Quick Review: The Witches

The Witches
Music composed by Alan Silvestri
Music orchestrated by Mark Graham
Music conducted by Gavin Greenaway, Cliff Masterson
Music recorded at Abbey Road Studios
Album running time: 72 minutes
Available on WaterTower Music (digital only)

Roald Dahl has had an interesting history of film adaptation, and some have had some great music.  Recently we've had Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), and The BFG (2016).  The Witches (1990) is a fan favorite, and there's much to compare....so I won't.

We do have another collaboration of Alan Silvestri with director Robert Zemeckis, and this is #18 if you're keeping track.  For the score, Silvestri provides two key themes: the main theme and the Grand High Witch theme.  The themes appear throughout the score, especially the main theme which goes through many transformations.  

Witches Are Real sets up the magical mood before presenting the main theme (in a minor key) on brass.  The tremolo strings and percussion bring the adventurous aspect that sounds like classic Silvestri.  A bit of mystery starts off My First Witch.  The clarinet brings in a softer take on the main theme.  It continues into some string dissonance, eerie solos with brass and percussion breaking it for a few stings.  What You Saw introduces the Grand High Witch material among foreboding orchestral writing and a bit of madcap writing at the close.  

Chickenafied is the Grandmother's backstory of her friend's encounter with a witch - the low strings charge ahead with some dark brass moments.  Enter the Witches brings the magical string ostinato from the first track along with many statements of a magic motif in strings, harp and celeste.  We also hear a snippet of the waltz-like High Witch theme.

Grand High Witch begins with some magical motif elements and suspense before some extended statements of the Grand High Witch theme.  Witches naturally continues the sound of the last track with some exotic instruments and the Witch theme in the forefront.  As the witches meet to discuss their evil plan in Instant Mouse, the orchestra gets to really shine.  The track also has the choir enter, a ticking clock, a great suspense ostinato and a large Grand High Witch reprise.  Recently mouseifed, A Narrow Escape gets the main characters out of the ballroom with some fun action.  We get the first major key version of the main theme, as Daisy is heroic.  Stravinsky-like charges of the orchestra lead to some loud blasts.  

Fourth Floor underscores the mice antics, a bit of lighter action with the main themes getting tossed around the orchestra.  There are few big main theme statements and some madcap cartoon-like scoring.  It Can Be Very Dangerous relaxes for a sentimental moment, with a piano solo taking the main theme.  The action picks up more with woodwind accents and builds to a statement of the main theme.  The Potion begins with a bit of ominous and magical sounds.  Propulsive percussion and strings bring back the main theme among the suspenseful moments.  Let's Make a Potion first uses some eerie harmonics before settling to the softer version of the main theme and eventually building to some militaristic writing.  

Action really takes over The Mission with bold statements of the main theme and hints of the Witch theme.  Soup Is On has plenty of unsettling low woodwinds and brass and high strings keeping the tension.  Pigtails continues the tension until exploding in a burst of excitement.  The main theme is tossed into the manic orchestral runs - we hear a heroic version along with a snippet of the 1812 Overture as the witches meet their demise.  The orchestra keeps chugging along which leads to a delightful end.

A Stolen Key brings the ticking clock back alongside suspenseful rumbles and high-pitched eerie sounds.  The orchestra springs to life with some dark fanfares, main theme and the Stravinsky-esque jabs.  Let Me Out has lighter bits of the main theme and then digs into the propulsive action that includes the Grand High Witch's theme.  I Didn't Hear A Thing starts off with the sweeter and sweeping setting of the main theme leading to the liveliest and most cheerful version of the main theme - it's a real treat!  Pea Soup brings back the orchestral jabs alongside the main theme.  End Credits is a great summation of the score - starting with the exciting version of the main theme, lengthy reprises of action cues, and more statements of the Grand High Witch's theme.

Thankfully Silvestri's score fares better than the film itself.  It has lots of recognizable features of a Silvestri score - and here it works great.  The themes are used frequently and go through many different guises and get woven into his action cues like he's done for many films past.  In the non-action moments, I like the tender thematic reprises for grandmother and the hero boy (no really, he isn't given a name).  Silvestri uses all the evergreen tricks of keeping the momentum up in the scenes of CGI mice running from whatever Anne Hathaway was doing.  Listen to the end credits - and if you like what he's written, definitely seek out the rest.   

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  1. Maybe Alan Silvestri is an legendary film composer and he did with collaboration with Robert Zemeckis. I think Robert Zemeckis's biggest success was "Back to the Future" and we had Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd as Doc Emmett Brown. He's a legend. Alan Silvestri is a legend.