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Craig Armstrong - bridging the music divide

Plunkett and Macleane CD cover Glasgow born composer Craig Armstrong is not a household name - yet. But quietly and without great fanfare his music has been heard in many places, in theatres and concert halls, on the television, on film and on CD. Armstrong's music is distinguished from many of his contemporaries by belonging to no particular genre and can't therefore be easily categorised. It seems to ignore all the artificial boundaries that exist in many parts of the music world, and seemingly bridges all sorts of gulfs between popular, film, classical and dance. His musical education was nothing out of the ordinary, having studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He then studied Music and Dance, followed by Electronic Music and he won the "Jazz musician of the Year" award at a young age. His work since then has shown him to be an all-round musician, since he composes, conducts, produces, arranges and orchestrates, and plays piano some of his albums. For a while he was the resident composer for the Tron Theatre in Glasgow

Moulin Rouge CD cover While his classical background has resulted in a lot of work for the theatre and the concert hall, he has also been much in demand from a variety of artists needing to have their work arranged and orchestrated. He has therefore collaborated with many well-known names in popular music, working with Massive Attack (on their album "Protection"), with Madonna (on the "Frozen" album), U2, Bjork and The Pet Shop Boys. Having worked at both ends of this spectrum, it is no surprise that his film music is easily able to sit in either camp or indeed move effortlessly between these styles and off at odd tangents. Much of his film work has been in the category of "arrangements", "orchestrations" and "additional music", like his work with Baz Luhrmann on "Romeo + Juliet" and Moulin Rouge. This means that his music is sometimes masked by a lot of song material in the movie.

Romeo + Juliet volume 2 CD cover "Romeo + Juliet" is an interesting, modern yet operatic version of the familiar Shakepearean play. The songs in this display a reasonable amount of angst, by artists like Garbage, Gavin Friday, Radiohead, The Wannadies and the Cardigans, Des'ree singing the Love theme "Kissing You". The instrumental interlude in this Love Theme is now very familiar in the UK from its use in promoting the Television coverage of Euro 2004, and other tracks are used on TV's X-Factor. (Indeed programme makers seem to increasingly view Armstrong's music as a ready source of "soundbites".) Most of the film's songs are covered by the first album of the soundtrack, but the musical heart of "Romeo + Juliet" rests largely in cues other than the songs. To really appreciate Armstrong's contribution to the film, including his appropriate quotation from Wagner's Liebestod from "Tristan and Isolde", it is the second album which you should aim for at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. Other film work has seen Armstrong's composition work play a bigger role (in the sense that it is not hidden behind song tracks), such as his work on "Plunkett & Macleane", "Best Laid Plans" and "The Quiet American" whose soundtrack is due to be released shortly on CD. The "Plunkett & Macleane" soundtrack is a good example of his film work. It blends various synth sounds with strings, voices and percussion in a range of styles which suggest everything from baroque to rave music. It is available from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. Armstrong then went on to score the soundtracks for "Tomb Raider II" and "Love, Actually".

Craig Armstrong Piano Works CD cover Check out our review of his concert piece Northern Sound...Islands, which has links to his solo albums featuring a range of music from his usual broad spectrum. Craig Armstrong was recently in the newspapers in Scotland when he resigned from the Cultural Commission established to review funding of the Arts in the country, referring to proposals to scale down Scottish Opera. Armstrong is also participating in a programme called "Five:15" to present 5 15-minute operas for Scottish Opera. Armstrong's 15-minute opera from the five is called "Gesualdo" and was penned by Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin. For soundtrack collectors, Armstrong has a new album called "Piano Works" where he plays a number of new works and arrangements of pieces from his films and albums. See our review of Piano Works or these links on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com for more information. For the complete experience pianists will want to get the full sheet music transcription from The Music Room.

Although Craig Armstrong was initially lined up to score the new version of "Clash of the Titans" in Spring 2010. The film still credits Armstrong with "IO's Theme" but composer Ramin Djawadi took over the scoring duties for the rest of the film. Armstrong has been working again with Oliver Stone (following their previous collaboration on "World Trade Center") for the director's return of Gordon Gekko called "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps". On the classical front, Armstrong's opera "The Lady from the Sea" will receive its premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2012. The opera has a libretto by Zoe Strachan based on a play by Henrik Ibsen. More details and tickets at the Festival Boxoffice.

Films by Craig Armstrong:

  • Fridge - part of a trilogy of films for Television
  • Orphans
  • A Good Day for the Bad Guys
  • Romeo + Juliet - Armstrong provides the additional music and some of the song arrangements, supported by Marius de Vries on keyboards and programming
  • Best Laid Plans - this is mainly Armstrong's soundtrack, with some songs provided by various artists like his former partners "Massive Attack"
  • Cruel Intentions - Armstrong providing the song "This Love"
  • Plunkett & Macleane - a wide collection of influences whose overall feel is ambient, yet with percussion driving some of the tracks
  • One Fine Day in September - documentary film
  • The Bone Collector - another intelligent serial murderer leaves cryptic clues for the forensic investigators, and Armstrong uses his trademark synth strings, piano and percussion to heighten the tension
  • Moulin Rouge - a feast for both eyes and ears, Armstrong arranging the songs and composing interludes between them
  • Kiss of the Dragon - the score for this is called "Symphony for Isabelle"
  • The Magdalene Sisters
  • The Quiet American - textural and atmospheric with Vietnamese vocals supplied by singer Hong Nhung
  • Love Actually - taking Armstrong into the Romantic Comedy bracket for the first time and includes his "Glasgow Love Theme"
  • Ray - Armstrong augments the music of Ray Charles in this biographical story starring James Foxx in the title role. The soundtrack also features Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and in the movie the role of Quincy Jones is played by Larenz Tate
  • Fever Pirch
  • Must Love Dogs - on a largely song-based soundtrack
  • World Trade Center
  • Elizabeth: The Golden Age - a sumptuous production with music to match, Armstrong has some help from prolific young composer A. R. Rahman (who worked as a boy with Ilaiyaraaja) and some themes from Hirschfelder's previous score for "Elizabeth"
  • The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  • Clash of the Titans - Craig Armstrong was replaced by composer Ramin Djawadi on the score for the new version of "Clash of the Titans" but Armstrong retains a credit for "Io's Theme"
  • Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps - working again with Oliver Stone for his return of Gordon Gekko, with the music reflecting the more contemporary setting
  • Neds
  • In Time
  • The Great Gatsby - another Baz Luhrmann production
  • Far from the Madding Crowd - latest version of the Thomas Hardy novel starring Carey Mulligan, sensitively scored by Armstrong with a blend of folk-like music and a soaring solo violin
  • Victor Frankenstein

Other music by Craig Armstrong:

Albums:

  • The Space Between Us - album including tracks from some of his film work
  • As If To Nothing - album containing various music collaborations with Photek, Mogwai, Evan Dando and Bono
  • Piano Works - solo album with Armstrong on piano

Concert and Stage pieces:

  • When Morning Turns to Light - commission for the RSNO
  • Northern Sound...Islands - latest commission for the RSNO which recently received its premier
  • Slow Movement - based on music for the film "Romeo + Juliet"
  • 20 Movements for orchestra - another commission
  • The Broken Heart - for the Royal Shakespeare Company
  • The Spanish Tragedy - also for the RSC
  • The Tempest - also for the RSC
  • The Lady from the Sea - an opera receiving its premiere at the Edinburgh Festival in 2012

More information about the composer can be found at his website CraigArmstrong.com including his film music and most recent albums Piano Works and "Film Works" (at these links Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com).