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Soundtrack review: Genius – Picasso (Lorne Balfe – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Genius – Picasso (Lorne Balfe – 2018)

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“Genius” is an American anthology period drama television series developed by Noah Pink and Kenneth Biller that premiered on April 25, 2017 on National Geographic. The first season follows the life of Albert Einstein, from his early years, through his time as a patent clerk, to his later years as a physicist who developed the theory of relativity; the season is based on the 2007 book Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. The second season chronicles two periods in the life of Pablo Picasso: the first as a young man first discovering his talent, the second as a celebrated artist struggling with the rise of fascism and the price of fame. This is a review of Lorne Balfe’s score for the second season.

I just loved the music of the first season and in the context of the show, the second season sounded even better. I couldn’t wait to listen to the music on its own as well and as soon as the first sax motif started in “Stroke of genius” I was happy. There’s never enough sax in film music and here it’s just part of an orchestral collection of sounds that can count as a stroke of genius itself. This opening theme is rich and infectious and it evokes a creative stride and I just love and get inspired by. I like how Lorne manages to subtly capture in his music also the period when Picasso developed as an artist and man as the music often has an unmistakable hint of retro nostalgia in it.

“A true passion” is one of those cue that show me why I count Lorne Balfe among my favourite composers: he has written for any genre imaginable and has morphed his sound to fit stories, settings and yet he still has the capacity to surprise me with a melancholic, moody piece like this one which could work for a period drama as well with the piano and the flute and the dramatic buildup at the end; it is truly a beautiful piece of music. Then the Latin guitar in “Sketches”, a sound to bring the image of Pablo Picasso closer to us, another cue that is right for this particular story.

This is really why this score is so good, its strength: the way Lorne Balfe manages to capture in his music the feverish nature of Pablo Picasso, his creative strides, his collapses, his insecurities, his struggles; the music doesn’t stay in one place, it flies away with the piano or grinds with the strings, it’s sometimes liberating and other times constrictive, as if this entire composition was just an exploration of the genius’ mind, his inspiration, his blockages, without ignoring the outside world and his heritage with the flamenco sound.

There’s a lot to love in the soulful music of “Genius: Picasso”, be it the jazzy or flamenco sound, the sax, the vivid creative motifs and the general atmosphere that for me simply evokes Picasso and is in tune with everything I knew about him before. The music made me feel, dream, imagine, want to create and this is what it’s all about. Lorne Balfe crafts another one of his beautiful, memorable score and creates another full blown character in this TV show.

Cue rating: 91 / 100

Highlights:
Stroke of Genius
A True Passion
Sketches
Picasso
Distorted Portraits
Paint Like a Child
Family
Give Me a Museum
We Are Your Perfect Painting
Masterpiece in Progress
Guernica
Genius: Picasso

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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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