John Williams

Munich [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

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In his brief liner notes (really more of an appreciation), director Steven Spielberg points out that composer John Williams' score for Munich, Spielberg's film about Israeli attempts to track down and kill the Palestinians responsible for the massacre of Israel's 1972 Olympic team, is his fourth score of 2005, following Star Wars: Episode Three -- Revenge of the Sith, Spielberg's own War of the Worlds, and Memoirs of a Geisha. That's not a bad output for a man who also celebrated his 73rd birthday during the year. Pointing to the very different sorts of film the four titles represent, Spielberg calls Williams "a master of disguise," a composer able to serve the different needs of such varying subjects. Every film composer must have something of that versatility, though in fact Williams may have it less than most, as he is the closest thing to a traditional Hollywood composer still active. With Munich, he is put in an area that is very familiar to him, since the film is set in Europe, allowing him to draw upon his familiarity with and affection for European classical music. He employs a large orchestra, and for the most part he has written a conservative score for it to play. The one aspect of the project that is unusual is the film's darkness, beginning with the massacre and then following the increasingly problematic actions of those assigned to exact revenge. This does not allow for the kind of stirring, swashbuckling themes of a Star Wars movie. Rather, it involves minor keys, lots of low tones (no less than eight basses are used), and plenty of slow tempos. To make this tolerable, onscreen and on disc, Williams alternates the passages of dread with more romantic (but still sad) ones. Thus, the throbbing, percussive "Letter Bombs" is followed by "A Prayer for Peace," and other lyrical cues such as "Avner and Daphna" and "Avner's Theme" (the latter a solo for classical guitar) are interspersed with more jarring titles like "The Tarmac at Munich" and "Stalking Carl." But this remains a very dark score to accompany a dark film.

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