With its sweeping simplicity, the film score for The Illusionist by composer Philip Glass again proves the age-old adage that less is more. The movie, set in Victorian Vienna, tells the tale of a mesmerizing magician who uses sorcery to help him transcend the boundaries of the aristocratic world, all so that he can embark upon a high-class romance. The story, based on a novel by Steven Millhauser, contains an inherent mysticism and spirituality perfectly molded to Glass' distinctive style. The arpeggiating chord sequences, pulsating rhythms, and additive and subtractive compositional processes so typical of Glass are all there. Unlike his film scores for The Hours and The Fog of War, though, Glass' voice, at least in this picture, feels far more subdued. Like any sensitive film composer, Glass composes music that seems to be content with enhancing and complementing the film, rather than existing as a draw into itself. Nevertheless, there are some beautiful, memorable, and distracting (in the best possible sense) moments: the crystalline harp and hypnotic alternating bass lines in "The Mirror"; the unreachable and distant exotic theme of "Sophie," Eisenheim's (the Illusionist's) lofty love interest; and the deep and dark "Eisenheim Disappears." The opening of "The Search" is reminiscent of Glass' Heroes Symphony, and many of the other movements also share this quality. Both the opening title and end credits contain a rustic, woodsy quality that is not often heard in his music. While certainly this music is enjoyable (and effective), a view of the movie is essential in order to gain a true appreciation for Glass' skill. Without it, his deft and sensitive tone painting, in accordance with the action of the movie, is lost. Michael Riesman, Glass' longtime right-hand man, brings the soundtrack to life with the excellent Czech Film Orchestra; together they effortlessly float through Glass' own illusions.
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AllMusic Review by C. Ryan Hill
|The Illusionist, film score for orchestra|