I always look forward to going back over the past year when trying to finalise my favourite scores for that year but, by the time the process has ended, I am exhausted and glad it’s over! It’s such a difficult job trying to whittle down dozens of scores (usually for each category) into a choice of ten nominations, and then decide which titles comes out on top. But, the decisions have been made and below are the fruits of my deliberations: my favourite scores for 2016.
This year – more than any other – I have found myself shying away from the scores that feature huge orchestras and/or a massive choral presence and being more receptive to the smaller-scale efforts that, to me at least, seen to focus more on the ‘less-is-more’ mantra. It goes without saying that many of the larger-scale projects have some great thematic material and some impressive ideas but the inventiveness of some of the scores that feature a more limited number of instruments has caught my ear and that’s reflected in many of my choices.
I openly admit that most of the choices that I have made are as a result of the effect the music has had on me purely from a listening experience away from the media for which the music was written. And I know that, for some, this will be something that lessens the interest they have for my selections.
But I hope that the regular readers of my blog, and those who have just happened upon this list of quality scores, will find my choices interesting. Having heard well over 500 scores in 2016 I think that music written for film, television and games is in a very healthy place: as well as there being some excellent music for big “blockbusters’ being written by well-established composers, there’s a solid base of talent coming through who are currently writing for lesser-known titles.
OVERALL SCORE OF THE YEAR 2016
- SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS (Ilan Eshkeri)
- Dofus Livre 1: Julith (Guillaume Houzé)
- Nocturnal Animals (Abel Korzeniowski)
- The Childhood of a Leader (Scott Walker)
- The Witch (Mark Korven)
Ilan Eshkeri’s score for Philippa Lowthorpe’s adaptation of the Arthur Ransome classic, Swallows and Amazons, is a much-needed tonic for what’s happening in the world at the moment. Hearing Eshkeri’s score immediately reminds me of those impossibly ideal scenes of more innocent times, with children playing in the country on warm sunny days and using their imagination to conjure wonderful worlds and exotic vistas. I have to admit that I have not seen this movie but in some ways I don’t need to: the composer’s talent is so strong that everything is contained in his music. Swallows and Amazons brings back all those childhood memories – at least all those memories of seeing (or reading) this kind of idyllic living being portrayed in the screen or the printed page. It’s a warm and enjoyable piece of music and how it makes me feel is what puts it at the top of my list for 2016.
BEST SCORE – DRAMA
- THE CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER (Scott Walker)
- 93 Days (George Kallis)
- Cézanne et Moi (Éric Neveux)
- Brothers of the Wind (Sarah Class)
- Nocturnal Animals (Abel Korzeniowski)
Scott Walker’s The Childhood of a Leader, a film set in France in the late 1910s during the rise of fascism, is not an easy listen. Threatening to be completely over-the-top, Walker’s score is a powerful creation, using a limited range of instruments to great effect and creating an ominous and terrifying listening experience. One that lingers in the memory long after the final bars conclude.
George Kallis’ score for the Nigerian thriller 93 Days delivers thematic poignancy and solid action scoring in equal measure that confirms the composer’s talents heard earlier in scores such as Gagarin: First In Space. Éric Neveux’s elegant score for the historical drama, Cézanne et Moi, is a lovely intimate score that uses the elements of a small orchestra to great effect. Sarah Class’ Brothers of the Wind (Wie Brüder Im Wind) is a lyrical, beautiful work that amply reflects the film’s subject matter. Nocturnal Animals (Abel Korzeniowski) is an expressive piece that showcases the composer’s talents at conveying the film’s underlying emotions.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Capsule (Hugo de Chaire & Jim Barne), Gernika (Fernando Velázquez), Maresia (Stefano Lentini), The Handmaiden (Ah-Ga-Ssi) (Yeong-wook Jo) and The Vessel (Hanan Townshend).
BEST SCORE – ACTION / ADVENTURE / THRILLER
- SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS (Ilan Eshkeri)
- Elle (Anne Dudley)
- Panfilov’s 28 (Mikhail Kostylev)
- The Finest Hours (Carter Burwell & Philip Klein)
- Viking (Викинг) (Igor Matvienko)
A sense of those sunny school summer holidays, and spending hours on end playing in the country with no care in the world, hangs heavy in Ilan Eshkeri’s thematically-driven score for Swallows and Amazons. Eshkeri has tapped into the childhood of the listener and created such an immersive musical world with the sound of the score.
Mikhail Kostylev’s Panfilov’s 28 (28 Панфиловцев) and Igor Matvienko’s Viking (Викинг) highlight some of the excellent film music coming out of Russia. Drawing from more traditional Russian music, both scores offer some exciting action scoring that matches the quality heard on much of Hollywood’s output. Carter Burwell’s The Finest Hours (co-composed by Philip Klein) showcases action scoring Hollywood style and balances out the listening experience with quieter more emotional pieces. Altogether more tense in style, Anne Dudley’s Elle combines beauty, melody and anxiety for this European thriller.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Birkebeinerne (The Last King) (Gaute Storaas), Irréprochable (Zombie Zombie), Jack the Ripper: Eine Frau Jagt Einen Mörder (Egon Riedel), The Monkey King 2: The Legend Begins (Xi You Ji Zhi: Sun Wukong San Da Baigu Jing) (Christopher Young) and Zipi Y Zape Y La Isla Del Capitán (Zip and Zap and The Captain’s Island) (Fernando Velázquez).
BEST SCORE – FANTASY / SCI-FI / HORROR
- THE WITCH (Mark Korven)
- A Monster Calls (Fernando Velázquez)
- Night of a 1000 Hours (Siegfried Friedrich)
- Pete’s Dragon (Daniel Hart)
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Michael Giacchino)
Mark Korven’s The Witch is a wonderfully atmospheric score that uses an unusual mix of solo instruments and unusual vocal effects that works wonderfully well at creating a tense and horrific mood – even in isolation from the movie. Very much a dissonant score, Not confined to creating a complex musical palette for the horror elements of the film, Korven also creates a feel for old folk-lore and traditional music that gives the whole score a ‘history’ back to the dark ages.
Dissonance features strongly in Siegfried Friedrich’s score for the supernatural whodunit Night of a 1000 Hours (Die Nacht Der 1000 Stunden), one of the most inventive scores of 2016. Fernando Velázquez and Daniel Hart’s scores for A Monster Calls and Pete’s Dragon, respectively, features music that covers a whole number of emotions. Hart’s charming score in particular offers some lovely orchestral passages and is one of the surprises of the year. Michael Giacchino’s score for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a great balance between giving a nod to the musical world for Star Wars established by the great John Williams and writing a score that has his own mark. It’s a remarkable achievement in the limited time Giacchino had to compose the score for the much-anticipated movie.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (James Newton Howard), Smaragdgrün (Emerald Green) (Philipp F. Kölmel), Star Trek Beyond (Michael Giacchino), The Curse of Sleeping Beauty (Scott Glasgow) and The Mind’s Eye (Steve Moore).
BEST SCORE – COMEDY
- TENANTS (Spencer Creaghan)
- Cuerpo de Élite (Vicente Ortiz Gimeno)
- I Am Not Madame Bovary (Du Wei)
- Tordenskjold & Kold (Henrik Skram)
- Zoolander No.2 (Theodore Shapiro)
Composer Spencer Creaghan’s score for the Canadian thriller-comedy, Tenants, plays very straight and with very little comedic writing. Very involving, Creaghan’s score veers wildly between nods to Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith for its action scoring and more restrained and emotional piano solos, and all coming together for a strong album.
Vicente Ortiz Gimeno’s score for the Spanish action-comedy, Cuerpo de Élite (Heroes Wanted), delivers a full-on action score that’s pumped full of adrenaline and Theodore Shapiro’s Zoolander No.2 and Henrik Skram’s score for the Scandinavian comedy, Tordenskjold & Kold, are both entertaining with their enthusiasm to creating distinctive musical voices. Skram’s score in particular embraces the comedy genre with its fun use of various parts of the orchestra. Du Wei’s score for the Chinese satirical comedy, I Am Not Madame Bovary (Wo Bu Shi Pan Jin Lian), mixes string orchestra and ethnic colours to produce a dramatic rather than comedic score.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Eddie the Eagle (Matthew Margeson), En Man Som Heter Ove (A Man Called Ove) (Gaute Storaas), Hail, Caesar! (Carter Burwell), Les Visiteurs: La Révolution (Eric Lévi) and The Nice Guys (John Ottman & David Buckley).
BEST SCORE – ANIMATION
- DOFUS – LIVRE 1: JULITH (Guillaume Houzé)
- Bilal: A New Breed of Hero (Atli Örvarsson)
- Kubo and The Two Strings (Dario Marianelli)
- La Jeune Fille Sans Mains (Olivier Mellano)
- La Tortue Rouge (Laurent Perez del Mar)
Guillaume Houzé’s exciting and varied score for the French animation, Dofus – Livre 1: Julith, is full of magic and energy and a dynamism that is fuelled by the composer’s deft interplay of bold orchestral action scoring and smaller-scale ensemble writing.
Atli Örvarsson’s Bilal: A New Breed of Hero and Dario Marianelli’s Kubo and The Two Strings are both impressive scores with Marianelli’s score adding Oriental colours to support the title character’s quest. The dialogue-free movie La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle) features a varied score from French composer Laurent Perez del Mar that’s both light and dark, dramatic and emotional and La Jeune Fille Sans Mains (The Girl Without Hands) – a very stylised animated version of a Brothers Grimm fairytale – features a strong score from Olivier Mellano that’s dominated by the guitar.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Louise En Hiver (Pierre Kellner & Pascal Le Pennec), Moana (Mark Mancina), Open Season: Scared Silly (Rupert Gregson-Williams & Dominic Lewis), Sausage Party (Alan Menken & Christopher Lennertz) and Trolls (Christophe Beck).
BEST SCORE – DOCUMENTARY
- THE IVORY GAME (H. Scott Salinas)
- Dracula Between Crosses (Peter Roe)
- Les Saisons (Bruno Coulais)
- Planet Earth II (Jacob Shea, Jasha Klebe & Hans Zimmer)
- Tale of a Lake (Panu Aaltio)
The sombre but beautiful score for The Ivory Game, a hard-hitting film on the plight of the elephant in the face of the illegal ivory trade of Africa, gives us one of H. Scott Salinas’ strongest pieces of work. Sweeping passages reminiscent of the grandest BBC nature documentaries mix with tense moments of a modern-day thriller to create strong winner in this category.
Bruno Coulais’ Les Saisons (Seasons), Panul Aaltio’s Tale of a Lake (Järven Tarina) and trio Jacob Shea, Jasha Klebe and Hans Zimmer’s Planet Earth II also use sweeping orchestra to showcase the many highlights of the natural world whilst Peter Roe’s score for Istorii Despre Vlad Voievod Drăculea (Dracula Between Crosses), a Romanian drama-documentary biopic of Vlad Țepeș (Vlad the Impaler), gives substance to the dramatized portions of the movie.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: 1916: The Irish Rebellion (Patrick Cassidy), A Good American (Christopher Slaski & Guy Farley), City of Gold (Bobby Johnston), Only the Dead See the End of War (Michael Yezerski) and The First Monday in May (Ian Hultquist & Sofia Hultquist).
BEST SCORE – TELEVISION
- WAR & PEACE (Martin Phipps)
- Bana Sevmeyi Anlat (Season 1) (Toygar Işıklı)
- Game of Thrones (Season 6) (Ramin Djawadi)
- In Plain Sight (Nina Humphreys)
- Penny Dreadful (Season 3) (Abel Korzeniowski)
Contrasting a distinctive Russian choral sound with electronics, Martin Phipp’s score for War & Peace shies away from the expected classical period drama music and makes the score surprisingly modern sounding. Grand choral passages and more intimate solo vocalists (male and female) gives the score a feel that sets it apart from most other scores of 2016.
Bana Sevmeyi Anlat is a Turkish family drama series and features a small ensemble score written by prolific composer Toygar Işıklı that sweeps the listener along with pace and energy. Ramin Djawadi and Abel Korzeniowski continue to be inspired by strong TV dramas Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful, respectively and British composer Nina Humphreys gives a powerful voice to the police drama, In Plain Sight, where she gets into the mind of a serial killer with a moody and dark score.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: American Horror Story: Roanoke (Mac Quayle), Shizumanu Taiyô (The Never-Setting Sun) (Season 1) (Naoki Sato), Stranger Things (Season 1) (Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein), The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (Dan Jones) and The Night Manager (Victor Reyes).
BEST SCORE – SHORT FILM
- PIXEL SOLDIER (Alex Ball & Scott Hazell)
- Baraka (Marcos Cruz)
- Introspection (HOENIX)
- Kiss the Devil in the Dark (Gerrit Wunder)
- Trace (Kristian Brastein & Thomas Tøndelstrand)
Pixel Soldiers, composed by composing duo Alex Ball and Scott Hazell, is a witty and inventive score for a short animated film that follows a close-knit unit of soldiers sent behind enemy lines. Although not ground-breaking as a score, the ideas behind the actual use of the music and how it mirrors the on-screen action turns this into a very commendable piece of work.
Marcos Cruz’s atmospheric score is tinged with ethnic strings and percussion in the Spanish film, Baraka, which is set in Iraq, whilst Trace (Kristian Brastein & Thomas Tøndelstrand) features an abrasive score for the short film set in the Viking age. HOENIX’s score for the short documentary, Introspection, uses synths and orchestral elements to support some stunning images of the Earth. Gerrit Wunder’s thematic score for the fantasy-horror film, Kiss the Devil in the Dark, is a strong orchestral score that would be just as well suited for any feature film.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Beyond (Siddhartha Barnhoorn), Creatures of Whitechapel (Gerrit Wunder), Harbinger (Arlin Tawzer), Reborn (Raphael Sommer) and Vive Solo Chi Si Muove! (Kristian Sensini).
BEST SCORE – INTERACTIVE GAME
- SEASONS AFTER FALL (Yann van der Cruyssen)
- Battlefield 1 (Johan Söderqvist & Patrik Andrén)
- Firewatch (Chris Remo)
- Owlboy (Jonathan Geer)
- ReCore (Chad Seiter)
Yann van der Cruyssen’s string ensemble score for the gentle platformer, Seasons After Fall, echoes the adventures of the game’s fox protagonist and captures the character’s enthusiasm and innocence. A myriad of string playing techniques add such variety to the 40+ tracks to create a whole that rarely disappoints.
Johan Söderqvist & Patrik Andrén’s Battlefield 1 and Chad Seiter’s ReCore are both impressive bold and brassy orchestral scores with Seiter’s score featuring a strong choral and electric guitars for added variety. Jonathan Geer’s Owlboy impresses with its myriad of styles (including chiptune-influenced tracks) for this retro-style platformer. Chris Remo’s generally slow-paced guitar-centred score for the story-driven, first-person adventure Firewatch sets the atmosphere for the game perfectly and gives a sense of the hot summer over which the game’s story unfolds.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Anima: Gate of Memories (Damián Sánchez), Minecraft: Chinese Mythology (Gareth Coker), Offworld Trading Company (Christopher Tin), The Last Guardian (Takeshi Furukawa) and World War Toons (Kevin Smithers).
BEST SCORE – OTHER MEDIA
- INFINITE (Mike Raznick)
- Outside (Maximilien Mathevon)
- Reality Check (Wojciech Golczewski)
- Ren: The Girl with the Mark (Rob Westwood)
Mike Raznick’s album, Infinite – featuring music for a cancelled project – is an impressive score that touches on despair, loneliness and despair and features live strings, vocals and other soloists to create a world that deserved to see the light of day. The music leaves a very positive feel in the listener despite the themes that are covered.
Polish film and TV composer Wojciech Golczewski’s Reality Checks is an album full of catchy synth tracks that would fit well with the horror/sci-fi movies of the 1980s. Rob Westwood’s score for Ren: The Girl with the Mark, a web-based drama series, relies on more traditional orchestral scoring to support the drama and adds ethnic elements to create a sense of place for the music. Maximilien Mathevon’s Outside draws inspiration from the feelings and emotions felt by the weather he sees from his window and giving rise to an album of catchy electronica.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Enemy of Rome (Oz Nelson), Fall of Gods: She Is Gone (François Jolin), Rabbit & Rogue (Danny Elfman), Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall (Sean Beeson), Tales of the Forgotten: Episode 2 – Unexpected Guests (Dylan C. Jones & Piyatut “Bill” Hemstapat).
BEST SCORE – ARCHIVAL
- SEVEN (1995) (Howard Shore) (Howe Records)
- Hellboy (2004) (Marco Beltrami) (Varèse Sarabande)
- Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (Jerry Goldsmith) (Intrada Records)
- Starship Troopers (1997) (Basil Poledouris) (Varèse Sarabande)
- The Terminator (1984) (Brad Fiedel) (Milan Records)
The long wait to hear Howard Shore’s score for Seven is finally over! Shore’s score captures precisely the darker and most evil aspects of human society, creating an atmosphere that is suffocating in the extreme. Fearing that the entire score would never see an official release, it took more than 20 years for this release to finally happen and now we can hear Shore’s challenging score in all its glory.
2016 saw a whole series of iconic scores receiving the expanded release treatment. Brad Fiedel’s The Terminator, Jerry Goldsmith’s Rambo: First Blood Part II, Basil Poledouris’ Starship Troopers, and Marco Beltrami’s Hellboy are all scores that feature memorable thematic material and have all benefited from being heard in these expanded forms – much to the delight of film score enthusiasts everywhere.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Space:1999 (Year Two) (1976) (David Wadsworth), Spazio 1999 (1975) (Ennio Morricone), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) (Miklós Rózsa), The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) (Stomu Yamash’ta & John Phillips) and The Ten Commandments (1956) (Elmer Bernstein).
BEST SCORE – ARCHIVAL (DIGITAL)
- THE DRUMMER (2007) (Andre Matthias) (Score and More Music)
- Don Juan En Los Infiernos (1991) (Alejandro Massó) (Milan Sur)
- Finnlandia (2001) (Wilhelm Stegmeier) (Wilhelm Stegmeier/Bandcamp)
- Preston Tylk (Bad Seed) (2000) (Kurt Kuenne) (Kurt Kuenne)
- Shadowboxing (2005) (Alexei Shelygin) (M2BA)
Andre Matthais’ The Drummer (Zhan. Gu) features an impressive mix of solo cello, ethnic instruments (including woodwinds) and taiko drums to create a believable sonic vista to accompany the East Asian movie. Both contemplative and action-based when required, Matthais’ score appears to successfully convey the journey of the main characters in this film that I have yet to catch.
Alejandro Massó score for the romantic drama Don Juan En Los Infiernos (Don Juan In Hell) features a number of classically-inspired cues that appears to add a stately air to the latter years of Don Juan. In Finnlandia, Wilhelm Stegmeier’s uses the orchestra to great effect, with sombre strings keeping the mood in keeping with a movie whose subject is the reconstruction of a woman’s life after the death of her husband. Kurt Kuenne’s score for the mystery thriller Preston Tylk (Bad Seed) is an impressive blend of conventional thriller scoring, inventive orchestral ideas and beautiful wordless choral passages. Alexei Shelygin’s score for the Russian sports drama, Shadowboxing (Бой С Тенью), features a catchy mix of orchestra and contemporary rock and pop influences.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Battle For Sevastopol (Битва За Севастополь) (2015) (Evgueni Galperine), Il Cantico Di Maddalena (2011) (Marco Marcuzzi), Mia et Le Migou (2008) (Serge Besset), Swung (2015) (Richard Harvey & Alex Menzies) and Woodlawn (2015) (Paul Mills).
BEST SCORE – NEW RECORDING
- THE BLUE MAX (1966) (Jerry Goldsmith) (Tadlow Music)
- Gojira (1954) (Akira Ifukube) (King Records)
- Planet of the Apes (1968) (Jerry Goldsmith) (Pithikos Entertainment)
- The Thief of Bagdad (1940) (Miklós Rózsa) (Prometheus Records/Tadlow Music)
- Zur Chronik Von Grieshuus (1925) (Gottfried Huppertz) (Pan Classics)
Once again, the combination of Tadlow Music and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (under the baton of Nic Raine) have excelled once again in bringing to life a classic film score. Jerry Goldsmith’s The Blue Max has never sounded better and now, thanks to all concerned, the subtleties of Goldsmith’s score can now be heard.
As if The Blue Max was not enough, the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Tadlow Music (this time in partnership with Prometheus Records) have also given us the world premiere of the complete score for Miklós Rózsa’s The Thief of Bagdad. As with Goldsmith’s score, the excellent music composed for The Thief of Bagdad can now be appreciated in a way that is impossible from listening to versions of the score available up to the point of this release. Arguably the more important release of the two Tadlow Music were involved in in 2016, it’s a landmark recording for a landmark score. Akira Ifukube’s Gojira (Godzilla) and Gottfried Huppertz’s Zur Chronik Von Grieshuus (The Chronicles of the Gray House) are other notable titles to receive impressive re-recordings in 2016. The new recording of Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic score for Planet of the Apes is particularly notable for the use of the various percussion instruments that featured on the original motion picture soundtrack.