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Memoirs of a Geisha

Sony Classical (0828767470825)
Sony Classical (0828767785721)
Sony Classical (886975628421)
Movie | Released: 2005 | Film release: 2005 | Format: CD, Download

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# Track   Duration
1.Sayuri's Theme1:31
2.The Journey to the Hanamachi4:06
3.Going to School2:42
4.Brush on Silk2:31
5.Chiyo's Prayer3:36
6.Becoming a Geisha4:52
7.Finding Satsu3:44
8.The Chairman's Waltz2:39
9.The Rooftops of the Hanamachi3:49
10.The Garden Meeting2:44
11.Dr. Crab's Prize2:18
12.Destiny's Path3:20
13.A New Name... A New Life3:33
14.The Fire Scene and the Coming of War6:48
15.As the Water...2:01
17.A Dream Discarded2:00
18.Sayuri's Theme and End Credits5:06
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Memoirs of a Geisha - 08/10 - Review of Andreas Lindahl, submitted at
The cinematic adaptation of Arthur Golden's successful novel Memoirs of a Geisha has been on Steven Spielberg and John Williams' to do-list for many years, constantly delayed due to other projects. In the end, however, Spielberg ended up producing the film, instead of directing it - a job which went to Rob Marshall (best known for Chicago, from 2002) - but, thankfully, with John Williams still attached as the film's composer. And, together with two of the most famous soloists the classical world has to offer today - violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma - Williams has delivered a charming and beautiful score, that probably will be his ticket to next year's Academy Awards.

With Williams collaborating with Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma, parallels can, and will, of course be made between Memoirs of a Geisha and the composer's scores for Schindler's List and Seven Years in Tibet. The first, which featured Perlman on the violin, is one of Williams's best scores ever, while the latter - with cello solos by Yo-Yo Ma - perhaps isn't one of the composer's stronger, or more memorable, efforts, despite its gorgeous main theme. And similarities to Seven Years in Tibet can be found. Partly because of Yo-Yo Ma's contribution, of course, but also because Williams in Memoirs of a Geisha at times leans towards musical ideas - and above all harmonies - found in that score. Not so surprising, perhaps.

The score for Memoirs of a Geisha is a very serious piece of music and probably as far as one can possibly come from the bombastic music most people think of when Williams's name is mentioned. It's restrained, beautiful and at times introvert and minimalistic. Were it not for Yo-Yo Ma's cello and Perlman's violin, the music would probably have seemed a little cold, detached and lifeless, but the solo instruments adds a lot of colour and warmth to the music - in a sense they give the music its life and its heart.

The theme for the film's main character, Sayuri, is a lovely and beautiful piece, which holds a lot of sadness, mostly due to the fact that it usually is carried by the solo cello. Its appearance in cues like the wonderful "Becoming a Geisha" and the absolutely gorgeous "Confluence", where the theme is reprised by the entire orchestra, in one final and powerful statement, are all highlights. The score's secondary theme is dominated by Perlman's violin and appears in full in "The Chairman's Waltz" and this is where Schindler's List comes to mind at times. With the same composer and the same soloist, the music is bound to evoke memories of past collaborations.

Mostly very relaxed and intimate, some darkness and tension creeps in from time to time. "Destiny's Path" is a rythmic piece, with lots of ostinatos and repeated patterns, similar to parts of Williams's score for A.I. and some of Philip Glass's music, and the seven minutes long "The Fire Scene and the Coming of War" introduces the listener to syncopated percussion - timpani and woodblocks among other things - and dissonance, as well as excerpts from the Japanese traditional song "Ogi No Mato".

The ethnic influences are plentiful, of course, and Williams makes use of shakuhachi (performed by Masakazu Yoshizawa), koto (provided by Masayo Ishigure and Hiromi Hashibe), erhu (by Karen Han) and many other Japanese instruments, in lots of tracks. Over all, Memoirs of a Geisha is a successful blend of East and West, and of new and old. "Going to School" is a perfect example - a nice mix of solo violin and Asian instruments and harmonies. Also, parts of the score actually sounds genuinely Asian, such as the charming "Brush on Silk".
Memoirs of a Geisha - 09/10 - Review of Tom Daish, submitted at
Another week, another John Williams score. 2005 has been an embarrassment of riches for Williams fans with four scores - the other two for Spielberg and a final trip to Lucasland - the composer's busiest film composing year since the early 70's. Of the four, Memoirs of a Geisha is perhaps the only one he wasn't pre-destined to score, indeed there is some suggestion that he actively pursued the assignment, although with Spielberg as one of the producers, it probably wasn't difficult to persuade Rob Marshall (director of Chicago) to have Williams on board. In any event, when Hollywood's top composer comes calling, it would be churlish to decline.

Jerry Goldsmith had few peers when it came to integrating asian styles into his music, one need only think of Mulan as one of the finest (treated so badly on the Disney disc) but Williams is not perhaps generally renowned for scores that evoke another culture, if only because he is rarely called to do so. However, with Seven Years in Tibet, in particular, he carefully captured the essence of Tibetan music, while finely blending it with his style. The results are unmistakable Williams, but with multiple passages of surprising authenticity. For Memoirs of a Geisha, the focus is on Japanese music, although there are numerous regional commonalities between the two.

Memoirs of a Geisha is based around two outstanding themes, Sayuri's and the Chairman's Waltz. The former is given to Yo-Yo Ma, who made such an impact on Seven Years in Tibet's score. While not native to the region, the cello seems especially well suited to oriental music, especially the use of portamento (sliding from one note to another). While it is a touch unfortunate that the theme track for Sayuri is rather brief, this is compensated by its inclusion, in subtle guises throughout; an upbeat and playful variation in Going to School, while strident and sweeping in Becoming a Geisha and the End Credits. The Chairman's Waltz is given to Itzhak Perlman whose peerless playing is as perfect an addition here as it was in Schindler's List.

Anyone expecting the epic sweep of Seven Years in Tibet is likely to be disappointed as Memoirs of a Geisha is one of his most restrained scores. Numerous tracks are scored for a small ensemble of authentic instruments, bouncing off one another and Ma's cello. Indeed it bears greater comparison to his Cello Concerto, albeit with an oriental flavour. Repeat listens bring to light the subtle uses of his major thematic material, developing it into a myriad of second motifs. Although his dramatic scores can be a little bombastic, nothing could be further from the truth here and one suspects that those accustomed to his larger than life scores will find Memoirs of a Geisha a little slow moving, but for those who revel in delicacy and beauty, there is ample to savour.
Golden Globes: Best Original Score (Winner)
Oscars: Best Original Score (Nominee)

This soundtrack trailer contains music of:

The Last Samurai (2003), Hans Zimmer (Movie)
Restoration (1995), James Newton Howard (Movie)

Other releases of Memoirs of a Geisha (2005):

Sayuri (2005)
Memoirs of a Geisha (2008)
TributeTo John Williams: An 80th Birthday Tribute, A (2012)
Memoirs of a Geisha (2016)
Memoirs of a Geisha (2020)

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