There are definitely some worse composers out there than Anthony Hopkins. I mean, you probably could have guessed this even before listening to his new album Composer. It's statistically very probable, after all. But now I think it's basically fact: there are some worse composers out there than Anthony Hopkins. Some. Maybe about 20.
Composer is a mawkish and redundant album full of tracks which sound like student entries to a competition to write a soundtrack for a posh instant coffee advert. It has evidently been written by someone who has heard an awful lot of movie soundtracks, but not by anyone with an ear for being original. It is, in fact, unoriginal almost to the point of being funny, but somehow not quite. How in the world it ever actually came to be performed by the CBSO and released professionally should rightfully be beyond the comprehension of man.
That's more or less how I'd leave it, if Composer had been by someone who wasn't stratospherically wealthy and famous. The album doesn't actually merit any publicity, because it is not only rubbish but irrelevant rubbish. However, it has got loads of publicity already, because it is by Anthony Hopkins, so I'm going to carry on for a bit explaining why it's terrible.
Oddly, when listening to it, I was actually quite struck by how accomplished it sounded, in a way. The problem isn't that this is incompetent music; it's technically plausible and does at least indicate some sort of awareness as to what one does with an orchestra. What makes it particularly uncomfortable is, actually, just how self-assured it is. I got the distinct impression that Hopkins really thinks this is worthwhile stuff he's writing, that he's contributing something lasting or at least not wholly pointless to the musical world.
There is, I suppose, the sort of swagger to this album that one would expect from an actor who has been lauded for decades for his spontaneity. The combination of diligence in learning lines and freshness in delivering them in front of the cameras - for which Hopkins is especially renowned - has its analogy in the compositional process, which requires tirelessness in fleshing out and realising momentary flashes of inspiration. But whereas Hopkins's intuition and flair equip him perfectly for film, they simply do not do likewise for music. His compositions are naïve and crass, and all the more embarrassingly so given the confidence of their delivery.
To someone of zero international renown such as myself, it seems odd that Hopkins should be so intent on adding 'an extra string to [his] fiddle', as he put it in an interview on the project. As far as I can see, this brilliant, celebrated actor's fiddle already had a full complement of strings. As did his bow. In fact, the passion with which he has delivered this unpleasant, ill-advised project may well have pulled a bowstring or two loose.
This is, of course, nothing but a vanity project, but what concerns me is just how vain it is. Not just in terms of its obvious genesis in the expanses of Hopkins's bank account, but also in terms of his apparent pretensions for himself as a composer. At least Hugh Laurie had the grace to give the impression that he was just having a bit of fun. Hopkins appears to be attempting to tap directly into the fairly large market supply of people who think that all composers are always going to be sensitive, brooding geniuses who are better than you.
This is a stereotype which badly needs addressing, in an age when new classical music is actually, secretly, getting smarter, cooler, and more relevant. Perhaps the best thing that can be said of Hopkins's album is that any real engagement with it is likely to debunk somewhat the hackneyed stereotype of the composer as aloof genius. It is certainly not the work of a musical genius.
Wikipedia's got it right, though: visit Anthony Hopkins's page, and you will see the following text:
"For the composer, see Antony Hopkins."
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