Yann Tiersen’s soundtrack to Amelie thrilled the world so much that it sold 1.5 million copies and achieved international recognition for the Breton’s sublime composing and musicianship – France already knew, of course. The Amelie music was largely drawn from his four previous albums and reworked for the film, but for Good Bye Lenin, Tiersen has composed an original film soundtrack. As befits two starkly different films, the music is markedly different this time round.
Tiersen gave himself three weeks to put together the soundtrack for the award-winning German film. It’s clear that the urgency of the timeframe, coupled with the material’s freshness, has helped give this album a nervous energy that was sometimes missing from the syrupy Amelie record.
Accordion, the Amelie soundtrack’s mainstay, is off the radar for Goodbye Lenin, Tiersen preferring to utilise a more orchestral sound for much of a record which is necessarily much less French than his other work because of it. He offsets the more dramatic, strings-laden moments – Dishes and Preparations For The Last TV Fake – with reflective, melancholic pieces played on piano, sometimes with vibraphone, with sample sounds from the film filling in the blanks in the soundscape – such as the enchanting Watching Lara and its variant First Rendez-Vous, and Mother Will Die and Father Is Late. The contrast is stark and inviting.
There’s less joy here, suggesting the film is something of a tearjerker, as the majority of the tracks lean towards the melancholic. Beginning and ending with Summer 78, the listener is taken on a journey of richly textured musical arrangements. In no way are they any less beautiful than any of perfectionist Tiersen’s previous work, however, and his growing army of fans around the world will be delighted with this new collection.
Tiersen has in the past been accused of being France’s answer to Michael Nyman, and his use of strings as a rhythm section in places raise such a spectre once more – there are particular parallels to be drawn with Nyman’s score for Gattaca – but Tiersen’s work is infinitely more varied, with more emotional depth than Nyman has ever mustered.
As with all soundtracks, hearing the music with the film is preferable, but as with the Amelie soundtrack, this is a record that richly rewards individual listening too, and one that enchants. The accordion may be gone, but make no mistake – this is the sound of a virtuoso musician at the height of his powers.