Music Composed by Daniel Pemberton
Movie Genre: Thriller, Horror
Movie & Soundtrack CD Release: 2011
Label: Scream Works Records
Available also as a digital stream/download
“… surrender yourself to a musical combination that will haunt you,
where the dramatic quality meets the evocative mystery!”
At the beginning of the movie we get informed that between 1914 and 1919, war and influenza claimed more than a million lives in Great Britain. Out of all this pain, the need for the existence of ghosts was born. As the viewer of the movie “The Awakening” (2011) is reading the above, the music of Daniel Pemberton that accompanies the prologue of the film is found in “Oh, Coccinele/Deep Breaths” (#3) and more specifically from the point 01:08 until the end of the track. The atmosphere of the music is misty, eerie and heavy. There is nothing bright in it, since it accompanies the reference to the deceased souls. But, sometimes dead does not mean gone. Or do some others exploit the suffering of people in order to deceive them, by conjuring nonexistent ghosts? An expert on the latter is the author Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), who has many cases of nonexistent ghosts under her belt. The eerie music of the introduction is followed by a piano, full of doubt and uncertainty, without conveying a clear and unambiguous feeling, when it accompanies the appearance of Florence. Thoughts are tormenting her mind. She is wondering if the next case of ghost is also a fraud. And what if it finally isn’t? This doubt of hers is captured through the use of the wavering piano, when Florence goes to a séance in order to communicate with some spirit, with the photo of a deceased man in her hands. This piano, which is a composition of Nick Murphy, is heard during the first half of “Oh, Coccinele/Deep Breaths” (#3).
At the séance that Florence attends, the communication with the spirit of a girl is attempted. In “Séance” (#2), composer Daniel Pemberton leads the music to a culmination simultaneous to the events of the scene. The calling of a deceased girl is captured in the music through the participation of a mixed chorus. The voices of The Crough End Festival Chorus and the members of The Chamber Orchestra of London create the first important moment of the musical narrative, by performing music that follows with surgical accuracy what is happening in the scene of the séance. The conjuring of the spirit is taking place with a motif performed by the choir and is constantly repeated culminating until the point 01:10. Someone could argue that this is a dark, morbid prayer. At the final seconds of this part of the music, from 01:04 until 01:10, we have the first choral peak which signals that something is changing, there is a development. At 01:10 the choir recedes for a while into the background, leaving the orchestra to take the lead in the musical narrative, denoting a spiritual presence, which is about to manifest itself. The choir comes back to the fore at 01:36 in order to highlight the visual sighting of the spirit, with the second choral peak taking place from 01:49 until the end of the track, and leading to the revelation of the truth about the real or not real existence of the spirit. It is an elaborate fraud, which was exceptionally served by the music! When listening to it, the music made us feel and believe the emotional turmoil of the bereaved mother hoping to communicate with her deceased daughter. We are a few seconds after the five first minutes of the movie and the composer has already managed to serve us up a delicious musical appetizer, which foretells that the main dish will be much promising.
Florence exposes the hoax that has been pulled and its organizers are arrested by the police. The girl’s mother, who has not lost hope to communicate with her deceased daughter, attacks Florence and slaps her. Then, the music returns with “Florence Cathcart” (#6) to comment on the scene, with a sad theme, which is performed by a violin while we perceive a mystery at its heart. Florence seems to be very affected by the mother’s attack. The music probably focuses on the aching mother who has lost her child. It is also probable, however, that it is related to something concerning Florence and her past. The camera focuses on her and shows her hovering in order to pull herself together. Did she perhaps also lose a loved one, whose memory was triggered by the mother’s behavior? Maybe this is the reason that she seems to feel for and empathize with her pain. Anyway, the appearance of this theme is no coincidence, it serves some purpose, which we will find out later.
Florence Cathcart receives at her house the visit of the teacher Robert Mallory (Dominic West), who is working at a boys’ school. The purpose of his visit is to invite her to get to the bottom of a mysterious case of a ghost haunting the school, of a little boy. The panoramic shots of the wider area where the school is located bring a new theme in the music, dominated by a choir and heard in “High Over Cumbria” (#4). The voices have an amazing capacity to transfuse a haunted quality in a place, a building, like the school that Florence is expected to visit. It is a theme with a remarkable emotional burden, which is yet to be seen in which way it will be later explained. We could assume that the theme denotes the dominion of a ghost in the wider area. The choir reveals a spiritual presence that is like welcoming Florence in the territory where it rules. Let us not forget that the music in the narrative of a movie has the capacity to talk about things that have not yet happened or that the heroes of the movie have not yet met or seen. In any case, the choral theme is undoubtedly related to something that exists or existed or happened in the school. The heroine cannot know what she will face, but the viewer has already started to suspect and owes this to the wonderful music of Daniel Pemberton. And a detail worth of your attention: the violins in the aforementioned track, they indicate motion, namely the travel of Florence towards the school. When Florence arrives at the school, the same choral theme is repeated in “Arrival at Rookford” (#7). Its performance, though, bears a special differentiation, and this is the solo voice of a boy. The message of the music to the viewer could not be more clear! However, do not jump to your conclusions, no matter how safe they may seem. Many times, the music knows well how to bluff and deceive the viewer. Always for his sake.
After the first familiarization with the premises of the school, Florence prepares her tools that will help her collect evidence of the existence or nonexistence of the ghost. From “Preparations” (#9), the music that is heard in the movie starts from 00:24, with the violins depicting the restless inquiring mind of Florence. The night has come, the school’s pupils are asleep and the ghost may appear at any moment. The traps set by Florence are awaiting it. She sees a hole on the wall of a room and full of curiosity she looks to see what is going on in the other room. She sees a naked man, who is doing something painful to his body. The strings at 00:34 of “Scars” (#13) make the feeling of the pain experienced by this man even more torturous in the eyes of the viewer. At the same time, the music highlights the curiosity of the heroine, doing something that she shouldn’t, namely secretly watching someone. And while she is looking through the hole on the wall, suddenly a sound from a little bell she has set is heard, a sound signal that something is moving in the dark rooms and the corridors of the school. And while she is actually tracing signs of movement in the premises of the school, she turns her eyes and fleetingly sees a man moving away from her and disappearing in the dark. Then the voice of a boy is heard in the music, which we hear at 03:03 of “Chasing Footprints” (#10). Is it perhaps a confirmation on a non-human sighting? Is the sighting caused by the ghost of a boy? The music here wants to give a paranormal status to what Florence sees. Despite that it may not be true, since when she approaches the point where the man was, teacher Mallory appears through the dark.
It is the second time that a boy’s vocals are heard in the music. This can only be an indication of something and a confirmation on something else. An indication that the solution of the mystery around the ghost is close and a confirmation that a boy is responsible for the phenomena noticed in the house. But then comes a plot twist that will remove any suspicion about the existence of a ghost. When Florence solves the riddle of the mystery, then the both sad and mysterious theme of the violin returns in the music, in “Damaged People” (#18). And the question is why. A boy died in the school and the gloom because of this tragic event is enough to employ the theme. However, the background of the case was revealed thanks to Florence. Is she perhaps the key to unlock the mystery of the meaning of this theme?
We mentioned earlier the capacity of the music to foretell something that is about to happen. This is also done by the track “Semper Veritas” (#8). After the Mass, the children of the school leave the church and then the music of the above track begins, which could be said as being a choral hymn, but one soon realizes how characteristically different it is compared to any choral performance that preceded. What does this mean? The answer is given by a comparison to the three previous tracks in which a choir participated, the “The Séance” (#2), “High Over Cumbria” (#4) and “Arrival at Rookford” (#7). What distinguishes the performance of the choir in “Semper Veritas” (#8), for the first time in the music, is a positive feeling, in contrast to the negative and heavy feelings emanated from the choir in the other tracks. The voices of the choir in “Semper Veritas” (#8) do not contain threat, danger or terror, but are comforting and reassuring, almost friendly. Isn’t it strange? Also surprising is the fact that the choir returns in the music, when it was just established by the expert Florence that there is no ghost! But do not forget that the presence of the choir in music acts as a code referring to something out of the world of the living. Its return means that, after all, there is a ghost that will soon declare its presence, and in specific at the lake of the area, where Florence is. The ghost wants to be perceived by Florence, who will of course be scared, but the vocal performance of the choir in “Semper Veritas” (#8) reveals to us the intentions of the ghost towards Florence, which are good, it does not want to harm her.
The sad and mysterious theme of the violin returns in two other scenes. When Florence discusses with a pupil of the school about a man she loved and lost in the war and when, along with teacher Mallory, they see a photo taken at the moment of the ghost’s appearance inside the school. What is strange is that there was something else seen by Florence live at that moment and there is something else captured by the camera, which showed a boy. It is worth to notice that in all the scenes until now in the movie that we hear the theme of the violin, Florence is participating. Of course, this is no coincidence. There may be a dramatic occasion given by each scene, so the theme matches the intended atmosphere, but the focus of the music’s attention is clearly Florence. The music identifies her with the feeling of sadness, in a mysterious cover. The explanation will come shortly. You can enjoy the rather characteristic theme of the violin in “Seeing Through Ghosts (Theme from The Awakening)” (#1).
The tracks “Don’t Tell Tom” (#22) and “Chorus de Susticatio (Chorus from The Awakening)” (#23) give the accompaniment to the longed-for revelations solving every question about the ghost. There comes the verification of its existence and the viewer finds out everything that has happened in the school. We will refrain from mentioning details so that the reader who has not seen the movie does not lose the element of surprise. The “Chorus de Susticatio (Chorus from The Awakening)” (#23) is the peak of the musical narrative of the movie, where for the first time the two themes that we previously heard in various scenes are combined: the theme of the violin and the choral theme, which accompanied the arrival of Florence at the school. The latter, indeed, is expanded and becomes longer, since it acts as accompaniment to stunning revelations! Apart from peak of the music, the track “Chorus de Susticatio (Chorus from The Awakening)” (#23) also acts as a starting point for the approach of the composer Daniel Pemberton. The architecture of the music throughout the movie, was built on the basis of this scene and its musical requirements. The musical choices made in each scene, arise as outcomes of this scene and of the music that accompanies it. The two themes are inextricably interlinked, as the one arises from the other, namely the sad theme of the violin is born out of the memory of a tragic event, which at musical level is captured through the choral theme. Is there a better way to capture a tragic event that contains death and sorrow, than the voices of a choir?
After the stunning revelations that take place, the prism through which we perceive the music and its use in the movie changes. The theme of the violin concerns, beyond any doubt, Florence Cathcart. It refers to a powerful emotion, which is a result of a tragic personal experience. This is how the presence of Florence is explained, every time the sad theme of the violin appeared in the movie. This is also how the appearance of the choral theme is explained, where Florence was also then present. Both the musical themes accompany Florence during the movie because they have as a starting point an event that determined her later life and it is like provoking her to remember something that she has banished from her memory. A recollection that is so buried, that it is like it never happened! It is the recollection of a past that Florence made sure to kill in order to survive! The two musical themes are heard as an echo of the forgotten past that stirs up her memory so that she comes to grips with it and frees herself.
After the revelations, the emotions of the story’s characters are allayed. In “A Death Remembered” (#24) the return of the boy’s voice does not ooze mystery anymore, nor is it a musical stimulus that wants to tell us something specific. The boy ghost has achieved what it wanted and its spirit becomes calm and peaceful. In “Florence is Free” (#26) a solo female voice captures the redemption of the soul of Florence, who finally breaks free from an unbearable burden she was carrying all her life. A last imposing appearance of the choral theme comes at the beginning of the closing credits, in “The Awakening (Credits)” (#27). The only musical discordance in the movie’s soundtrack is the unfortunate use of the track “Be Still My Soul” (#25), which is not a composition of Daniel Pemberton, but of Jean Sibelius. The particularly important scene, as regards the development of the plot at the end of the movie, which this track covers, would have been captured much more effectively, if the composer of the movie had attended to it, by writing his own music.
The soundtrack of the movie “The Awakening” (2011) has been a first-class test and challenge for the composer Daniel Pemberton. He had to cope with a difficult undertaking, complex in nature and demanding. The test was a total success! The music of the movie is a wonderful example for its genre. Bear in mind that it is not commonplace to meet such a good music in a horror movie. Remarkable, apt, a music that you cannot ignore. This specific movie has been an excellent starting point for Daniel Pemberton, whose music speaks for itself, showing then that he had much potential as a composer. His high perceptual abilities and his relevance in transmuting emotions into musical notes are given gifts of his, which were certainly nurtured and improved with time and practice. Since 2011 when he wrote the soundtrack, he has kept on undaunted until today leaving his own mark on the musical scene of the cinema and his progress from now on will be even more interesting. Search for the soundtrack of the movie “The Awakening” (2011) and surrender yourself to a musical combination that will haunt you, where the dramatic quality meets the evocative mystery!
01. Seeing through Ghosts (Theme from The Awakening) (1.46)
02. The Seance (2.07)
03. ‘Oh, Coccinelle’ / Deep Breaths (2.22)
04. High over Cumbria (0.56)
05. Empty Classrooms (2.15)
06. Florence Cathcart (1.55)
07. Arrival at Rookford (1.18)
08. Semper Veritas (1.32)
09. Preparations (1.49)
10. Chasing Footprints (3.22)
11. Lock the House (1.26)
12. The Hallway (1.04)
13. Scars (1.07)
14. There is Nothing (0.58)
15. Don’t Go Away (1.00)
16. The Dollshouse (2.31)
17. No Walls or Floors (1.43)
18. Damaged People (1.08)
19. Patience (3.08)
20. Florence Vanishing (1.29)
21. The East Bedroom (3.33)
22. Don’t Tell Tom (2.39)
23. Chorus de Susticatio (Chorus from The Awakening) (1.57)
24. A Death Remembered (1.18)
25. Be Still my Soul (4.16)
26. Florence is Free (2.57)
27. The Awakening (Credits) (3.20)
28. Reprise (Theme from The Awakening) (2.31)
Total Time: 56:03
Tracks that stand out are noted with bold letters
Score Rating: * * * *