Playwright Tony Kushner adapted his sprawling meditation on the AIDS epidemic of the 80's into an equally epic, Mike Nichols-directed HBO miniseries. But while Thomas Newmans score spans that dramatic landscape with rich stylistic diversity, the … see full wiki
It was the score for "Angels in America" that brought the HBO miniseries to my attention in the first place. I've been a stalwart fan of Thomas Newman's excellent film music for some time now, and when I first heard of the score for "Angels" I knew I'd have to hear it. I took a leap of faith and purchased the CD without having heard a note of it, and I have to say that the risk was well worth it.
Newman's music for "Angels in America" is much like the miniseries itself -- at times whimsical, at times dramatic, at times serious but with a soft touch, it sets the tone perfectly. Newman's compostions here ride the fine line between hope and heartbreak, creating a memorable soundscape which can be listened to alone (as I first did), but also accompanies the action of the miniseries incredibly well. This is emotional, honest, and complex music for a complex story with powerful themes.
While "Angels in America" is a unique score overall, it is also recognizably Thomas Newman's, and one can certainly hear hints of Newman's other work in it. The first few minutes of "Quartet" remind careful listeners unfailingly of one of the darker pieces from "The Shawshank Redemption," and the surprisingly light tone of "Pill Poppers" hearkens back to themes heard in "Finding Nemo." However, Newman is nothing if not original, and he doesn't spend a lot of time borrowing from himself for this score. The main title music is unforgettable and instantly recognizable as belonging to "Angels in America," but avoids the trap of sounding catchy. Early tracks like "Lesionnaire", "Mauve Antarctica" and "Her Fabulous Incipience" help establish different scenes and characters, while later pieces like "Delicate Particle Logic," "The Mormons," "Tropopause," and especially the excellent "More Life" each use the main theme in subtly different ways to evoke different and unexpected emotions.
As with many Newman scores, there are a few tracks here not composed by Newman. Duke Ellington's "Solitude," a ragtime version of "A Closer Walk With Thee," and a revival performance of "I'm His Child" were all heard in the series, and are important in some way to the themes expressed there. I can see why they were included, but frankly, I purchased this CD for Newman's music alone, and while the other three songs are all good songs, it is his score that makes me put this in the CD player again and again.
"Angels in America" is a rich, moving score which I first got to know before I even really knew what the HBO miniseries was about. Now that I've seen the miniseries, and listened to the CD many times over, I can only say that the experience is that much richer. This is the ideal music for the miniseries from beginning to end, and one of the best examples of why Thomas Newman is a groundbreaking composer of modern film music.