I’ve been a lover of neoclassical and minimalist music for a long time, maybe beginning with Philip Glass’ Oscar-nominated original soundtrack for The Hours in 2002. I was captivated by the recurrence of heartbreaking melodies and the exquisite layering of ebbing and flowing arpeggios.
It’s difficult to convey the beauty of his music—you must hear it to appreciate it. Here are ten of Max Richter’s most beautiful and moving compositions without further ado.
1. Memoryhouse’s “Europe After the Rain.”
“Europe, After the Rain” is from Richter’s 2002 debut Memoryhouse. First, a soft sprinkling of rain, then a lyrical, hushed voice whispers, “Night robs hues. It lets the soul’s colour blaze.”
A haunting, dark but captivating tune is joined by a sorrowful, crooning stringed instrument as the rain ceases. No other instruments join, and the piano gently fades away at the conclusion, returning the sound of rain pattering.
“November,” from the same album as “Europe, After the Rain,” opens with rain. There is no calm piano but a spooky chorus of violins, followed by a lone violinist playing grand arpeggios that become progressively frenzied.
As additional strings join, the piece builds to a beautiful climax that lasts until the finish.
3. On Daylight” from The Blue Notebooks
The Blue Notebooks was Richter’s second solo album, created to protest the 2003 Iraq war. The album’s most famous track, “On the Nature of Daylight,” has been used in various films, notably Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island.
“On the Nature of Daylight” is a marvel of polyphony and counterpoint. It draws the listener into a world of hope and misery. Richter’s music is profoundly cinematic, allowing listeners to enter their minds and recall sensations and experiences. “On the Nature of Daylight” embodies sheer emotional intensity.
4. “The Trees” From The Blue Notebooks
The album’s last track, “The Trees,” opens with a typewriter and a narration by Tilda Swinton from Miosz’s Hymn Of The Pearl. Then a sad piano and melancholy violins.
The composition develops to a rich, grand, explosive finale. It’s a powerful composition from one of postminimalism’s defining albums.
5. “Mercy” from The Leftovers
Richter’s melancholy tunes for the HBO series The Leftovers are integral to the storyline. On a bare piano, the theme is stated and repeated. Richter’s minimalist, ambient approach wonderfully matches the show’s themes of death and purpose.
Like many of Richter’s compositions, “The Quality of Mercy” opens with a stringed instrument asking a question answered by the four. A booming piano subsequently replaces the strings, providing the music with a raw, naked emotional aspect.
6. “On Reflection” (Season 3)
“On Reflection,” a composition from Richter’s Black Mirror, opens with a simple, lovely piano tune. This song is a simple, lovely, and heartfelt appeal to the listener.
The piano is the star of this tune; the strings just help to tug at the emotions.
7. “The Journey, Not the Destination” (Season 3)
Our tune differs from the others on this list because it generates a distinct emotion—wistful, meditative hope. While the piece’s technical aspects are a tribute to Black Mirror, the dizzying, repeating electronic tones are uplifting and romantic in a manner that Richter’s monotonous, minimalist music is not.
8. “Never Bye” Hostiles
On the one hand, “Never Goodbye” is one of Richter’s most painful and tragic climaxes. Once again, the fortissimo strings pierce our hearts. The piece’s enthusiasm contrasts wonderfully with the film’s gloomy, reflective finish.
9. “Your Reflection” From My Brilliant Friend
“Your Reflection” is a solo piano work that is emotional and honest. The arpeggiating ebb and flow of the piano’s notes symbolise the fluctuating connection of the show’s two central protagonists.
It is both optimistic and tragic, profound and straightforward. Enjoy the remainder of the score.
10. “Elena & Lila” by My Brilliant Friend
I decided to finish this collection with another sad song from My Brilliant Friend. “Elena & Lila” continues the pendulous tone of “Your Reflection.” A furious but controlled ending recalls Richter’s famed strings, which constantly express tension and ask for emotion.