With their 1992 film adaptation of E.M. Forster's novel Howards End, the Merchant Ivory team reached their peak form. At once more challenging and more satisfying than their previous efforts, Howards End featured career topping contributions from several Merchant Ivory regulars: actresses Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter, screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts and director James Ivory. But perhaps the most impressive contribution was made by composer Richard Robbins, who earned his first Oscar nomination for this score. Robbins was left with the difficult task of maintaining sonic continuity with the other two films in the team's trilogy of Forster adaptations (A Room With a View and Maurice) while capturing the distinctively different heartbeat of this project. He accomplished this by utilizing an extraordinary capacity for subtlety and nuance. For much of the film, Robbins' score is quiet and unassuming, reflecting the dignity, isolation and reserve of his subjects. But in key emotional moments the music expands and flourishes, exploding into illuminating color. Robbins may well be the least manipulative and sentimental film composer of his day; his work sometimes goes too far in the other direction and can seem cold and distanced. But with Howards End he demonstrates impressive heart and passion. He also has a knack for seamlessly incorporating into his own music classical pieces that effectively capture the spirit of the period setting. In A Room With a View he made a hit out of Puccini's "O Mio Babbino Caro." For Howards End he used two beautiful piano pieces by Edwardian composer Percy Grainger, "Bridal Lullaby" and "Mock Morris." The works are a perfect compliment to a sensitive and well-constructed score.
AllMusic Review by Evan Cater