THE ASPERN PAPERS – Alexander Lasarenko

Original Review by Alan Rogers

A young American publisher heads off to the jungles of Venezuela in search of the manuscripts of poet Jeffery Aspern. He meets an old lover of Aspern’s who he believes holds the dead poet’s papers. Adapted from a novella by Henry James, The Aspern Papers marks the feature film debut of director Mariana Hellmund. A story that examines the issues raised when a biographer pries into the private life of their subject, Hellmund asks composer Alexander Lasarenko to compose a score that adds emotional depth to the story. Composed primarily for piano and acoustic guitar, and featuring additional colours from a small string ensemble and light percussion (hand drums), Lasarenko’s score is based around achingly beautiful melody that is heard in a number of variations throughout the score.

The album begins with “The Aspern Papers Theme” which states the score’s theme in full. We first we hear a piano establishing a repeating motif over which the theme proper is heard. This first statement of the theme has a sense of sadness and regret associated with it. This feeling is suggested partly by Lasarenko’s theme being played on solo strings and recorded as a piece of source music from the dilapidated Venezuelan hacienda where the majority of the film is set. As the cue progresses, the theme is taken over by a string ensemble and a percussion rhythm (establishing further the film’s location). Lasarenko uses the theme in various ways to suggest different key moments in the film: solo piano plays the theme against sustained string ensemble lines in “Juliana’s Deathbed” reflecting the life ebbing away from Juliana, Jeffery Aspern’s lover. And a halting statement of the theme on solo piano in the track “Juliana Bourdereau’s Gone” suggests the sadness of the loss of Juliana, perhaps the last link to Aspern (the person and his personal effects)? 

Even tracks that do not feature the melody proper, contains music that still hints at the main theme – it’s as though the spirit of Aspern (or his papers) are watching over the unfolding events. For example, the track “There is no pleasure in this house” (a cue that is remarkably upbeat considering the track’s title) could at any moment launch into a statement of the title theme. The lightness of the score continues with “Bringing The Garden Back To Life”. But, this time, we do hear the main theme played on piano and in quite a happy form. The lightness of these tracks are perhaps associated with the naïve character Tita (the light, optimistic air of the music continues into “Spending The Day With Tita”).

Rounding off the album there are several source music tracks featuring rhythmic percussion and extraneous sounds such as ocean waves and/or clapping (e.g., “The Drummers of Choroni” and “Dance On The Beach”). The album ends with “The Aspern Papers”, a track that features various statements of the main theme in a variety of orchestrations. These variations are all set to a slow-tempo drum beat and various synth effects that actually rather spoil the emotional power established in the score (this is also true for the source cues). Although there are some interesting versions of the theme heard in “The Aspern Papers” I would have preferred the album to have ended my listen with the the previous track, “Jeffrey Aspern’s Portrait”, preserving the feel of the score set up by the main theme.

The Aspern Papers is another example of a score that has much to offer the “off-roading” film music enthusiast. The primary theme is a simple one, not overly orchestrated but is nicely put together and is quite memorable. The score is a short one (just over 30 minutes in length) and is long enough to give a worthwhile listening experience. Alexander Lasarenko is a composer who I have not come across before, but his music for The Aspern Papers suggests that he may be worth following in the future. The Aspern Papers is available as a digital download from a variety of online digital stores.

Audio samples can be found HERE and then click on blue arrow next to running time for samples of entire album or individual tracks.

Rating: **½

  1. The Aspern Papers Theme (3:54)
  2. Drive To The Hacienda (1:13)
  3. The First Visit (1:58)
  4. There Is No Pleasure In This House (1:09)
  5. The Drummers of Choroni (1:14)
  6. Bringing The Garden Back To Life (3:44)
  7. Waiting (1:11)
  8. Spending The Day With Tita (2:11)
  9. Juliana’s Deathbed (1:17)
  10. Pray For Her Soul (1:38)
  11. Juliana Bourdereau’s Gone (3:23)
  12. If We Were Family (2:37)
  13. Dance On The Beach (1:24)
  14. Jeffrey Aspern’s Portrait (1:08)
  15. The Aspern Papers (3:27)

Running Time: 31:34

TONAL, Inc, (2011)

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