Mount Athos is a self-governing monastic state under the sovereignty of Greece that was founded in the mid-900s. A peninsula jutting out into the Aegean Sea, Mount Athos is home to twenty Eastern Orthodox monasteries, populated by over 1,000 monks. After 6 years of trying, French documentary film-maker Eddy Vicken secured permission to film inside “The Monk’s Republic”, to produce a film examining the long history of Mount Athos as well as the day-to-day lives of the monks. The musical score comes from Thierry Malet, a composer whose previous projects are predominantly for TV movies and short films. Although the majority of the score reflects the contemplative existence of the monks, what really stands out (and remains firmly in the memory) is a rousing battle-cry styled theme featuring a combination of a choir of monks and the City of Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Mont Athos: La République des Moines (2009) is an example of a score where there’s a stand-out theme set in amongst function music that probably works very well in the film. Malet’s inspiration for the theme is an old psalm sung by the monks (I believe it is the Polyéleos: Psalm 135 Tone V). As with many of the hymns and psalms sung as part of the monks’ daily observances, the psalm is very much a meditative piece. For his theme however, Malet asked the monks to double the psalm’s tempo. This proved problematic both for the monks and the orchestra (that was recorded separately). As the monks where more used to singing with a free tempo and singing the psalm at a difference pace, the final recording ended up having no fixed tempo. When it came to recording the orchestra (with added snare drum to give the martial feel the composer wanted), Malet found it a challenge to get the orchestra to mirror this free tempo. However, the hard work paid off: the end results of their efforts is heard in “Chœur Percussions Guerre” and “Generique Fin – Open + Chœur Percussions” and it’s a very memorable piece of music. There is something about the psalm’s melody that makes it immediately memorable and Malet ably compliments this with a driving, rhythmic counterpoint (strings and percussion). “Chœur Percussions Guerre Master” and “Gong Monacal / Chœur Percussions Guerre” both feature what sounds like the orchestra-only accompaniment for the choir’s vocals. Read the rest of this entry »