Released in 2008, DEMONS OF ST. PETERSBURG is in many peoples opinion an accurate and imposing historical cinematic drama that centres on and around the life of Russian novelist Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoesky. Directed by acclaimed Italian filmmaker Giuliano Montaldo who has with this motion picture managed to create an at times thought provoking and imposing piece of cinema. DEMONS OF ST. PETERSBURG is not only grand in its appearance but it is also an impressive and somewhat lavish production. The director relaying to the audience the way in which the writer lived, at times struggling with epilepsy and also giving them an insight into his mental state. Montaldo has a number of notable movies to his credit, GIORDANO BRUNO, SACCO AND VANZETTI and the sprawling epic TV series MARCO POLO to name but a handful, he began his career in film as an actor but began to work on his own movies during the early 1960,s gaining experience by acting as assistant director for esteemed and respected directors such as Carlo Lizzani, Sergio Leone, Francesco Rosi and Gillo Pontecorvo. It was whilst working with these filmmakers that Montaldo became aware of the artistry and musical talent of Ennio Morricone, and the composer soon became Montaldo’s preferred collaborator on the music side of things. The composer creating memorable scores for many of Montaldo’s productions. So it was something of a natural step for the filmmaker to turn to Morricone when it came to the music for DEMONS OF ST. PETERSBURG. The Italian Maestro has fashioned a highly dramatic and also emotive sounding score for the production, it contains a number of broodingly dark and somewhat sombre compositions within its running time, but there are also as many stock Morricone sounding pieces within the score that are like shafts of proverbial light which every so often manage to break through and delight and enthral the listener. These at times evoking past Morricone scores or at least hinting at the style and sensitivity which we are accustomed to when listening to Morricone. The score which is for the most part quite low-key still manages to achieve a sound and create an atmosphere that one readily associates with Morricone, plus there is a freshness and a vibrancy to it that has manifested itself in more recent works by the Maestro. It has about it shades of the classic Morricone that we know and love which he developed throughout the 1960,s and 1970,s and developed further into the 1980’s, plus there are also elements that are more conventional in their sound that the composer employs alongside his recognised and familiar style to create a sound that is still undoubtedly Morricone but at the same time posses an originality and freshness all of its own.
The opening cue, NEW ATTACK (NUOVO ATTENTO), establishes almost at once the sense of drama and of nervous tension, low wind instrumentation enhanced with dark sounding strings setting the scene for an anxious and yet strangely alluring piece which is further bolstered and enhanced by the use of brass which although is just momentary stab like nuances add much to the overall atmosphere and mood of the composition, the opening introduction segues into more urgent and foreboding strings that seem to swirl around and engulf the almost growling sound achieved by woodwind and brass, whilst harp and subdued use of percussion and piano act as a foundation for Morricone’s harrowing and tension filled strings which carry the composition to its conclusion. Track number 2, PAINFUL ETERNITY (DOLORSAMENTE SEMPRE),makes its entrance in a similar fashion to that of the opening cue, woodwind and sinister sounding strings acting as an introduction, the composer then augments and expands the cue with cimbalom which is struck forcefully to create a threatening and somewhat un-nerving atmosphere, the cue reverts back to strings and a bittersweet sounding viola is played in unison with restrained woodwind to create an almost fragile sounding piece, cimbalom returns to the equation adding more sinister undertones, the strings gaining momentum slightly but never overwhelmingly. Some of the score to DEMONS OF ST. PETERSBURG reminds me a little of Morricone’s music for NOSTROMO, it has those almost guttural but impish sounding woodwind flourishes that act as punctuation and are embellished by the underlying strings which add greater depth to the proceedings and also relay a sense of darkness and tension. The composer also makes effective use of female vocal within the score, although this is not the soaring or sensual sound of Edda Dell Orso, instead it is a more down to earth performance, more akin to the work of Gianna Spagnola, whom Morricone utilized on a number of his scores during the 1960,s and 1970,s. The wordless vocal performed by Paola Cecchi conjures up for me personally a sense of loneliness and also underlines the fragility and vulnerability of the films central character. In track number 4, PAINFUL LOVE 1,(DOLOROSAMENTE AMORE 1) we hear for the first time the more emotive content of Morricone’s score, cello and viola combine to perform a love theme that is haunting and heart rending, filled with emotion and although it is not a lavish or lush piece it still remains a touching and effective composition. Track number 16, FOR MY FATHER (A MIO PADRE) the final track on the compact disc which is the end title music from the film, is a lengthy piece that runs for nearly 9 minutes, Morricone employing the love theme from the score and giving the theme a fuller and more emotive working via the string section that is punctuated and underlined by woodwind, the final cue from the score is I suppose an overture of sorts as it contains elements of the central themes that we have heard throughout the soundtrack, in this we hear fleeting references to styles that Morricone has employed in the past such as the near wilting viola from MARCO POLO, with a trumpet solo that is reminiscent of DESERT OF THE TARTARS and a violin performance that echoes some of the Maestro’s more haunting and melodic moments from L’UMANOID.
DEMONS OF ST. PETERSBURG is an interesting score, and one that I know will be loved and devoured by collectors, it is a score that demands repeated listens as on each occasion one will find something new, something that is fresh, vibrant and above all original and entertaining. Presented wonderfully by keep moving records, with attractive front cover art work and numerous stills from the movie all in full colour plus informative liner notes by Gergely Hubai, who discusses both the movie and its score. Highly Recommended.