Angel has had a passion for film scores since her mom accidentally bought her the LOTR: The Two Towers film score CD instead of the DVD.
Essential Max Richter
I have been a fan of neoclassical and minimalist music for quite some time, perhaps first inspired by Philip Glass' Oscar-nominated original score of The Hours in 2002. I was struck by the repetition of heartwrenching melodies and elegant layering of ebbing and flowing arpeggios.
As a young classical musician myself, I was floored by the emotionality that could be drawn out from such simple musical phrasing, and Glass' distinctive style shaped and bolstered my passion for neoclassical music throughout the decades.
My love for his music led me to his predecessors, including Erik Satie and his avant-garde music and absurdism, and his contemporaries, such as Ludovico Einaudi and John Godfrey. It wasn't until college that I discovered Max Richter, whose career in postminimalist music began in the mid-1990s, 30 years after Glass'.
I was working as an usher at a performing arts theater when a Dutch contemporary ballet company came to perform. I'm not a huge fan of contemporary ballet (I prefer classical), but I was utterly spellbound by the performance, primarily because each dance was set to one of Richter's compositions. The performance was mesmerizing.
Max Richter is a classically trained postminimalist and neoclassical composer with a prolific repertoire that includes solo albums, film and television scores, and other collaborative and commissioned works.
It's hard to describe the beauty of his music—you need to hear it for yourself to understand fully. So without further ado, here are 10 of the most beautiful and stirring pieces composed by Max Richter.
10 of Max Richter's Best and Most Emotional Songs
- "Europe, After the Rain" from Memoryhouse
- "November" from Memoryhouse
- "On the Nature of Daylight" from The Blue Notebooks
- "The Trees" from The Blue Notebooks
- "The Quality of Mercy" from The Leftovers (Season 2)
- "On Reflection" from Black Mirror (Season 3)
- "The Journey, Not the Destination" from Black Mirror (Season 3)
- "Never Goodbye" from Hostiles
- "Your Reflection" from My Brilliant Friend
- "Elena & Lila" from My Brilliant Friend
1. "Europe, After the Rain" From Memoryhouse
"Europe, After the Rain" is from Richter's debut album Memoryhouse, released in 2002. The song begins with the sound of a gentle drizzle of rain; then, a poetic, whispered voice says, "Night does away with colors. It lets blaze the color of the soul."
A quiet piano enters, and somewhere along the line, the sound of rain stops and is replaced by an anguished, mournful, crooning stringed instrument joining the piano with a haunting and gloomy yet enchanting melody. No other instruments join, and the sound of rain pattering returns at the end of the piece as the piano slowly fades out—it's wonderful.
2. "November" From Memoryhouse
"November" is from the same album as "Europe, After the Rain," and it, too, begins with the sound of rainfall. Instead of a gentle piano, the first instrument we hear is a small chorus of eerie violins before a solo violin enters, playing majestic arpeggios that become increasingly frantic.
The piece continues to build as more strings enter, eventually crescendoing to a stunning climax that doesn't relinquish its hold until the very end.
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3. "On the Nature of Daylight" From The Blue Notebooks
The Blue Notebooks was Richter's second solo album, which received even more critical acclaim than its predecessor, and was composed as a protest to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. "On the Nature of Daylight" is perhaps the most well-known piece on the album and has been featured in several films, including Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island.
"On the Nature of Daylight" is a study in breathtaking counterpoint and polyphony. It lures the listener into a world of both beauty and pain, hopefulness and anguish. Richter's music is wonderfully cinematic; it enables each listener to crawl inside their own mind and draws out each individual's feelings and memories. "On the Nature of Daylight" is raw emotional intensity in musical form.
4. "The Trees" From The Blue Notebooks
"The Trees" is the album's penultimate track and begins with the sound of a clicking typewriter and a brief narration by actress Tilda Swinton from Miłosz’s Hymn Of The Pearl. A melancholic piano enters, followed by somber strings.
The piece builds in intensity and finishes with a rich, majestic, explosive climax. It's a provocative and dramatic piece from one of the defining albums of postminimalism.
5. "The Quality of Mercy" From The Leftovers
The music Richter composed for the HBO series The Leftovers is a critical part of the storytelling; its haunting themes echo and inspire a range of emotions. The theme is announced by a simple piano and repeated in string quartet form. Richter's minimalist, ambient style perfectly suits the themes of mortality and the meaning of life presented in this show.
"The Quality of Mercy," like many of Richter's works, begins simply, a stringed instrument poses a question, which is then answered by the chiming in of the rest of the quartet. These strings later fade away, making room for a reverberating piano, which repeats the theme and whose simplicity provides a raw, naked emotional quality to the score.
6. "On Reflection" From Black Mirror (Season 3)
"On Reflection," one of Richter's pieces from Black Mirror, once again begins with a simple, elegant piano melody. When the strings join, it is a simple, sweet, and (as always) emotional plea to the listener.
The piano plays the central role in this piece; the strings serve only to pull at the heartstrings—which they do all too well.
7. "The Journey, Not the Destination" From Black Mirror (Season 3)
This piece is a departure from Richter's other works included in this list, primarily because it evokes a different sentiment—one of wistful, contemplative hope. The technological elements of the piece are a nod to Black Mirror's themes, and the dizzying, repetitive electronic tones are not quite joyful but perhaps optimistic and idealistic in a way that is not typically found in Richter's repetitive, minimalist music.
8. "Never Goodbye" From Hostiles
"Never Goodbye" begins with the familiar, tender strains of a piano and builds into arguably one of Richter's most heartbreaking and poignant climaxes. Once again, the fortissimo strings plunge deep into our hearts to pull on our heartstrings. The piece's passion juxtaposed with the eerie, reflective conclusion perfectly captures the raw emotion of this beautifully shot and acted revisionist Western film.
9. "Your Reflection" From My Brilliant Friend
"Your Reflection" needs no accompaniment—it's a solo piano piece that is compelling in a visceral, candid manner. The entire score is quite brilliant in the way that it reflects the oscillating relationship of the show's two main characters; this can be heard in the arpeggiating ebb and flow of the piano's notes.
It is both hopeful—without being joyful or vivacious—and sorrowful, both uncomplicated and transcendental. The rest of the score is worth a listen, too.
10. "Elena & Lila" From My Brilliant Friend
I wanted to close out this list with another melancholy masterpiece from My Brilliant Friend. "Elena & Lila," named after the two main characters of this Italian HBO series, follows the pendulous nature of "Your Reflection." It's even simpler, dreamier, and more melancholic and swells into a fierce yet restrained finale that recalls Richter's beloved strings, which always signal drama and call for emotion.