1917 – Thomas Newman

The movie 1917, directed by Sam Mendez, is a major hit in theatres. It is nominated for 10 Oscars, including best film, best director and, of course, best music. Composer Thomas Newman has been collaborating with Mendez since Mendez’s first film American Beauty. Some of his movies had amazing scores, featuring Newman’s famous piano melodies that I love, such as American Beauty and The Road to Perdition. 1917 would be a very different movie though, where during The Great War, two English soldiers have to cross through German-occupied territory as fast as possible to deliver a message. The whole movie was shot in such a way that the camera follows them as they move, giving the audience the impression that all has been shot in a single take, with the cameraman being the witness of the whole journey. As a side effect, the pace of the movie is in real-time. To write the music for such a movie must have been quite a challenge. 

The majority of the music on the album consists of soundscapes and textures to provide an underscore for the movie. The biggest example of a track like that is “Up the Down Trench,” with rhythmic patterns that remind me a lot of Hans Zimmer’s “Supermarine” from Dunkirk. “Lockhouse” also contains a similar rhythmic soundscape. Some tracks, such as “The Boche, “Tripwire” and “The Rapids”, contain only ambient sounds and there is not much melody and rhythm to be found in them, which makes them uninteresting for me to listen to outside of the movie. But luckily there is some room for a little melody in other tracks. A recurring melodic tune comes from a kind of modified piano sound, with a lot of reverb and a bit of a futuristic hint to it. You can hear it in “Blake and Schofield,” “Mentions in Dispatches” and “Les Arbres,” for example.

There is another piano pattern that appears on the album from time to time. It consists of a melody that jumps up and down, with a bit of a tense feel to it. A good example of it can be heard in “Milk.” In “Gehenna” the piano pattern is a foundation for a brilliant orchestral buildup, working towards a huge climax, and the amazingness does not stop there, since the album has another track using the same buildup, which is even grander in sound, and that is “The Night Window.” 

Another interesting thing about this score is the implementation of the music at the start and the end of the movie, as can be heard in “1917” and “Come Back To Us.” Both pieces sound very much alike and radiate some kind of gorgeous tranquillity, which is the result of beautiful music performed by a cello, supported mainly by other string instruments. These two tracks, with their gorgeous melodies, are certainly one of the highlights of the album.

The final track I would like to mention is “Sixteen Hundred Men,” which reminds me of the music from the movie A Thin Red Line, another Hans Zimmer score. I do not know if you are familiar with the concept of a temp track, a method heavily used in writing music for movies, but it definitely looks like Newman took inspiration from this particular track. It does not make it less amazing though, it is still a glorious musical piece, played during the climax of the movie. 

After seeing this movie in the theater, I came to the conclusion that it is one of the best movies I have ever seen. Everything was just right for me: the atmosphere, the cinematography, the acting and, most importantly, the implementation of the music. The music worked very well in the film. It was in the background for most of the time, was allowed to shine when it was needed, and most of these moments are the highlights of the album. The full album is not that interesting to listen to, but when I removed the more ambient tracks from my playlist, the remainder was a fantastic listening experience. Listen or buy


The highlights are in bold.

  1. 1917 (1:17)
  2. Up the Down Trench (6:19)
  3. Gehenna (3:34)
  4. A Scrap of Ribbon (6:29)
  5. The Night Window (3:41)
  6. The Boche (3:21)
  7. Tripwire (1:40)
  8. A Bit of Tin (2:02)
  9. Lockhouse (4:04)
  10. Blake and Schofield (4:20)
  11. Milk (10:10)
  12. Écoust-Saint-Mein (2:36)
  13. Les Arbres (3:36)
  14. Engländer (4:29)
  15. The Rapids (1:29)
  16. Croisilles Wood (2:06)
  17. Sixteen Hundred Men (6:32)
  18. Mentions in Dispatches (3:44)
  19. Come Back to Us (5:39)

Total length: 1 hour and 17 minutes
Sony Music Entertainment (2019)

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