Bobby Fischer Against the World, a film by Liz Garbus, has just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Here are a few tracks from my soundtrack composed for the film, plus… the title track as a free download. (Click to download & please leave a comment below).
Bobby Fischer against the World, title cue – piano soloist Belinda Mikhail
I first heard about Bobby Fischer when I was a kid, heavily into performing classical music. Many of the great Russian virtuoso musicians and composers had a reputation for being chess fanatics, and I remember my mother’s violin professor Beatrix Marr, describing the friendly rivalry between Boris Spassky and David Oistrakh (one of the world’s greatest violinists). Beatrix regularly thrashed me in chess matches in her cottage, making no allowance for my age…
Music begins with an opening gesture, a phrase or a hook and runs along a temporal plane before reaching a cadence, resolution and ending. Great music lives on as an impression of an experience intertwined with emotion and context. You don’t need to be able to interpret what the blobs and squiggles on a musical staff mean in order to be enveloped in a mindblowing musical experience. You don’t need to learn the ‘rules’ of harmony to be profoundly moved by a performance. The great chess grandmasters inhabit a world we can literally never comprehend. A great chess match is a performance, a spontaneous composition of pure elegant counterpoint.
The supreme master of counterpoint in the entire history of music is J.S.Bach. Even as an experienced musician, I cannot begin to grasp how he processed vast amounts of mathematical musical data, rendering it into perfectly structured miniature cathedrals of sound. The inside of his brain must have had parallels with that of Bobby Fischer, but despite this vast intellect he (unlike Fischer) was able to live a life as a complete human being. (I mean, he had fourteen children for a start…).
Bach’s famous first prelude in C was my starting point for scoring Bobby Fischer against the World. I took the theme and turned it inside out – it begins as fragmented and hesitant gestures as if unsure before playing out to an inevitable endgame. (That’s the piano and string orchestra track above by the way).
The whole of the rest of the score is composed from Bach’s themes – from the Goldberg Variations to the keyboard concertos. This piece below is based on the D minor keyboard concerto, though it’s totally unrecognizable as it’s more like a romantic American/Russian prelude that descends into a shameless waltz. This piece runs underneath the famous match between Spassky and Fischer known as the Game of Placid Beauty. This track was written in New York, against the clock when we were rushing to finish the film, and was a piece that went through so many versions and changes before settling on what became ironically known as The Brooklyn Symphony (there’s always one cue in a film which is a major problem and this was it..!)
On a final note, one deeply sad aspect of the making of this film was the loss of the brilliant editor Karen Schmeer. I had already worked with Karen for two years on Greg Barker’s extraordinary film Sergio, and Karen was a joy to work with. We knew each other purely through emails, Skype chats and the odd phone call. We never met, and it’s a strange kind of mourning when the person you knew and liked existed purely at the end of another laptop. Karen had plotted to get me involved in this film by surreptitiously working my older pieces into the rough cut of the movie, without Liz Garbus (the director) fully catching on to what was happening. The day before Karen left us, she had confided to me that her cunning plan was working very nicely.
The film is naturally dedicated to Karen, and the music is wholeheartedly for her (well, the good bits at least…).
Here below is the score for the Brooklyn Symphony with her dedication at the top. Thanks for reading this – Philip Sheppard
Quick update – Here’s an ad from the NY times!