The first two films in the Narnia series "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" and "Prince Caspian" were scored by Harry Gregson-Williams. With "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" having a new director and production company, it is not surprising that a change in composer was also on the cards. Sure enough David Arnold was asked to step into the frame for the third installment, and sometimes it is good to hear someone else's take on an established series. Changes of composer are not unusual in long-running series - for example the Harry Potter and James Bond movies (where incidentally Arnold is now firmly established as the Bond composer). As with Harry Potter and Bond, Arnold has kept continuity with the previous Narnia films by using key themes written for the original Narnia film by Harry Gregson-Williams. This only applies to 2 short tracks in total, so it is good to know that the album is almost entirely new music.
Stylistically Arnold's music is different Gregson-Williams' but clearly from the same genre, so it feels like the new music is an evolution rather than a revolution for the Narnia series. The first thing you may notice about Arnold's music is that much of it is quiet and gentle - a refreshing change from the relentlessly dark fantasy scores we have come to expect recently. Nevertheless this helps to reinforce the magical element of the C. S. Lewis books, and musically it allows the whole orchestra to shine. Rather than the heavy use of brass and strings, we can hear some much subtler orchestration with woodwind, percussion and harp shining through. Secondly although there is recurring thematic material, this is not one of those scores which constantly reiterates a single main theme. The effect is that the music is traditional but inventive, totally supportive of the film and yet carefully avoiding genre cliches.
Arnold's new thematic material is a group of ideas presented in the "Opening Titles" with a characteristic descending figure. "The Painting" briefly turns darker with some rhythmic material before resolving back to the main theme, while "High King and Queen of Narnia" establishes the film's place in the world of Narnia with a short recap of Gregson-Williams' Narnia theme. Arnold's new main theme recurs in various guises throughout the score (e.g. "Land Ahoy" and "Eustace On Deck"). "Reepicheep" and "Lord Bern" are excellent examples of the magical understated orchestration, with the harp arpeggiating the main theme in the latter. "Temptation of Lucy" is perhaps the lightest track of all, with harp, celeste and gentle woodwind creating a most ethereal cue. One of the consequences of keeping the score quietly in the background is that you get maximum contrast when the mood changes, for example "The Lone Island" is mostly quiet with a brief action interlude - a great contrast. Similarly there are some dark moments in "The Green Mist" which features some choral writing.
The mood changes through a number of set pieces, which typically employ novel instrumentation. "Market Forces" is heralded by mysterious Ram's Horn calls and then gallops along accompanied by ethnic percussion. "Duel" uses instruments with a different ethnic original - there is a fiddle and a penny whistle and the jig-like rhythm suggest a nautical folk dance, a sort of Irish pirates of the caribbean. You can even hear Mahlerian cow-bells near the beginning of "The Magician's Island". The score's middle section increasingly exhibits signs of tension and suspense which punctuate the fantasy, leading through some episodes towards a big climax in "Into Battle". This is the longest track at 11 minutes, starting low and ominously but developing into a major action-oriented event with full orchestra and chorus singing latin lyrics. This eventually resolves peacefully in "Sweet Water" before the score comes full circle with "Ship To Shore" and "Time To Go Home".
David Arnold's score for "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is an excellent example of Fantasy scoring and a welcome addition to the Narnia story. The soundtrack album is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.