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Soundtrack review: On golden pond (Dave Grusin – 1981)

Film scores perfect scores

Soundtrack review: On golden pond (Dave Grusin – 1981)


Norman is a curmudgeon with an estranged relationship with his daughter Chelsea. At Golden Pond, he and his wife nevertheless agree to care for Billy, the son of Chelsea’s new boyfriend, and a most unexpected relationship blooms. ON GOLDEN POND was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including best picture, and won Oscars for Henry Fonda and co-star Katharine Hepburn. I remember the movie, I really liked it. Dave Grusin is of course a legend and any release by him is a reason to get excited and I know I will love this score.

For me Dave Grusin is a piano god and naturally the main theme showcases his enormous talent. I like the interjection of the subtle nature sounds, birds and insects, in this cue as if the piano was played on that beautiful pond. The theme is elegant, soft and luminous. When the main motif kicks in and the piano just starts expanding and rolling in the most beautiful melody I get images of pastoral landscapes and as a flute motif completes the theme I feel as if Dave Grusin just magically created a small sanctuary in the middle of nature. This is the kind of music that not only inspires me but it simply makes life seem more beautiful. “On golden pond” puts me in a soft and wonderful mood and the worst thing you could do with such a musical mood is to interrupt it, to fragment it. Now I don’t know why the producers of the score chose to do this, maybe because it’s such a major and well known movie but like 70% of the cues contain voiceovers, and a lot of them and it’s not just quotes heard in the background over the music; the sweet piano music stops, I hear the quotes and scenes then the music is back. It gets very frustrating at some point, especially with music as meaningful as Dave Grusin’s. When the cues are 100% music they are simply stunning, like the joyful anthem “New Hampshire hornpipe” and the optimistic and shiny “Lake song” where the piano is complimented by a woodwind section. I just regret even more that I am not getting a coherent listening experience.

I listen to all the cues even if it is to find the one minute of 45 seconds of continuous music before the characters start speaking, that’s how good the music is. I wish we had a coheremt, long release but I take what I can get and even if it’s just 13 minutes of proper film music, it’s as good as film music gets, orchestral, tender, beautiful, fragile, elegant, all the attributes that make any for of art comfortable and warm to feel. “On golden pond” is another perfect score from one of the composers who can make magic any time of day and whose every cue is a celebration of beauty. No matter how short, no matter how fragmented, “On golden pond” is still a treasure.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 13 / 13

Album excellence: 100%

On Golden Pond (Main Theme)
New Hampshire Hornpipe
On Golden Pond (Epilogue)

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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