Max Richter is a Classical and Ambient Music composer, possibly one of the greatest classical music composers of the past decade and the current one. After his initial three works (Memoryhouse, The Blue Notebooks, and Songs From Before), he made a significant qualitative leap in his career within the world of cinema by creating the soundtrack for the Israeli animated film Waltz with Bashir (2008), although he had already contributed to other films before, either by including pieces from his previously mentioned albums or with new material, thus highlighting the best of Max Richter’s discography.
Since then, he has increasingly interspersed personal projects with those dedicated to the world of cinema, culminating in his participation in the project Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons in 2012. Now, in 2023, the composer’s prominence seems to have reached its peak since we created this article 11 years ago (constantly updated, of course).
Max Richter: A Composer before Original Soundtracks
Among Max Richter’s most notable and famous compositions is On The Nature Of Daylight from his album The Blue Notebooks (2004), which appears in numerous films such as Shutter Island (2010), directed by Martin Scorsese, and Stranger than Fiction (2006), directed by Marc Forster, and even in Arrival. Also noteworthy from his early albums are the minimalist pieces Vladimir’s Blues, Written On The Sky (later featured in the soundtrack of Disconnect (2012), Sarajevo, and November (from the 2002 album Memoryhouse), as well as Sunlight from his third album Songs From Before (2006).
Max Richter’s Films: Featured Filmography
Waltz with Bashir, Bach, and Vivaldi
While it’s true that Richter had composed for some soundtracks before, it’s with Waltz with Bashir that his name gains significant recognition in the world of cinema. Notably, Scorsese turned to his repertoire in 2010, though Marc Forster had already used his work (Waltz with Bashir was released in 2008). The year 2008 could be seen as the year of his definitive breakthrough, though not necessarily of fame.
Waltz with Bashir expanded a universe that was becoming more known and recognized, becoming a focal point from which we started paying closer attention to him. In 2010, he released the album Infra, again not cinema-related, imbued with sadness, beauty, and melancholy. Tracks like Infra 3 and Infra 8 stand out. In 2012, he participated in the project mentioned in the first paragraph: Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons, from which a single was extracted, named Spring 1.
Max Richter and Ari Folman
Max Richter and Ari Folman form a connection that has resulted in two of the most interesting animated films of the century so far, with soundtracks that are equally remarkable. They’ve worked together only twice (Waltz with Bashir and The Congress), but the outcome is so compelling that their collaboration can be seen as a perfect symbiosis between filmmaker and musician, an absolute understanding to translate ideas onto the screen from all perspectives, often with a minimalistic symbolism that can be intricate within the blend of electronic and classical music.
Currently, while it’s common for directors and composers to collaborate often, the result isn’t always as satisfactory and noteworthy as in this case. Notable pairs in the same vein include Joe Hisaishi and Hayao Miyazaki, Jo Yeong-Wook and Park Chan-Wook (though they didn’t collaborate on “Stoker,” they did on The Handmaiden), or the duo of Alberto Iglesias and Pedro Almodóvar, to name just three examples. These are instances where music blends so harmoniously with visuals that unforgettable scenes are created for the audience.
Waltz with Bashir has numerous unforgettable scenes that exemplify this symbiosis. Clear examples include the scene from which the film gets its title (though, in this case, it’s a re-composition of a Chopin piece), or my favorite: the overwhelming impact I felt the first time I watched the “super-scene” in Waltz with Bashir, the dream that the animated Ari Folman has after discussing his memories of the Lebanon War with his friend at the beginning of the film. The atmosphere created, the sound of rain, car windshield wipers, the background music, the lights, the tranquility of the water—this combination constructs an ambiance that I can almost recreate in my mind; it’s utterly captivating, evoking emotions of nostalgia, melancholy, or something undefinable. If there’s one undeniable thing, it’s the brilliant exercise in style that this film represents. What a marvel.
In The Congress (2013), Max Richter and Ari Folman collaborate once more, continuing to evolve and develop their styles. Examples of this are Winterreise, All Your Joys, All Your Pain, and Beginning and Ending (each with their respective scenes). There are many memorable scenes in this film, although I believe it’s best not to mention any, as the film has only been shown (as far as I know) in Spain thanks to the Sitges Film Festival. I hope it will be released in theaters one day, both for the chance to watch it again and for others to experience it.
All in all, Max Richter and Ari Folman have collaborated only twice, yet given the results, one hopes they continue their understanding and frequent collaboration, creating works as compelling and rich as those discussed here. And, of course, they also thrive individually.
Max Richter and TV Series: The Leftovers and Other Collaborations with HBO
That being said, it’s with The Leftovers, the HBO series, that Max Richter gains worldwide recognition, even if his name isn’t widely known (thanks to internet searches, it’s easy to find). While the soundtrack for The Leftovers doesn’t differ significantly from Richter’s previous compositions, the repetition of some melodies, woven into every season and character, has made them an integral part of what we’ve seen. With just three notes, played at the start of each season, Richter can evoke emotions or alter our perception of the scenes within that particular episode, compelling us to revisit those compositions and relive the feelings they elicit.
Now that the series has concluded, Max Richter is exploring new paths he began carving after the first season and even earlier, becoming the prominent name under the respected and renowned Deutsche Grammophon label. Through this record label, most of his works not exclusively linked to cinema can be acquired.
Since then, he has continued collaborating with HBO on other productions, which seem satisfied with his previous work, as they offered him the opportunity to create the soundtrack for the Italian series My Brilliant Friend in 2018. In between, he composed a soundtrack for an episode of Black Mirror, so it can be said that his compositions, spanning the spectrum between electronic and classical, never cease.
Sleep and Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works
One of Max Richter’s significant challenges in his career is undoubtedly Sleep, the odyssey of slumber. Eight hours of music designed for sleep, composed with the help of neuroscientists, featuring a soprano, various string instruments, Richter’s piano, and his computer. This 8-hour album has been available on CD since its release in 2015. However, there’s a version called From Sleep, shorter and with some themes trimmed or reinterpreted from the original album, its melodies meant not for sleep but to remind us of Max Richter’s identity. For those who’ve followed him from his early days, some of his compositions may seem quite similar. Nonetheless, this project contains significant bursts of creativity and quality, highly recommended.
On the other hand, there’s Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works, another project for Deutsche Grammophon, this time based on the words and texts of the tormented writer Virginia Woolf. In this work, Richter found moments of joy, though that joy is interwoven with the nature of the project. Nevertheless, its beginning foreshadows a promising future for this composer, even if it exceeds 8 continuous hours.
Ad Astra and the Acknowledgment in 2019
Max Richter continues to work and travel the world tirelessly. His body of work is ever-expanding, his role in HBO series and films is unceasing, his tours encompass a significant portion of the globe, and his influence on emerging composers is undeniable. He alternates between releasing his works through Deutsche Grammophon and those linked to soundtracks. While some maintain his classical sounds, others introduce fresh elements previously unassociated with him.
In the first case, we have Ad Astra, the soundtrack accompanying Brad Pitt’s space-faring film, which leans toward the more minimalist works of his career. However, it introduces epic novelties that deviate from his familiar style, evident in The Shores Of Scotland within the original soundtrack of Mary Queen of Scots. In this second soundtrack, Richter seems to echo his Vivaldi’s seasons more than he emphasizes electronic elements over other instruments, a skill few possess as adeptly as he does.
Voices, the UN Human Rights Project that solidifies Max Richter’s international success
In this context, the release of the double album Voices in 2021 signifies much more than a mere collection of contemporary classical music; it’s an emotional odyssey that invites us to contemplate essential aspects of human existence. Max Richter, whose ability to blur the boundaries between classical and modern music we have already highlighted, launched, a year after the onset of a devastating pandemic, an emotional and enriching connection that delves into universal themes such as politics, memory, and, above all, empathy.
The work originated from the UN Human Rights Project, where Richter was commissioned to create a piece that embodies the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What emerges is a stunning mosaic of music and narrative, where real voices from people around the world intertwine with Richter’s characteristic strings and subtle electronic nuances. The result is an auditory experience that transcends the bounds of time and space. From the opening piece, All Human Beings, where the words of the Universal Declaration are recited by the intimate voice of actress Kiki Layne, to later compositions exploring human vulnerability and the fight for justice, the album takes us on a profound and contemplative journey.
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.