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Author Topic: A closer look at the Watership Down Soundtrack (1978)  (Read 4305 times)

Offline Hawkbit

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A closer look at the Watership Down Soundtrack (1978)
« on: August 20, 2011, 01:27:54 PM »

Watership Down Original Soundtrack (1978, Sony Music Entertainment)
Performers: The London Symphony Orchestra, Art Garfunkel
Composers: Angela Morley, Malcolm Williamson, Mike Batt

Watership Down CD Review (c) 2008, Adam R.

Most do not realize just how hastily and quickly the background music to the Watership Down film was composed.  According to Martin Rosen in his interview on the 2004 Big Sky Video DVD release, the original composer was supposed to be Malcolm Williamson, who later stepped out of the project.  Williamson’s contribution is the Elahrairah legend sequence and the opening credits which follow.  Angela Morley was brought on to replace Williamson with less than a month to compose the music.  I’d say she succeeded in capturing the mood of the film quite well.

 Now lets look at the individual tracks.

 1 – Prologue and Main Title : This is the only track on the CD not composed by Morley.  The violins and trumpet blasts, along with xylophone pieces capture the frantic mood of the Elahrairah tale of danger and worry very well.  You’re led to believe that rabbits have many dangers and their best chance of escape is running.  The main credits to the film have a much smoother orchestral feel with the addition of oboe and the full orchestra, making you believe you are in the English countryside.

2 – Venturing Forth : A simple piece, symbolizing a quiet silflay for the rabbits.  The flute and harp duet keep the environment calm and serene.

3 – Into the Mist : Played when the rabbits must escape the Sandleford warren, there is a sense of urgency in the music as the brass section moves at a quick tempo.

4 – Crossing the River and Onward : The string section of the orchestra give the mood of uncertainty in the river scene and its necessary.  Pipkin and Fiver think they’re going to fall off the floating board!  The latter half of the track is the main travel theme for the rabbits as they search for Watership Down.  It is repeated multiple times in the movie sometimes by solo instruments, where here the wind section of clarinet, flute, and oboe make it into a full trio of sound.

5 – Fiver’s Vision : This is perhaps the strongest emotional piece in the film, even more than Bright Eyes because this track is all about emotion without the use of words.  The eerie crescendo of strings and brass instruments play what goes through Fiver’s mind and we can imagine a field of danger and “full of blood” as he puts it.

6 – Through the Woods : The track begins with the travel theme again and moves into a different element.  Solo instruments make up this track playing at random times to illustrate the new sounds and unfamiliar things found in the woods for the rabbits.

7 – The Rat Fight : Screeech!!!  Who can’t remember that noisy rat in the barn?  The confusion in the barn is captured by multiple percussion and brass instruments, making use of the wide stereo effect.  At only forty-one seconds, doesn’t last very long.  If anything, it shows the depth of Morley’s composing ability.

8 – Violet’s Gone : A sad rendition of the original travel theme signifying the death of one of the rabbits—in this case, the only doe to travel from Sandleford.  Performed nicely by a solo flute with string background.

9 – Climbing the Down : This piece contains the most impressive build right up to the recognizable lines from Dandelion, “Come and look!  You can see the whole world!”  Morley uses the entire orchestra to navigate the climbing of Watership Down, and looking out at the view from the hills into the countryside below.  This piece is extended in the film, and this particular cut of the music is used at the end of the film when Hazel dies.

10 – Bright Eyes and Interlude : The famous Art Garfunkel song written by Mike Batt, Bright Eyes was one of three original vocal pieces which was to be included in the film.  The other two were never added in the final cut.  This rendition, unlike the pop version found on Garfunkel’s album releases, overdubs his voice and has string accompaniment only.  There are no drums and flutes here.  Without them, the tone of the song is much more sadder and less optimistic, and that is exactly the feeling it needs to evoke as Fiver searches for his brother, presumed dead.

11 – Bigwig’s Capture : Starting out with a solo snare drum, the track fits the action in the film well, but by itself, there’s not much to go on either thematically or musically.  In my opinion, this is one of the weakest tracks on the album.

12 – Keehar’s Theme : A wonderfully played extended edition of what was used in the film version.  The alto saxophone, flutes, and strings capture what it feels like to fly through the air and loop around, viewing the ground and earth below you.  This is one of the highlights of the album.

13 – The Escape from Efrafa : As in the earlier Into the Mist cue, there is a big sense of urgency in the feel of the music, as trumpets, horns, violins, and the snare drum lead us across the fields and to a waiting boat.  There is a reprise of the travel theme as the boat goes down the river and it soothes out into a calming harp and flute melody.  Keehar’s Theme is reprised as he announces his departure from the rabbits.

14 – Hazel’s Plan : A very short mishmash of music, once again continuing with the travel theme as Hazel leads Blackberry and Dandelion to Nuthanger Farm.  The string section beautifully emphasizes Frith’s message to Hazel, “What is, is what must be!”

15 – Final Struggle and Triumph : Besides, Fiver’s Vision, this is the most emotional instrumental cue in the album.  A rapid pace provided by brass and string instruments indicate that something very important is occurring on screen and is vital to the outcome of the film.  In this case, Bigwig and Woundwort are literally being torn to pieces!  The second half of the track revolves around the defeat of the Efrafan army as a mad farm dog bites and tears up any rabbit on the down.  Emotionally, it feels like a victory for the Watership rabbits, and the solo trumpet and snare drum will lead you along the way.

16 – The End Titles : This culmination of themes from the film reflect on the travel theme, the sad theme of losing Violet in the field, the presumed death of Hazel at Nuthanger Farm, the bridge of the Bright Eyes song as presented in the film, and finally, Keehar’s theme.

With a running time of 40:57 total, Watership Down is not a long score by far, but is very strong thematically with multiple reprises of the travel theme used when searching for Watership Down.  Perhaps it’s a metaphor for finding a peaceful lifestyle and the constant reprising shows that it takes time to develop or find such a paradise, if ever found at all.  You’re left to your own interpretation of course, but in the meantime, enjoy this powerful orchestral score in all its glory.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2011, 04:46:05 PM by Hawkbit »

Offline Acacia Heartstrings

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A closer look at the Watership Down Soundtrack (1978)
« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2015, 03:26:02 PM »
I'm in love with this Soundtrack and get as either original or the network. It is a masterpiece, but more importantly has meaning for me. The issue that always brings me tears is "Climbing the Down", to climb ... Watership down and hazel death of old age. It is a wonderful, sublime, heavenly piece !. I can die in peace with that note. "Bright Eyes and Interlude", is also a key and important in the life of hazel and his brother Fiver who rescues him from death itself or black rabbit Inhle time. "Keehar's Theme", I love the feeling of flying, jazz is great. "Hazel's Plan" this part is very exciting for me, takes my adrenaline to 100 at a time, by the agreement between hazel and Frith, has good instrumentation of flutes and cellos. "The End Titles" the culmination of instrumental works of the movie, I never take it off. It is a divine and emotional blast.
Blessed are the artists of this orchestra.
I love Watership Down!
Everything is fine =) (?)

Offline Hyzenthlay69

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A closer look at the Watership Down Soundtrack (1978)
« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2015, 10:26:27 AM »
What I know is I love the soundtrack. Bright Eyes for one never fails to make a tear come to my eye, and the imagery in the movie combined with the song itself made for a truly moving segment.

I also love Kehaar's Theme, and Climbing the Down, but all of the music was magical. You can;t imagine the movie without it.

The soundtrack CD was notoriously hard to find for me for a while there but I lucked out and got it for fairly inexpensively on Ebay. I saw it going for over one hundred US dollars at one point.

Offline Darkling Nocturnal

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A closer look at the Watership Down Soundtrack (1978)
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2015, 07:38:33 AM »
Because we have now a track-by-track discussion, I will close this topic :)

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