When I sit down to write a review I usually attempt to formulate my thoughts into an appropriate analogy that structures a loose thesis explaining, in general terms, why I think an album is successful or not. Usually it’s built around some sort of fleeting moment I had while listening to the music, or an unseen connection. Considering the majority of the past month for me has consisted of studying for various exams, which are really impossible to study for (I mean, you either get scansion, or you don’t), any clever analogy I can impart on Rachel’s Music For Egon Schiele
would not be clever at all; I would just be boring you. Instead, what I will do is try to capture a photograph for you of a moment I had, just the other night:
I sit at my kitchen table, the varnish table like rolling waves of blackened knots on a dark cherry finish, staring at some forced critique of The Wasteland
. It is just after midnight and my house slumbers with my family. Outside spring has caught up to us, so after a week of unseasonably warm weather, we are treated to lashing winds and pelts of rain that tap on the kitchen window like stones of a lover lost at sea. The hanging lamp that dangles precariously over the kitchen table is like a lonely beacon to safely guide that lover in. The light stretches down onto my paper and skirts odd shadows where the pages bend and crinkle. Two hanging ferns populate the opening of the half wall that looks into the living room, dark and empty from what I can see. Yet I can only see half of it and I imagine looming in the space beyond my eye, a pair of dancers clad in wear of the 1930's. They shift boundlessly through the dark room, the creaks of the floor boards like a cracked waltz, they close in for an embrace and.... and what was I doing" Oh yes, studying poetics.
This is what Rachel’s Music for Egon Schiele
does, for I was at that moment listening to “Egon & Wally Embrace and Say Farewell”. It’s an album that is cinematic in the truest sense– not a just a series of pretty chords sustained for any given emotion. This has melody that both parallels and counterpoints imagery. As it was commissioned to score a ballet production based on the life of Austrian artist Egon Schiele, such attributes are to be expected. It builds up emotions before manipulating them into something else. Forget modern notions of “cinematic”, think along the lines of the great film composers: Korngold, Walton, Barber. For this reason the album succeeds without a matching set of images to accompany listens. It remains an interesting listen from a technical standpoint, while remaining simple and beautiful to be simply swept away by it. These pieces, for strings and piano mainly, are composed by skilled musicians that results in an album of immense catharsis.
The violin and cello often steal the show, as with the heart wrenching “Wally, Egon & Models in the Studio”, however the piano work of Rachel Grimes is the core of these songs. It’s the propulsive base to eight minute “Promenade”. Grimes plays delicately and simply, though taking moments to stretch her fingers with more ornamental runs. As composed for a ballet production, Music for Egon Schiele
is structured rhythmically, with a majority of the pieces in a waltz time. This creates a whimsical atmosphere that is simultaneously sad, delicate, and beautiful. Whereas artists such as Max Richter combine minimalist qualities with electronics to create what is essentially mood music, Rachel’s uses a classically trained repertoire to enhance the listening experience beyond something that just evokes images. Instead it invokes much of the same experiences of its source material; experiences of movement, of fantasy, of a melodious life.