John Morris - The Elephant Man

John Morris - The Elephant Man soundtrack CD cover People who appreciate modern composers and truly great cinema all know the Elephant Man’s main theme. Hearing those chime-like keys and bells dangling their hypnotic tune is enough to bring tears to one’s eyes, as you surely couldn’t forget the tragedy of Joseph Merrick, the true story of a perversely deformed young man, brought to life on the silver screen by master-director of surreal cinema David Lynch. But the soundtrack’s beauty doesn’t stop there; the 10 remaining pieces composed for the picture vary between operatic outbursts, bizarre circus and fanfare variants, and what could be considered the most heart-breaking string sections ever written for film. The soundtrack also contains the beautiful Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber conducted by Andre Previn, which fits perfectly between two of John Morris’ compositions.

The soundtrack opens with “The Elephant Man theme”, the heart and soul to this sad story. In order to express the feeling of the movie properly, composer John Morris opts for simplicity, carrying the theme on a backdrop of xylophone keys. This technique is best compared with John Williams’ soundtrack for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List from 1998, in which minimalism plays a key role to the film’s atmosphere too. “Dr. Treves Visits the Freak Show and Elephant Man” refers to the film’s initial scene in which Treves’ character seems to be looking for something, or somebody. As he walks past the cages, stands and peculiar spectacles, the music serves to illustrate the mood of the cheerful and entertained “ordinary” folk; one gets the impression that the music is played to show that these “ordinary” people are in fact the only “real” freaks of the movie.

"John Merrick and Psalm” has got be one of the most longing, saddest, and yet beautiful string orchestrations of all cinema history, with it’s violins climbing until reaching a painful pitch, it’s sustained notes dying whilst another violin rises again in a continuous pattern of blissful magnificence. Calling this dramatic would be an understatement. The very same beauty can be found in tracks “John Merrick and Mrs. Kendal”, “Mrs. Kendal’s Theatre and Poetry Reading”, as well as in the powerful “Recapitulation”. If you are familiar with David Lynch’s movie, these tracks will tear your heart apart. The score does also have a much darker side to it, such as in tracks “The Nightmare” and “The Belgian Circus Episode”, in which the main theme is played at different pitches, with the use of shadowy instrumentation as accompaniment.

John Morris is a very gifted composer, scoring almost 30 films and many television programmes from the late 1960’s right up to this present day, but nothing compares with his Elephant Man soundtrack. It is a very special piece of work, and comes highly recommended to people who appreciate great music. More information about the soundtrack CD can be found at these links: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Reviewer: Robert Purvis

The Elephant Man by John Morris - track listing


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