Not all protest music is loud and angry. Sometimes it is simply an affirmation of the positive in the face of the negative, an advocacy of quietude and beauty in the face of rancor and violence, an embrace of reflection over confrontation. Such was the case with Max Richter in 2003 when he composed The Blue Notebooks against the backdrop of global protests against a war in Iraq. Though this conflict was very much on Richter’s mind at the time, the music he created was devoid of specific geopolitical references and aspired to a broader and more holistic view. Intertwined with the words of writers like Franz Kafka and Czesław Miłosz, what Richter came up with was an introspective meditation on violence and war that transcends any particular historical context.
“I wanted to invite the listener in, allowing them space to reflect, rather than be beaten into submission. The world is tough enough, and I don’t want to add to the brutality. Over the years, I’ve realized that there’s a balance to strike, and that actually, as our world spins into something quite threatening that’s increasingly based on loud and vicious rhetoric, I want to talk about quiet protest” – Max Richter
With the world only more roiled in the heat of inflammatory rhetoric and constant violence, this masterpiece of contemporary classical music resonates more than ever and is being treated to an extended deluxe reissue on the 15th anniversary of its initial release.
“As a very sensitive child, I reacted to the violence around me by internalizing everything. My only refuge was music, and I totally disappeared into the internal landscapes it opened up to me.” – Max Richter
“Everyone carries a room about inside him…”. For those not already familiar with this work, Richter uses the gentlest of piano lines, the clacking of a typewriter, and the voice of Tilda Swinton reading from Kafka’s ‘Blue Octavo Notebooks’ to set the contemplative tone and pull off the neat trick of giving the listener the narrator’s perspective. What follows is a sublime work with pieces that are impossibly beautiful (“On the Nature of Daylight”), atmospherically cinematic (“Shadow Journal”, “Arboretum”, “The Trees”, “Old Song”), elegant (“Vladmir’s Blues”, “Horizon Variations”, “Written on the Sky”), and ethereal (“Iconography”, “Organum”). Given the short time it took to record and the lasting imprint is had made on so much music that came after, The Blue Notebooks is little short of remarkable.
On recording and re-arranging the previously unreleased material, Richter explains, “We’ve revisited a kind of hinterland to that record; these pieces form the background, almost like a reservoir that fed into the making of the record, but which didn’t actually make the finished article.” These include highly complementary entries such as the dreamy solo piano lines of “A Catalogue of Afternoons”, a new version of “Vladimir’s Blues”, and a pair of alternate arrangements of the now iconic “On the Nature of Daylight”. Adding completely new sonic dimensions are electronically charged remixes by Jlin and Konx-Om-Pax and a dramatic mashup of Richter’s music with Dinah Washington‘s vocal track for the 1961 song “This Bitter Earth” which was originally created by Robbie Robertson for the conclusion of Martin Scorsese’s 2010 psychological thriller “Shutter Island”.
The Blue Notebooks 15th Anniversary Reissue is now available on a variety of digital and streaming platforms and comes in two physical editions from Deutsche Grammophon – a double album edition available on CD or 2x vinyl LP and a “super deluxe” 2 CD edition which includes an extra bonus track on the second disc, the previously unreleased “Cypher”.