Music Composed by Dario Marianelli with Piano by Víkingur Ólafsson
23 January 2018 (Toronto, ON) – The official soundtrack to the six-time Oscar nominated film, Darkest Hour, is available now via Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Canada, the country’s leading music company. Featuring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is a commanding cinematic depiction of the weeks leading up to the Dunkirk evacuation. Key to the film’s original score, written by multi-award-winning composer Dario Marianelli, is its piano writing. Pianist Víkingur Ólafsson plays a central role in conveying Churchill’s restless and driven spirit. Listen to the official soundtrack HERE.
The film deals with the story of a nation threatened with extinction and the leader who inspires its people. With the energy of an action thriller and the tension of a suspense film, it is the story of a 66-year-old politician only recently recalled from the fringes of power. Winston Churchill is set to capture the imagination of a new generation with his mix of public fortitude and private doubts. Ólafsson’s charismatic performance on Dario Marianelli’s original score adds to the compelling drama of Darkest Hour.
In the early summer of 1940, Britain faced the prospect of defeat by Nazi Germany. Writer George Orwell noted in his diary that people were unwilling to accept that “the invasion of England may be attempted within a few days.” “They will,” he continued, “grasp nothing until the bombs are dropping.” One man did grasp the situation. Winston Churchill, appointed Prime Minister at the beginning of May, had stood resolutely against German rearmament for many years against the majority view of the House of Commons. Reaction to his appointment, as Wright’s film shows, was generally hostile and rarely supportive.
“There was a denial at play, given Hitler’s invasion of western Europe in May 1940,” observes Ólafsson. “In our darkest hours we lie to ourselves and hope that things will be OK. But sometimes they’re not OK. The score to Darkest Hour is rich in its piano writing but it’s also one of the most minimalistic soundtracks Dario Marianelli has created. The music expresses what Joe Wright wanted to say about Churchill’s state of mind.” The director suggested to Marianelli that Ólafsson might take part in the project after he had heard Víkingur’s critically acclaimed Philip Glass solo album for Deutsche Grammophon. “Joe wanted the piano to provide motoric rhythms and a clarity to symbolize Churchill’s mental energy and inner drive. I was so impressed to hear that from him and by his total involvement in every aspect of this Gesamtkunstwerk.”
Ólafsson’s innate curiosity led him to accept the composer’s invitation to perform on the soundtrack. He admits, however, that he had reservations about being part of a major film project. “It was outside my comfort zone to record a movie soundtrack, but your curiosity will go if you don’t step out of that zone. It was very moving to hear Gary Oldman’s remarkable delivery of Churchill’s ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech to the House of Commons in my right headphone and to match Dario’s rising and falling arpeggios to the rise and fall of his voice. I felt quite united with Oldman and, through him, with Churchill. Those were special and surreal moments – I felt like I was playing a part in defeating Hitler!”
Wright, recalls Ólafsson, brought smart insights to the score’s interpretation. The tense scene between Churchill and George VI, for example, is accompanied by Marianelli’s Schubertian “Winston and George”. “I played it as if it were Schubert’s Second Piano Trio, in a free, rhapsodic style,” says Ólafsson. “Joe said, ‘That’s great, but it should be more awkward, more formal.’ He wanted to emphasize the formality of the conversation between the office of Prime Minister and the Crown. I was very impressed by this depth of detail. I’m so happy I agreed to record Dario’s music. It was a gift for me to gain insight into how a big-budget film works when done at the highest level of creativity and imagination. Now I see movies differently!”
Marianelli underlines the value of the creative collaboration between director, composer, and pianist. “One of the great pleasures of working on this score was to discover Víkingur Ólafsson’s transparent and soberly poetic playing,” he notes. “He reminds me of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli: the joy of savouring every single note he plays. Víkingur was the perfect team player.”
Embedded in the soundtrack is a significant wartime musical quotation. In 1941, the BBC began using the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – often interpreted as fate knocking at the door – to introduce the broadcasts made to occupied Europe by news editor Douglas Ritchie (using the pseudonym “Colonel Britton”) after it was realized that they echoed the Morse Code signal for the letter V: three dots and a dash. Both this musical motif, solemnly tapped out on timpani, and Winston Churchill’s emblematic two-fingered salute were part of the “V for Victory” campaign. Dario Marianelli notes how his father heard the BBC radio drum strokes as a child. “Many Italians would listen to the BBC war bulletins to get some news that bypassed the official ‘truth’. It has to count as one of the most brilliant examples of British wit, irrepressible even in their darkest hour.”

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