The soundtrack to "Atonement" is a musical partner to last year's "Pride and Prejudice". Just as the setting comes forward in time from the late 18th century to the First World War, the music seems to have moved from a restrained Classical era to the more "heart on sleeve" Romantic era. However composer Dario Marianelli has kept some common elements, most particularly the use of solo piano played by French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet on both soundtracks. The most unusual feature of "Atonement" is the use of a 1930s typewriter on the soundtrack as a constant reminder of the fictional element of the story, just as "Pride" was a story from Jane Austin's imagination. Though not in a heavy sense, "Atonement" is an altogether darker experience with with real emotional depth and less optimism.
The first track "Briony" introduces some important material, including the clatter of the typewriter and the lonely piano theme representing Briony, the girl in the film. These give way in turn to some lively string material before the typewriter brings things to an abrupt conclusion. "Robbie's Note" introduces a solo clarinet in a slower romantic but more serious mood again introducing piano and strings. "Two Figures by a Fountain" brings back the piano rendition of Briony's theme and the lively string figure seems to remind the listener of the tempo and pace of the scherzo from Beethoven's 9th symphony. The clarinet in "Cee, You and Tea" heralds a darker vision of the main theme and the percussive sound of pizzicato string chords bring back the typewriter. The typewriter is then elevated to instrumental status in "With my own Eyes" with a rhythmic figure, and the piano dances around different expressions of the main theme while a plaintive oboe adds to the doleful mood.
Once established the soundtrack keeps to these primary elements, with ongoing solo moments for piano, clarinet, oboe and harmonica. Then "Love Letters" brings out the heart of the movie with a duet between Piano and Cello. This has true emotional depth and easily suggest the private correspondence between lovers separated by circumstance. "Elegy for Dunkirk" is every bit as reverential in its treatment of painful historic events from WWI as John Williams' Hymn to the Fallen from "Saving Private Ryan". It sustains its Elegy on solo Cello (played on the soundtrack by Caroline Dale) and strings, while a hymn from a choir fades in and then out in contrasting tempo but perfect synchronisation. "Come Back" hints at the same effect with "The White Cliffs of Dover" before returning to typewriter, strings and Briony's main piano theme, with a small taste of a church organ. The penultimate track "Atonement" brings the film to a beautiful but sad conclusion, peaceful yet questioning. The soundtrack album ends with Debussy's well-known "Clair de Lune" for piano. Thibaudet's perfectly judged rendition is in keeping with the mood of the film yet its freedom of expression bringing a form of release.
The soundtrack album is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Just as "Pride and Prejudice" resulted in some excellent sheet music, we think that "Atonement" has a number of tracks which greatly deserve a similar sheet music release. There is also a book of the Atonement Sheet Music arranged for Piano Solo.