I forgot who it was that originally told me, though it’s a pretty well-known argument, that if the best composers of all time – like Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn – were alive right now, they’d be writing scores for movies. Instead of focusing on many of their famous symphonies or string quartets, these composers would write gorgeous scores and display them on the cinematic stage. In hopes of garnering more attention and publicity, it’s an honorable way to get one’s name out there, as well as creating something both memorable and moving. Heck, Clint Eastwood wrote a beautiful score for his own film, Mystic River.
Many of the best contemporary composers of our time – those that continue to make spellbindingly poignant classical music – are starting to branch out into film. And Max Richter is no different, with his most recent endeavor being writing the score for the Oscar-nominated documentary, Waltz with Bashir. Infra is his first official soundtrack. Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, it was originally conceived as a Royal Ballet-commissioned collaboration between Richter, choreographer Wayne McGregor and artist Julian Opie. Although this is music that was definitely intended to be heard with some kind of visual accompaniment, Infra is masterfully crafted to entirely take you to another place.
Not only does Infra feature a quickly transfixing amount of ingenious music but it completely solidifies itself with a spectacular back-end. Beginning with the tormenting strings of “Infra 5”, a piece that positions all four of the string quartet members to reveal feuding parts that all work against and with each other, the music continues to grow into a fierce wall of exposed hurt; with the piercing end that signals “Infra 6”’s minor piano, the climax quickly subsides with an entirely new theme. There’s the tiniest touch of electronic ambience as Richter plays with the fuzz in the background without ever cluttering the piano’s majestic prowl – everything is purely pieced together.
Richter named all of the tracks either an ‘infra’ or a ‘journey’ and tagged a corresponding number next to each. This works in his favor because there is nothing for the listener to latch onto except for a simple word and number. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Richter shines as a composer that is ready to deliver new and challenging ideas. Never being one to delve too deep into electronics or other intangibles, Richter keeps the surprises to a minimum; choosing instead to hedge his best strengths in support of branding fantastic melodies and stunning chords.
The journeys play against the grain the most, being probably the most experimental movements of the two. “Journey 2” is a bubbling layer of drum acoustics and patterns that catch you off guard if you aren’t careful, providing a new sound before “Infra 4”’s menacing string arrangement. But don’t get the wrong idea either, this is classical music at its main essence; there is nothing but violin showmanship and bursting harmonies on “Journey 4.” If ever there was confusion about Richter’s motives, they are very clear on Infra: present earnestly created and powerfully strong classical music in a very basic format.
It’s especially rewarding to know that Richter is still capable of reaching such soaring highs, years after his best works have already been released. He’s developed a keen knack for being able to convey the best kind of new classical music and the evidence is here. Infra holds its ground amongst Richter’s finest pieces of music, movie accompaniment or not.