John Powell | Hubris: Choral Works by John Powell

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Hubris: Choral Works by John Powell

by John Powell

Hubris. The pride that goeth before a fall. It’s a concept that fascinates composer John Powell, and one that informs the compositions on his new album Hubris – the first release on Powell’s own label, 5 Cats Studios -- on multiple levels. In fact, accord
Genre: Classical: Choral Music
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  Song Share Time Download
1. The Prize Is Still Mine
14:29 $0.99
2. A Prussian Requiem: Introduction to Moltke / The March
4:51 $0.99
3. A Prussian Requiem: Beware the Bear
2:07 $0.99
4. A Prussian Requiem: We, The Glorious Dead / Easy
6:27 $0.99
5. A Prussian Requiem: The Papers of Peace / Let the Rails Roll / Victory Is Ours
9:33 $0.99
6. A Prussian Requiem: My Reasoning
3:33 $0.99
7. A Prussian Requiem: The Gift
9:52 $0.99
8. Requiem Addendum
7:26 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Hubris. The pride that goeth before a fall. It’s a concept that fascinates composer John Powell, and one that informs the compositions on his new album Hubris – the first release on Powell’s own label, 5 Cats Studios -- on multiple levels. In fact, according to Powell, creating the music was itself an act of hubris.

“You’re a film composer,” he feared people would say. “You shouldn’t be writing classical music.”

But Powell, whose credits include Shrek, The Bourne Identity, How to Train Your Dragon (for which he received an Academy Award nomination) and the forthcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story, needn’t have worried. In 2016, Powell’s 10-part oratorio “A Prussian Requiem” premiered to acclaim at the Royal Festival Hall in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra.

The three pieces that comprise Hubris - “The Prize Is Still Mine,” “A Prussian Requiem” and “Requiem Addendum” - prove that this film composer is more than capable of telling his own powerful stories away from the big screen.

Hubris begins with “The Prize Is Still Mine,” a stunning collision of styles Powell describes as “gospel meets Vaughan Williams.” Over a surging, sighing orchestral arrangement, female voices rise both solo and in unison to declare their independence from the forces of institutionalized sexism and misogyny, singing in a style that evokes the sorrow and rapture of African-American church music in an entirely original context. It’s a new kind of protest song, marrying the grandeur of classical music and the raw emotion of vintage American soul music.

“My father always said, ‘Don’t be a jack of all trades,’” says Powell, a second-generation classical musician who studied violin before turning to the world of film scoring. But far from being a “master of none,” Powell has made his eclectic approach to composition one of his greatest strengths. “I like to think I’ve mastered incorporating nearly any style into my music.”

Emboldened by the success of “The Prize Is Still Mine,” Powell set to work on Hubris’ centerpiece, “A Prussian Requiem,” which he describes as his own greatest act of hubris and, ironically, itself an exploration of one of the great acts of hubris of the 20th century -- the military decision that started the First World War. Written to commemorate the centennial of that gruesome conflict, “Prussian Requiem” tells the story of General Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, head of the German army, who persuaded Kaiser Wilhelm II to reject peace negotiations and begin what would become one of the bloodiest military campaigns in human history.

“I started to get into it and realized, ‘Who am I to comment on this?’” says Powell, an avowed pacifist. But by homing in on the story of Moltke, Powell is able to explore the First World War in a humane, intimate way, employing the narrative skills he learned from decades of film scoring to help himself and his listeners make sense of the incalculable suffering “one man with a feeling of historical entitlement” could cause.

An oratorio in 10 parts, “A Prussian Requiem” begins on the eve of the First World War, a month after the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. As nations across Europe begin to marshal their armies, using the assassination as a pretext for turning long-simmering tensions into conflict, Moltke eagerly anticipates his chance to finally achieve the same renown as his namesake uncle, Moltke the Elder, a hero of past Prussian military victories. When the Kaiser receives a last-minute offer to broker a peace, Moltke convinces the German leader that their triumph is assured, even though an all-out war means Moltke’s armies must fight on two fronts, France and Russia.

Showcasing a dazzling array of techniques and styles, “A Prussian Requiem” is Powell at his ingenious best. In “We, the Glorious Dead,” he employs the slightly atonal “murmurations” that characterize the singing style of the “We Free” churches of North Uist, Scotland to represent the “smearing of the truth” that often accompanies the rush to war. The staccato rhythms of “The Papers of Peace” mirror the Morse code used to transmit futile overtures of diplomacy as Europe careened headlong into conflict. The haunting, wordless keens of despair that overtake the oratorio’s heartbreaking final passage, “The Gift,” are set to its opening melody, time-stretched from march to dirge.

Taken altogether, “A Prussian Requiem” represents Powell’s explorations of European classical romanticism from “La Belle Époque” that the First World War brought to an end to the minimalism and atonalism of today – from Maurice Ravel to Philip Glass, Claude Debussy to John Adams. But it also represents his determination to find new, more accessible vocabularies for contemporary classical music. “It’s fighting this idea of the classical world being very erudite and intellectual,” Powell explains. “And if you don’t have the right musical language, you’re sort of just passing through.”

Following a personal tragedy, Powell wrote Hubris’ final piece, “Requiem Addendum” – a continuation of some of the musical and conceptual themes of “A Prussian Requiem,” but written from a much more personal perspective. “It’s about marriage and relationships, and men and women, and how we don’t understand each other but we like living together,” says Powell. Despite the piece’s tragic subject matter – which Powell had translated into Latin so its painful words could be heard “from a safe distance” – he describes the piece, with characteristic humor, as a sort of “requiem for a requiem … a very postmodern gag.”
Though the works of Hubris are light-years removed from Powell’s work as a film composer, he has no interest in placing them on some sort of high-art pedestal, far above the light-hearted fare he has written for animated comedies and escapist action flicks. If anything, he hopes Hubris can help open up fans of his cinematic work to the richness of the entire classical canon. “If people come along from How to Train Your Dragon to ‘A Prussian Requiem,’ it’s an introduction to so much of the great music that inspired me.” It’s tempting to view such ambition as yet another form of hubris – but upon hearing the beauty and humanity of John Powell’s work on Hubris, you realize it’s actually a great act of generosity, from a gifted composer capable of bridging popular and classical music in ways that never cease to surprise.



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