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ScoreKeeper turns his ear to Hans Zimmer's THE DA VINCI CODE

Hey folks, Harry here... Hopefully we'll have lots of reports from ScoreKeeper. He's a top secret film composer, that also loves and is an aficionado of film scores of other composers. Here he is with his first AICN score review, this time of Hans Zimmer's The Da Vinci Code score and from the sound of it, at least the score is very very solid. Here ya go...

Greetings! ScoreKeeper here with a review of the score for Ron Howard’s latest film, The Da Vinci Code composed by Hans Zimmer. Now before I begin I’d like to clarify that I’m not the biggest fan of Hans Zimmer’s work and have repeatedly been disappointed with his efforts throughout the years. To me his work seems largely manufactured rather than crafted, predictable with textbook delivery, repetitively mundane, and at times borderline lazy. I’ve always thought of him as a talent capable of writing great film music but for one reason or another rarely does.

One of the scores that I do admire by Zimmer is Backdraft which was also directed by Ron Howard. Having the two unite for a second time on The Da Vinci Code has me feeling optimistic about a possible satisfactory score.

Here is a track listing of the score as it appears on the CD (Decca Records B0006479-02) which is due out May 9th:















Maybe it’s love for the material or the collaboration with one of Hollywood’s most gifted directors, but whatever the reason, Hans Zimmer might have penned one of the year’s film music gems. I don’t like to solidify any opinion of a score without seeing the film so this is more of a review of the material on the CD out of context of the movie (for what it’s worth I haven’t read the book either).

The opening track “Dies Mercurii I Martius” quickly begins with that definitive Media Ventures sound cocktail of high strings and elongated solo phrases in the cello and bass sections. The first real glimpse of excitement hits around a minute in when the choir enters. The choir is expected. I doubt you could score such a film without a strong vocal presence. Personally I love the use of choir in film music especially when it ventures beyond the archetypal pad usage. This is a great cinematic opportunity to deliver a rich choral score and Hans Zimmer doesn’t disappoint. The opening piece tends to meander a bit but considering it’s the opening of the film it has the license to do that.

“L’esprit des Gabriel” begins the first meaty musical moment in the film before yielding to the first climax of the score with “The Pascal Spiral”. Zimmer begins to expand the musical language of the score in “Fructus Gravis” with a gorgeous violin solo that concludes with a dark Wagnerian harmonic progression. So far the music is already more complex and organic that most Hans Zimmer scores are as a whole. The first use of solo voice enters as an interplay between light and shadow. I absolutely love the use of the string quartet which he introduces in this piece and will develop later in the score.

The first real display of ambition appears in the following piece, “Quodis Arcana”. The use of solo strings, especially the viola, is particularly affective. Keeping true to his style, Hans Zimmer paces the score with long, drawn-out phrases and uses a large amount of material to develop. This is more of the opposite approach that Bernard Herrmann had, as he created a large amount of material from much smaller individual ideas.

“Salvete Virgines” continues to develop the harmonic themes from the first half of the score and really expands the sonic spectrum with percussion and voices. The chant-like choir immediately springs visions of the occult or some ancient religious mystique.

Probably my favorite cue in the film is “Daniel’s 9th Cipher” which contains a passion that I have not heard from Zimmer since Gladiator. This is probably the single piece on the CD that makes me want to see the film even more than I had before. Clocking in at just under ten minutes, this singular piece of music breaks most of the mold Hans Zimmer has carved out for himself in the last 20 years. If I had not been told, I doubt I would suspect Hans Zimmer had written this. Simply gorgeous.

The score once again takes another turn with “The Citrine Cross”. There isn’t much bombastic music in this score but this is one of the few places it is found. When Hans Zimmer gets large his music tends to sound a little repetitive and this one is no exception. He relies a little too hard on the ostinato but overall it’s a solid piece. I’m sure in the film it’ll do its job.

“Rose of Arimathea” is another eight minute behemoth that recaps some similar textures and phrases as heard earlier. The most surprising and original piece is “Beneath Alrischa” which begins with a phrenetic phrase played by a string quartet quickly swelling to a larger string ensemble then contracting back to the quartet again. While most of the score sounds “old” this is the first piece that gets away from that. It sounds largely like a 20th century composition, but the limitation to strings keeps it in context with the rest of the scoring fabric.

The penultimate track on the disc, “Chevaliers de Sangreal” is a rewarding coda. Closing out films has always been one of Hans Zimmer’s strengths. The piece starts off peaceful and subtle and over an ambitious span of time he carefully crafts his way toward a passionate and rousing zenith . The seamless way of composing music from nothing and carefully creeping it toward climax is very difficult to do well and I applaud Mr. Zimmer for doing it effectively in this piece.

The final track, “Kyrie for the Magdalene” is a concert choir piece that was composed by Richard Harvey. A great inclusion to the soundtrack, it fits right in with the rest of the score as a great epilogue.

When I hear the music, it reeks of everything that I’d expect from Hans Zimmer scoring a movie filled to the brim with ancient religious symbolism and mystique. I was hoping for something as great as Alex North’s score for The Agony and the Ecstasy. Although it doesn’t quite clear the bar it comes inspiringly close.

Being a film music freak you might think it paradoxical that I actually think that films today are grossly overscored. The track listings of each cue on The Da Vinci Code are considerably longer than usual (3:00-9:30) which makes me wonder if these are assembled from shorter cues throughout the film or do we hear these incredibly long sequences intact. James Horner has a knack for going on and on with his music and I’m hoping that Hans Zimmer hasn’t followed suit.

With Ron Howard collaborating regularly with several composers including James Horner (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Willow), Thomas Newman (Cinderella Man, Gung Ho), and Randy Newman (The Paper, Parenthood) maybe Hans Zimmer would benefit from a regular outing with the man. With two genuinely well crafted scores under his belt I certainly wouldn’t object if he replaced James Horner as Ron’s go-to guy.

The score definitely makes me want to watch the film even more. I wasn’t expecting my reception to Hans Zimmer’s score to be so favorable but I have to say that as it is presented on CD, it’s a gem. I just hope the music stands even better within the context of the film. If it does it could be the first really great score of 2006.

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