Arrival soundtrack composer Max Richter’s beautiful new record is a tragic ode to author Virginia Woolf [Review]

Arrival soundtrack composer Max Richter’s beautiful new record is a tragic ode to author Virginia Woolf [Review]

Max Richter has been spearheading the neo-classical movement since the early 2000’s, often lending his music to TV, film and theatre - recent projects include Black Mirror and blockbusters The Testament of Youth and Arrival. His latest release is Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works, written for the Royal Opera House ballet inspired by author Virginia Woolf.

The opening segment relates to her book, Mrs Dalloway, features sombre piano repetitions over a grounded bass. Each track flourishes with melodic solo strings, while the dynamics subtly build. The gradual swells and large intervals of War Anthem feel similar to the Inception soundtrack, and opener Words includes bell chimes of Big Ben as well as a rare recording of Virginia Woolf speaking on a 1930’s radio broadcast.


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Richter is known to dabble with electronics too, as seen in the Orlando section of the ballet. Modular Astronomy pairs staccato strings with trembling synthesiser rhythms, creating a sinister and tense atmosphere. Genesis Of Poetry and Persistence Of Images delve even further, with arpeggiated and tremolo synths intertwining with space echo sounds and cerebral strings.

In closing piece The Waves, Richter creates a submersive atmosphere, with crashing waves, a distant soprano voice, mournful strings and a spoken account of Woolf’s last note to her husband before her untimely death. The result is incredibly moving.

Richter effortlessly merges aspects of Woolf’s works with her personal life, creating a compelling experience for the listener, pulling them in many emotional directions. Even outside its intended setting, this may be his greatest work yet.

Edited by Sam Gusway

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