross



Blood On White



It Is True


The Dance

Give Thanks



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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  1. Darren Smith 29th May 2016

    First time I’ve looked at a soundtrack review and they are two soundtracks that I played on, ironically posted within 24hrs of each other and recorded months apart. Glad you enjoyed. ‘War and peace’ and ‘Alice through the looking glass’.

    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 29th May 2016

      Welcome. Yes two great scores and very different.

  2. jewen 18th June 2016

    Last night I was checking this fantastic web (like almost everyday), but something drag me to this post…

    Then I watch the big 10 you score to this soundtrack album, and I thought, “Is this Ost so good?

    I have not needed 24h to know it…

    For me is one of the biggest surprises of the year, and since now one of my Top soundtracks not only of 2016…

    by the way…Mihnea, fantastic job reviewing this fantastic music. I want to check the tv-series now haha

    1. Mihnea Manduteanu 20th June 2016

      Wow thanks for your words, means a lot! glad I could help you find a favorite score 🙂

    2. Jez 2nd September 2016

      19th Century book adaptations has had some quite beautiful scores as of late. War & Peace, The Jungle Book and Alice Through the Looking Glass from this year alone!

      1. Mihnea Manduteanu 4th September 2016

        Didn’t notice that but yeah, you are right 🙂

  3. Chris 21st June 2016

    Yes its an excellent dramatic score, fits the BBC series well.


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