"Another Trip to the Library" - A look at some of the latest library albums that Anthony Phillips has composed music for. Your librarian for the day Alan Hewitt.

The field of library music can be something of a mystery if you are not familiar with it. This is an area of endeavour that doesn’t necessarily operate within the same parameters of those of your standard album release. For a start, the music is commissioned, ie, the musician is effectively given what to all intents and purposes may be regarded as a “script” or list of ideas around which the composer has to work and create music.

Sometimes this can be challenging, as it was in the case of Ant’s work for the Rule Britannia series all those years ago, and rewarding too, especially when the people who have commissioned the work give the composer a degree of latitude to work within although when your work list includes writing music to define words such as “Greed” and “Irony” I suppose you have to have a certain level of indulgence! At other times, however, I would imagine that work in this field can be extremely frustrating and given that Ant has been working in this area for a long time now, I suspect that he has had his fair share of both emotions.

If Ant has experienced frustrations then to a lesser extent so have his fans who have, until recently at least, had little or no chance of hearing any of the music that comprises the bulk of a library album. Such music is usually restricted to the purview of TV/film producers etc for whom the music is intended. Fortunately, Ant’s decision to make some of the better pieces from some of his earlier library work available to fans through the medium of the Missing Links series of albums and more recently still, the wonderful Seventh Heaven album has finally enabled his fans to get an idea of just what this kind of music is all about and for a more detailed look at how such music is created, check out the interview with Anthony in #80 of TWR.

Here then is a look at some of the most recent albums in this remarkable “library” of music.

First of these is Documentary Undercurrents. As it’s title suggests, this one contains a selection of music in various moods suitable for use as accompaniment to documentary programmes. The disc is sub-divided into sections with titles such as “Emotion - Piano Poignant” and “Awe, Beauty, Wonder” and the music very much matches these descriptions. The first of these gives us yet more lovely examples of Ant’s skills as a composer for keyboards with some delightful work. Some tracks, such as Speak Of Remarkable Things may be familiar to you if you have the Seventh Heaven album. Other sections such as “Landscapes Of The Soul, Guitar” serve to demonstrate, if further demonstration were needed, his skills on the guitar. I love the final selection: “Oddball Extras”. A fascinating disc and one from which I am sure Ant will eventually select some pieces for a future edition of Missing Links.

Click to enlarge

Documentary Undercurrents - Atmosphere ATMOS-CD 225

The next disc, English Film & Drama takes us into much more familiar territory as a great many pieces from it have emerged on Seventh Heaven. Rich and elegant, this is the kind of music that I personally could listen to all day (and frequently do when the opportunity presents itself!). Every track on this one deserves its place in a film/TV soundtrack and many deserve to be expanded upon and brought to a wider audience.

Click to enlarge

English Film & Drama - Atmosphere ATMOS- CD 250

This one continues the elegant, and luxurious themes of its predecessor and once again., a fair few of the tracks on it have found their way on to Seventh Heaven but here they are as originally composed. There are, for the dedicated fan, both surprises and echoes of previous work by Ant to be found here and it is fascinating to listen to tracks such as Spirits Of Atacama which would not have been out of place on Antiques. While the variations on Seven Ancient Wonders will send shivers up and down the spine and the variations on Order Of The Thistle/Scottish Knights/Thistle Field Battle will be instantly familiar to anyone who has heard Old Sarum Suite on Seventh Heaven which to my ears is every bit as good as any of the music composed for either The Lord of The Rings/The Hobbit or Game of Thrones. Other such as Winter Song, vividly bring the likes of the wonderful city of Prague, where so much of this music was recorded, vividly to life. I sincerely hope that a home is found on a commercial release by Anthony of all of this music as it deserves to be heard by many more people than just TV and film executives!

Click to enlarge

World Film & Drama - Atmosphere ATMOS-CD 251

Next up is Summer Songs, which is an unusual item in as much as it is exactly that: an album of songs. Ant shares the compositional honours on this one with several other composers but the end result in the case of the tracks which Ant has a hand in is a delight and makes me wonder why he hasn’t turned his hand to songs more often as these examples are lovely.

Click to enlarge

Summer Songs - Atmosphere ATMOS-CD 280

The final disc in this selection is Timeless Scenes For Orchestra which is effectively a resume of the first two discs but with some truly remarkable compositions by Ant working with Andrew Skeet and two names who will be instantly recognisable to longstanding fans of Ant’s work: Harry Williamson and Simon Heyworth in the shape of extracts from the Tarka album. We even have the re-working of Nocturne here under its alternative title of Tender Embrace. Whether the music be familiar or unfamiliar, what isn’t in doubt is the fact that this is classic Anthony Phillips at his melodic best.

Click to enlarge

Timeless Scenes For Orchestra - Atmosphere ATMOS-CD 288

Sadly, with the march of technology and the increasing use of downloads, the chances of further reviews such as this one seem to unlikely but as long as the music eventually reaches the audience it so richly deserves to be heard by, then I will be happy as there is much to not only delight existing fans of Ant’s music but also much to expand that fan base among people with a discerning ear for MUSIC as opposed to MUZAK!