Composer and cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir wrote a great deal of music for “Tár” that is never heard in Todd Field’s film about the classical music world. However, one piece that does feature in the movie has now become a music video from Deutsche Grammophon.
The three-and-a-half-minute work is titled “Mortar,” an unsettling, minimalist piece performed by the composer with the London Contemporary Orchestra. Field himself shot the video, which features the film’s star, Cate Blanchett, and other members of the cast including Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant and Sophie Kauer.
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“The idea was born from conversations with Cate,” says Field. “This piece of film was conceived as an in-between place for the main character to fall into herself, a place where the natural laws of her waking state do not apply. The shooting process involved all cast members, and was photographed at the end of each day during principal photography in Berlin and Southeast Asia in 2021.”
The composer says she wanted this music “to be otherworldly… this kind of invisible thing that seeps into your unconscious.” A label spokesman says the video’s distorted images “mirror Lydia Tár’s disintegrating world.”
Field points out that, for a film filled with classical music, “it was essential” that he and his composer began talking long before the start of shooting. “It was unusual at this point in the process for Hildur and I to have this time together, and not the usual situation of a composer inheriting a filmmakers’ musical biases in post.”
The two of them “tempo-mapped” the entire script, and Guðnadóttir wrote original pieces for the cast that were heard by them but never intended to be part of the score. “However, the tempo of the actor’s motion is something [the audience] will feel,” he adds.
“This is a film about people who make classical music, and it was important to Hildur we not, as they say, put a hat on a hat. The score itself, woven throughout the picture, has nothing to do with concert music. Her goal was simply to put the viewer inside Lydia Tár’s head space without getting caught pointing at something.”
The Deutsche Grammophon album is more of a concept album than a traditional soundtrack, because although some of the music (notably excerpts from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and the Elgar Cello Concerto) is heard in the film, substantial portions are not, including “For Petra” (an eight-minute piece, something Blanchett’s character is writing, a little at a time, in the film) and the three-movement, 15-minute “Tár” suite for string quartet.
“During preparation and shooting,” Guðnadóttir tells Variety, “this music would lead the way. But it was important for the film that the day-to-day life of the rehearsal space, orchestral and very musical, be very separate from the score and the other musical landscapes we have in the film. So we feel an inner tempo in the physical performance, which is very much connected to the music that I composed, but the audience doesn’t hear it.”
The composer loved the idea of the album, as it parallels the film’s own plans for Lydia Tár to record the Mahler symphony for Deutsche Grammophon. “We have a parallel universe in our reality where we get to experience this process of how the music was made for the film, and part of the whole film,” she says.
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