“Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations – naturally”. Virginia Woolf’s voice opens Max Richter’s Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works and is apposite in its description of the multi-layered album that follows. The post-minimalist composer scored Woolf Works for Wayne McGregor’s ballet based on Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves. Whilst the ballet premiered in 2015, the release of the record coincides with the ballet’s recent revival at the Royal Opera House.
Although Woolf Works was created to accompany dance and reflect Woolf’s texts, the music manages to tell its own story. Woolf’s writings punctuate the album, providing an overarching structure that seems to make the album about Woolf herself. Thus, there is a range of ways to listen to Richter’s album; it works even if you are not familiar with the texts. Richter focuses on Mrs Dalloway first, creating explicit links with the text by having the bustle of London and the bell of Elizabeth Tower open the album. Like the ordinary day that Woolf describes, Richter’s first piece follows the predictable shapes of film music- string swells, repeating piano chords, predictable harmonies.
But this is no criticism: it is enchanting nonetheless. In ‘Orlando’, Richter seamlessly fuses electronics into the classical arrangement, creating the trance like movement ‘Modular’. ‘Orlando’ is made up of shorter, turbulent, dissonant movements that rapidly change mood to reflect the tumultuous novel. Although I’d recommend listening to the score without division, the climax of the record is the one movement piece: ‘The Waves’. Floating atop a backdrop of Richter’s lapping waves of melancholy strings, Gillian Anderson reads Woolf’s harrowing suicide note- devastating, but somehow beautiful. Woolf’s suicide note looms over the final track, leaving you with the impression that the album is not just about her work, but about her.
Richter encapsulates the echoes, memories and associations we have with Virgina Woolf.
(Image: Square Space)