Stephen Coates, lead singer for the British band the Real Tuesday Weld, first heard the music of Russian composer Mikael Tariverdiev while sitting in a Moscow cafe. When he asked a waitress what was playing she described it as “something from the old times,” which can mean just about anything. After that initial encounter with his music, Coates discovered that Mikael Tariverdiev was a star composer in the realm of Soviet cinema was close to an unknown everywhere else. Fortunately his widow Vera Tariverdieva is still with us, the person to whom Tariverdiev was closest. With Tariverdieva’s valuable assistance, Coates has assembled the triple album Film Music, shining the spotlight on three films that Tariverdiev scored: Goodbye Boys, Seventeen Moments of Spring, and The Irony of Fate. The two hour-plus package is enhanced by booklet with two essays by Coates, two essays by Tariverdieva, an essay by Tariverdiev’s colleague and film director Mikhail Khalik, and photographs from film sets and Tariverdiev’s own private studio complete with a monitor and reel-to-reel recorders (Tariverdieva has left the room’s contents intact ever since Tariverdiev’s death in 1996). Film Music is a beautiful package, even if it is, in the grand scheme of things, one-sided.
Mikael Tariverdiev was not exclusively a Jerry Goldsmith or a John Williams type. He composed plenty of music outside of the industry including symphonies, concertos, chamber works with and without vocals, scores for sonnets and poems, and a handful of things for musical theatre. Through all of that he managed to find time to score at least 50 different films. As great as the music on Coates’s collection is, three film scores suddenly feels rather meager in this light. But a drop of Tariverdiev’s work for a world unfamiliar with his name is better than none at all, a trend that will hopefully gather steam after Film Music‘s life cycle has come and gone. Aesthetically speaking though, Film Music doesn’t deserve a finite life cycle. It’s not in the league of scores like E.T. where people are still talking about it now but in the league of scores like John Zorn’s filmworks where people should be talking about it in the distant future.
The three films featured on Film Music all come from, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively similar time period. Goodbye Boys was released in 1962, Seventeen Moments of Spring comes from 1972, and The Irony of Fate is the latest entry with 1976. Over the three scores, Mikael Tariverdiev never resorts to a single musical style or mood. Tariverdiev and his chosen ensembles easily swap one genre for another through each disc’s 17 tracks. Film Music will hop from elegiac solo piano to trio jazz to tone poems to gypsy jazz to Viennese waltzes to maddeningly melodic lounge many times over — and that’s just Goodbye Boys. Take a few steps back and the whole things only gets better. As far as triple albums go, Film Music isn’t terribly long. At two hours and sixteen minutes, it could have easily fit onto two CDs. But that would be a little perverse considering the format.
The music of Seventeen Moments of Spring and The Irony of Fate continue to walk that line that borders classical incidental music from jazz but with their own particular flairs. And sometimes that formula will clear a path for a brief, fun aberration. For instance, a vocal number like “Aria for a Moscow Guest” and its mischievous giddiness stands in contrast to something like Goodbye Boys‘s “My Younger Brother” where the voices pass the melodic phrases back and forth. The Irony of Fate is probably the most flowery disc though it’s not exactly schmaltz. Its accordion, piano, cello, Ellington-era big band and vocals and movie poster all paint it into a Woody Allen corner for me — and we all know that music was more than just background to him.
Judging by how many Mikael Tariverdiev CDs there are on Amazon that aren’t named with characters from the Cyrillic alphabet tells me that his music has not yet experienced any grand scale exposure. Should Film Music be the first release to remedy that problem, then great things must be in store for us. If this is what the tip of the iceberg sounds like, then I’d certainly love to hear the entire chunk.