I posted on Facebook last week that if any of you out there have not yet watched Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract—one of my favorite movies of all time—the whole bally thing is up on YouTube.
It’s a weird movie, unapologetically so, as well as being slow and, I dunno. Tawdry? Maybe that’s the right word. It’s definitely really sexy, or at least full of sex (depending on your perspective/inclinations), so don’t watch it with your parents/kids/nieces and nephews/maiden uncles, unless you have a very different relationship with them than I do with my own. So, yeah. The film as a whole, sex included, will not be everyone’s cuppa of course, but I aspire to write a period piece as awesome as that. It’s my gold standard.
Anyways, the score is super-good, too. Like, I love that movie to pieces, and I consider the score to be one of the best parts. It’s by Michael Nyman, who is a genius of course (he wrote the score to The Piano, The Libertine, and Gattaca; he did a lot on the Ravenous soundtrack, and also wrote an opera based on The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, because why not?). It’s my favorite thing of his he’s done, which is saying something.
Nyman’s score for the film is up on Spotify and YouTube, and though it’s not as complete as I’d like, it’s still amazing and I listen to it all the time. In isolation it makes for wonderful listening; in situ, the score is another character in the film. So, anyways, being the nerd that I am, when I was looking up supplementary information on the movie, I discovered that apparently all the compositions in Nyman’s score are based on “grounds” (a “ground,” to my understanding, is like a “riff” in popular music, but I’m really not musical at all so that might be wrong in some ways) by Henry Purcell and William Croft, period-appropriate composers. Best of all, Wikipedia was kind enough to list the specific songs Nyman is referencing, which meant that I could hop back on Spotify and locate them.
Listening to the tracks side-by-side made for a fascinating listening experience. The original compositions are all beautiful (The Academy of Ancient Music’s rendition of Purcell’s “She Loves and She Confesses Too” with Barbara Bonny’s vocals, in particular, is completely magnificent if you can locate that version, and spellbinding after listening to “The Disposition of the Linen,” Nyman’s interpretation). You can really hear why Nyman selected these pieces in particular, they give The Draughtsman’s Contract the frothy, dark, decadent, dissipated, luscious, and thoroughly-Restoration “feel” it has throughout.
But more than the pleasure of being able to directly experience for myself a source of inspiration for one of my favorite artists of all time (not just “musical artists,” either: artists as a whole), listening to the pieces side-by-side was a weirdly enlightening experience. As a writer whose most popular, well-reviewed story to date is a “riff” on Lovecraftian themes, I understand encountering a piece of art and feeling the need to respond to it in an honest, creative way. I think the enduring popularity of the retold fairy tale speaks to this: Those with a creative streak often desire to play in the same sandbox as other creative types they admire, or take issue with, or whatever. Art can be found anywhere, and inspiration, too, so this makes sense.
But as someone whose musical abilities were never particularly amazing (much to my mother’s dismay—she and my grandmother are fundamentally musical people, whereas I was a mediocre singer and flautist … on a good day) it never really occurred to me that musicians might feel the same need as writers and fine artists to respond to those artists they found inspirational. Other than when listening to samples of this-and-that in rap/hip-hop/techno, and in a jazz class wherein we discussed “riffing” or whatever it’s called, I never really thought much about the way musicians comment on and are inspired by one another. I mean, I knew that musicians took subjects and responded to them musically (Into the Woods, the William Tell Overture, Nyman’s opera based on case studies of neurological abnormalities, etc.) but the notion of hearing something and then feeling an artistic need to reply to it in kind—that absolutely blows my mind.
Perhaps this is nothing new to anyone reading this, but if the idea of musicians pulling a Wide Sargasso Sea seems interesting, unusual, or curious to you, I encourage you to listen to the soundtrack for The Draughtsman’s Contract and then seek out the source compositions and listen to them. At the very least you’ll spend some enjoyable hours listening to gorgeous music…