Martin Scorsese's new film 'Shutter Island' has bold soundtrack

Alex Ross of The New Yorker notes that millions of Americans will enjoy music by an unusually long list of intrepid composers when Martin Scorsese’s film “Shutter Island,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, opens Feb. 19. The list includes names from — surprise! — the heart of avant-garde classicism: Giacinto Scelsi, John Cage, Lou Harrison, György Ligeti, Morton Feldman, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, Nam June Paik, Ingram Marshall and John Adams.

“This fairly bold lineup of composers, which would cause the average orchestra subscriber to flee in terror, appears on the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s film “Shutter Island.”Scorsese’s music supervisor is Robbie Robertson, the former lead guitarist of The Band, who has consulted on many of the director’s movies, notably “Raging Bull” and “The King of Comedy.” “This may be the most outrageous and beautiful soundtrack I’ve ever heard,” Robertson says, in a press release. It’s hard to argue with the claim, given that the playlist includes Cage’s “Music for Marcel Duchamp,” Scelsi’s “Uaxuctum,” Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel,” and Ligeti’s “Lontano.” Ligeti and Penderecki come out of the familiar Kubrick playbook—“Lontano” figured memorably in “The Shining”—but many of the other selections are unexpected, most of all the choice of Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor. (Via Bryant Manning.)”


2 responses to “Martin Scorsese's new film 'Shutter Island' has bold soundtrack”


    This pair of discs contains a wonderful collection of contemporary classical music. In most cases Amazon’s tracklisting only provides the names of the performers, so I took the liberty to list the composers for the various tracks. Ligeti’s ‘Lontano’, an old favourite of mine, is also used to great effect in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’, a movie that evoked similar emotions with me (although I consider ‘The Shining’ a truly great movie).

    CD 1
    1. Ingram Marshall – Fog Tropes
    2. Krysztof Penderecki – Symphony No. 3 – IV. Passacaglia – Allegro moderato
    3. John Cage – Music for Marcel Duchamp
    4. Nam June Paik – Hommage à John Cage
    5. György Ligeti – Lontano
    6. Morton Feldman – Rothko Chapel 2
    7. Johnnie Ray – Cry
    8. Max Richter – On the Nature of Daylight
    9. Giacinto Scelsi – Uaxuctum – III. [untitled]
    10. Gustav Mahler – Quartet in A minor for piano and strings

    CD 2
    1. John Adams – Christian Zeal and Activity
    2. Lou Harrison – Suite for Symphonic Strings – IX. Nocturne
    3. Brian Eno – Lizard Point
    4. Alfred Schnittke – Four Hymns – II. For Cello and Double Bass
    5. John Cage – Root of an Unfocus
    6. Ingram Marshall – Alctraz – I. Prelude: The Bay
    7. Lonnie Johnson – Tomorrow Night
    8. Max Richter/Dinah Washington – On the Nature of Daylight/This Bitter Earth

  2. The Martin Scorsese thriller “Shutter Island” comes with a thrilling soundtrack. Instead of commissioning an original score, Scorsese turned to old buddy Robbie Robertson, songwriter-guitarist of the Band. Scorsese directed the “The Last Waltz,” the film of the Band’s 1976 farewell concert, and after sharing bachelor-pad digs with Robertson, the director had him supervise the music for most of his movies from “Raging Bull” to “The Departed.”
    The music for “Shutter Island,” though, is unlike the other Robertson-helmed soundtracks. It’s a set of 20th-century classical music — modernist and post-modernist works that illustrate the film’s nervous tension and dark atmospherics with an almost unprecedented power. It’s not an empty boast when Robertson says, “It may be the most outrageous and beautiful soundtrack I’ve ever heard.”
    The two-CD soundtrack album includes “Lontano” — a classic of 1960s modernism — by György Ligeti, the Transylvania-born composer whose music was a recurring motif for another director, Stanley Kubrick. (Kubrick used several Ligeti works in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” along with “Lontano” in “The Shining” and the piano piece “Musica Ricercata” in “Eyes Wide Shut.”) Author Alex Ross has described the rich yet elusive “Lontano” vividly: “It is a musical shadow play, in which voluptuous acts seem to be taking place behind a heavy scrim.”
    Sonically painting the scene for the film’s eerie, remote island setting is the musique concrète of American composer Ingram Marshall’s “Fog Tropes,” for brass sextet and fog horns. The score also ranges from the turbulent romanticism of Mahler’s unfinished Piano Quartet to ghostly pieces for prepared piano by John Cage and dissonant symphonic strikes by Krzysztof Penderecki. And the vocal wails of Giacinto Scelsi’s “Uaxuctum: The Legend of the Mayan City Which They Themselves Destroyed for Religious Reasons” rattle the spine far more than typical Hollywood horror cues.
    Several 1940s and ‘50s pop songs also appear — Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night,” Johnny Ray’s “Cry,” Kay Starr’s “Wheel of Fortune.” Even these romantic pleas seem unsettling in context, as if infected by the other, darker sounds.
    A new creation concludes “Shutter Island” on its most phantasmagorical note, with Robertson laying Dinah Washington’s vocal from the ballad “This Bitter Earth” over a plaintive 2004 string piece by minimalist Max Richter. The mash-up collapses worlds of time and idiom into an improbably pure evocation of a shuttering heart, as the strings cry synergistically with Washington: “This bitter earth/ Well, what fruit it bears/ What good is love that no one shares/ And if my life is like the dust that hides the glow of a rose/ What good am I?/ Heaven only knows.”

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