This work was recorded with 4 live orchestral instruments: Violin, Cello, Clarinet and Harp. The recording sessions for this work took place on Jan 12th and I had one week to deliver the final mix. The musicians involved were provided with a score to sight-read and did a pretty good job while the sound engineer very efficiently managed to get a nice and warm sound, different mic choices and the less possible amount of click spill from the headphones.
This score focuses on the central idea of ostinato. The word ‘ostinato’ in Italian means obstinate, stubborn and in my reading of this scene, this concept seems to be germane to both the main characters: Alexander and Natalia.
Alexander is experiencing a nervous breakdown, which culminates in a psychotic and obsessive behaviour. One of the main characteristics of this kind of behaviour is the stubborn repetition of an action, which is reiterated in order to obtain a result that is in fact unrealistic. On the other hand, Natalia is in her way obsessive because she thinks that Alexander may overcome his mental illness, marry her and have a ‘normal’ life. Furthermore, there is a third character in this scene: the tenacious young Alexander who flees from his father in order to keep playing chess.
Musically speaking, I used a one-note ostinato in the Harp (mixed in the background and acting as a ‘disturbing mantra’) throughout the first part of the cue. This repeated note suggests the obsessive nature of Alexander’s thoughts (i.e. the echoing voices of his father and of his chess teacher resonating in his mind). On the other hand, there is also an element of freedom to this scene: the young Alexander who eventually runs free in the woods.
The first cue focuses on the transformation of the one-note ostinato into the ‘child motif’, which appears in the Harp part at 2:10. This transformation coincides with Alexander’s decision to jump off the window in order to ‘win’ his final game (marked by the words “let’s start, if you’re willing”): he has to sacrifice the ‘king’ in order to metaphorically win the game, overcome his obsessions and be free again. While there is a textural crescendo from 2:33 onwards, which underlines the anxious nature of this scene, the ostinatos and the harmony are constructed on the ‘child motif’. Resolving in A Lydian on a superposition of four different rhythmical interpretations of this motif, the music suggests that in fact Alexander’s troubled mind has now been put at rest and he has returned to his previous state of innocence and freedom.
By contrast, Natasha’s obsession is expressed with an octave ostinato. This appears first in the pizzicato figure between Violin and Cello when she appears on screen for the first time and later on it will be the core of the second cue. In this cue, the octave ostinato is reversed and appears almost continuously in the Harp part. Later on, when she finds out that Alexander is dead, this ostinato is transformed into ‘Natasha’s theme of grief’, which is similar to the ‘child motif’, but it is descending and formed of 3 notes only. It appears in the lower part of the texture at 3:21 as a dramatic statement, while we can see Natasha discovering her fiancée’s death. Her facial expressions suggest at a first glance terror, then horror and successively despair. This rapid change in her response to the tragic event is accompanied by the drastic changes of register in the Violin part (3:44 - 3:48).
The scene in which she reaches for the glass king is of central importance: the choice of orchestrating the melody (‘Natasha’s theme of grief’) with a Violin pizzicato at 4:23 therefore is not unintentional. In effect, my aim was to express Natasha’s feeling of loss with a timbre that is at the same time stinging and fleeting, ephemeral. In the funeral scene, Natasha’s motif has been orchestrated for Violin and Cello harmonics and Clarinet playing in subtones. This was made to give a sense of distance and loneliness, thus the use of such a wide reverb and low dynamics.
In conclusion, the final stage of this score was not radically different from its mock-up: I did not add any MIDI instrument to the score and kept the chamber instrumentation because in my opinion it helped the temporal localisation of the scene.
What is more, the use of a limited palette of sounds allowed me to focus on different playing techniques and timbres (bisbigliando, tremolo, harmonics, etc.) in order to obtain variety to the constant repetition of the ostinatos. However, I had to rethink some passages of the initial score due to the inevitable performance issues of a live recording (for example, in the end I had to change my initial plan of using Violin staccato off the string during the crescendo to the window scene) and I had to make some adjustments in order to balance some of the parts due to the obvious difference in dynamic response between sampled and real instruments.