By Teresa Martin
It is a daunting task to review a soundtrack done by a composer to whom I can never even dream to aspire. But to quote G.K. Chesterton, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
The Season One Soundtrack is “Composed and Produced by Mark Isham” and “Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony,” as written in the credits. The press release for it states:
Isham needed to come up with a score that spanned the entire spectrum of emotions -- not only breathing life into quieter moments, but also being romantic, sweeping, and epic. The result was a score for the series that is both beautiful and heartfelt and has become integral to the fabric of the show. For this release representing music from various episodes, Mark Isham has compiled over an hour of music carefully produced to provide listeners with a musical journey that captures the essence of the show.
The orchestra happily consists of many real instruments including a full string section, woodwinds, the french horn and trombone, and piano solos of which one performer is the composer. The score is also dominated by the use of percussion, especially bells and marimbas. There are twenty-five tracks, all of which are gems. I would like to highlight my favorites.
The album opens with a suite which is also the opening music of the series in the pilot. The iconic music is as sweeping as the scenery and the sight of the Prince on his white horse. The Once theme plays, a step-wise, minor melody which jumps a fourth up and down, for Snow’s appearance in her glass coffin. Then a startling downbeat signifies the sleeping curse breaking. It morphs into the Snowing Theme, a motif which uses falling steps and intervals. This continues through the beautiful wedding, and then the jarring Evil Queen music interrupts the theme just as much as she interrupts the ceremony. As the pilot previews the central characters and conflict of the show, so does the music.
Another highlight is “The Wedding Dance.” This delightful track is reminiscent of Renaissance and Baroque dance music. A dark-toned wind instrument, harpsichord, and light strings, accompany the 6/8 beat, and one cannot help but want to get up and dance Aurora style (minus the birds) around the room as you listen to it.
The “evil” motifs use more dissonance, harsher percussion, and shorter notes, disturbing the listener as the viewer is in the face of evil whilst surrounded by the glorious good. It is also frequently juxtaposed with the “falling” of the Snowing Theme.
“Rumplestiltskin in Love” uses voice, a tempo that slows, speeds up, lingers. You can hear Rumplestiltskin’s hesitation, moving forward, falling back, and pensive. Then the track ends with the Belle Theme, falling steps, falling in love, the melody haunting and sweet, played by the french horn.
I save what I consider to be the best for last, as did the soundtrack, “The Clock Moves.” In the pilot I remember nearly cheering when the clock restarted and Henry smiled in triumph. The role the music plays in this is indispensable. The track starts quietly, almost cautiously, and then the Snowing Theme slowly becomes prominent. This crescendos, doubling strings to bring out the melody, signifying something great, and as the clock moves, the theme departs to a building, stepwise chord progression that climaxes with a triumphant chord based on tonic, the first note of the scale. Another way of describing this movement is that it goes from fa, sol, la, ti, do. “Do” is used in music as the resolution of a piece. This progression is also known as the “Amen” sung at the end of a hymn. Amen means “let it be so.” The conclusion of the “Halleluiah Chorus” uses this most famously to signify the triumph of the savior. The inclusion of this in the “The Clock Moves,” ascending and concluding in that fortissimo chord, conveys a clear meaning: the victory is here. Everything else that will happen in-between on Once throughout the seasons will explain how that triumph comes about, but come about it will. I would not be surprised if the series finale uses this exact sequence. In the resolution the music is screaming that nothing can conquer this moment. Or, in other words: Good will Always Win.
This is a magnificent release that is a must-have for all fans of the show. It not only accompanies the show, it is the show, just being told in a different way, in the universal language of music.
The Season One Soundtrack is out now from Amazon or Amazon UK