Alexander, the soundtrack to the Oliver Stone biopic, features Vangelis at his best. It’s a rousing score, a satisfying album, and a likely Oscar contender.
With this score, Vangelis delivers vivid orchestrations, lyrical themes, and his unique style of crowd-pleasing bombast. If you’re a Vangelis fan, click on over to Amazon and be done with it – you must have this CD!
Vangelis is sometimes criticized for the simplicity of his music. He rarely creates variations on them or develops them in the tradition of western classical music. This is the case with the Alexander score.
To focus on this, though, would be to miss the unique character of Vangelis’ music. Vangelis comes from outside the tradition of western classical music, and has a unique style and perspective. Vangelis brings to this score a intuitive sense for orchestration, an ear for simple, direct themes, and a overflowing sense of passion.
The score is unusual for Vangelis in the fact that it is primarily orchestral. Electronic music fans may be disappointed at the lack of overt synth work. In fact, many of the cuts sound completely acoustic. What Vangelis has done is create an orchestral soundtrack that incorporates synthesized textures in a very subtle way.
For this score, he worked with conductor Nic Raine to translate his ideas to the orchestra. The collaboration is seemless, and the orchestrations perfectly capture Vangelis’ unique voice. It’s a revelation to hear Vangelis’ soaring themes played by a full orchestra, instead of his usual symphonic electronic orchestrations. With this soundtrack, Vangelis jumps into new territory, and is sure to gain some new fans.
The score offers many treats. The overall arch of the recording makes it a satisifying listen, more so than many of his soundtracks. He introduces big themes at the beginning of the CD, bringing things quickly to a peak with the rousing Titans. The middle section of the CD explores a variety of textures and moods, including battle music, romantic themes, and subtle ambiences. At the end, he recapitulates some of the themes he introduced at the beginning, and then delivers a quiet denoument in Tender Memories.
His orchestration is vivid througout. In the Introduction, Vangelis uses his symphonic electronic style. It transitions seemlessly into the heroic theme, Young Alexander, which features a full orchestra and chorus. He also incorporates folk instruments and vocals into many of the pieces.
The score is also very melodic. The bombastic Titans starts with a basic, almost simplistic melody, but is redeemed by Vangelis’ orchestration, which just feels right. The soundtracks’ romantic melodies equal any that he’s done previously. While this music is intended to serve as background to visuals, one listen is sure to leave melodies echoing in your mind.
After the beautiful Introduction, Young Alexander, and the rousing Titans, comes The Drums of Guagamela. This is a long, martial battle track. Instead of the fake Holst that many film composers seem to fall back on for big battle scenes, Vangelis relies on what sounds like a percussion loop to provide a foundation over which strings, brass and choir clash.
One Morning at Pella is a reflective harp piece. It begins very quietly, and towards the end, Vangelis adds strings to subtly support the harp.
Roxanne’s Dance sounds vaguely similar to some of the background music from Blade Runner that combined exotic rhythms, electronics, and a solo melody instrument. Gardens of Delight fuses harp, vocals and strings with percussive loops into a exotic, hypnotic blend.
In the middle of the album is Roxane’s Veil, a lyrical violin showcase that features the violin work of Vanessa-Mae. The music has more of new age or pop sound, similar to some of Vangelis work on Voices, but it provides a tasteful backdrop for Vanessa-Mae’s lovely playing.
Across the Mountain builds from a quiet hymn to a march with full orchestral splendor. Another composer might use this as the final cut in the soundtrack, but Vangelis has a lot more up his sleeves.
Immortality is a quiet track that’s primarily strings and choir. It has a more somber, mysterious mood about it. Though it is primarily acoustic, the actual sound may remind listeners to Vangelis’ synth string and vocoder work on Blade Runner.
The last three tracks are as good as the first three. Dream of Babylon recapitulates the Titans theme, but adds a new alternate theme that has an angelic feel, combining choir and harp. This blends into Eternal Alexander, a Elgaresque march that brings the soundtrack to an final climax. It features a romantic march theme, which Vangelis repeats several times, expanding the orchestration each time. Vangelis brings the music to a climax with full orchestra and chorus, diverts momentary to a quiet countermelody, before returning to the march theme.
He ends the soundtrack with Tender Memories, which is a reflective variation on the romantic theme of Eternal Alexander. Vangelis has arranged the melody for electronic instrumentation, which brings the soundtrack back to the quiet synthesizer work of the Introduction. This is a satisfying way to end the CD.
There is a version of the CD that tacks on an extra track, Bizarre Bazaar. While it is an interesting track, it detracts from the overall shape of the soundtrack, making the standard version a more satisfying listen.
Vangelis’ Alexander soundtrack is one of his better, if not his best, soundtracks. It isn’t as surprising or groundbreaking as Blade Runner or Chariots of Fire, but it’s mature, passionate and endlessly melodic. And when it comes to bombastic excess, Alexander is probably as good as anything Vangelis has done, and that’s saying something.
The minimal amount of synth work is initially a disappointment. However, the strength of the music and the way he has translated his ideas to a full orchestra sweep away your expectations.
Full of passion and grandeur, Vangelis’ Alexander is one of the most enjoyable soundtracks in years.
- Young Alexander
- The Drums Of Gaugamela
- One Morning At Pella
- Roxane’s Dance
- Eastern Path
- Gardens Of Delight
- Roxane’s Veil
- Bagoa’s Dance
- The Charge
- Across The Mountains
- Dream Of Babylon
- 17. Eternal Alexander
- Tender Memories