Alberto Iglesias
Alberto Iglesias
The cinematic world consists of two types: those who believe that continually recasting from a favoured coterie of actors can endanger suspension of disbelief, and those who do not. Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (b.1949) is clearly an adherent of the latter school, his favourites including Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Victoria Abril, Rossy de Palma, Marisa Paredes and, more recently, Penélope Cruz. Imagine the temptation then to solicit continued contributions from those behind the scenes, such as composers. Beginning with La flor de mi secreto (1995) Alberto Iglesias (b.1955) has scored the last nine of Almodóvar's 22 feature-length films. Lest it be imagined that Iglesias has simply benefited from a localist creed, it should be stressed that previous Almodóvar composers included Ennio Morricone (Átame! 1989) and Ryûichi Sakamoto (High Heels, 1991).

Born Alberto Iglesias Fernandez-Berridi in San Sebastián, in Spain's País Vasco, Iglesias studied composition there before going on to study piano and composition in Paris. Piano being such a universally cinematic instrument it would be fanciful to estimate the importance of the instrument in a composer's life from its ubiquity in film scores. However, one track in particular, “No Se A Donde Voy, Muy Lejos” (I don't know where I'm going, very far) from Julio Medem's 2001 Lucia y el Sexo (Sex and Lucia) suggests familiarity with nifty technique. This same piece also hints at breadth of influence and a healthy eclecticism; its almost Second Viennese School piano scurryings are underpinned and energised by a rapid and continuous pulse which his earlier Austrian counterparts would have eschewed. Less frenetic piano writing reveals Iglesias to have an excellent ear for the relationship between the spacing of notes in piano chords and lightness. Almodóvar's 2011 La piel que habito (The skin I live in) features, not to give away too much of the plot, abduction and involuntary gender reassignment. When the victim is eventually afforded some freedom of movement, Iglesias mirrors the attendant open horizons with calm chords whose notes are spaced more widely apart than in earlier, more claustrophobic moments.

As ubiquitous as the piano in Iglesias' scores are strings. Two equal and opposite skills can be noted in his fine string writing. The first concerns supplying energy to the moment, often achieved by detached articulation, usually of repeated notes, with mild dissonance lending a pressuring hand where necessary. El Cigarral from La piel que hábito is a fine example. The second technique concerns the subtle introduction of dissonance to suggest trouble on its way as opposed to already present. Here lies the true art of the film composer, to prepare us for what might be coming as opposed merely to mirroring what the screen already shows. Jordania (Jordan) from Almodóvar's 2002 Hable con ella (Talk to her) is a fine example of subtle dissonance - in this case sustained string notes in an otherwise energetic texture - employed to hint at disquieting recollections.

The same film also supplies many thrilling moments of solo violin writing whose frenetic textures call to mind Obsession, the Prelude from Ysaÿe's Sonata No. 2 in A minor Op.27.

Choice of instrumental colour is surely informed by the cinema composer's ultimate paradox: to supply music which makes a difference while going unnoticed. This seems to inform Iglesias' choice of percussion which is often restricted to the drier sounds from this section of the orchestra. Motorbike from Fernando Meirilles' 2005 The Constant Gardner is a fine case in point. A rare example of Iglesias using timpani occurs in the title track of Tomas Alfredson's 2011 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The same track also offers another example of mild, sustained dissonance, in an otherwise animated texture, hinting at malaise.

Film scores often divide into the orchestral or the electronic. Without access to the scores one has to trust one's ear, but there appears to be subtle use of sampling and/or electronic manipulation in the otherwise orchestral score to Icíar Bollaín's 2010 También la lluvia (Even the rain). The title alludes to the 2000 Cochabamba Water War in the Bolivian town of the same name. “Esto es arena” (This is sand) features some exotic sounds which, if not electronically sourced or treated are surely examples of orchestral wizardry.

Straightforward manifestations of Iberian music are unexpectedly rare in Iglesias. Perhaps his Basque provenance explains this, or his Parisian studies. One exception to this appears towards the end of Almodóvar's 2006 Volver (Returning) when Penélope Cruz performs a thoroughly convincing lip-sync to Estrella Morente's heartfelt rendition of the title song. The 'live music' and social setting of that moment echo a similarly moving party performance by Caetano Veloso of Cucurrucucú Paloma in Hable con ella.

An appealing feature is Iglesias' lack of megalomania regarding total control of musical input. There are scores which simply include well known songs such as The Pointer Sisters' I'm So Excited in Almodóvar's 2013 film of the same name. Recruiting Kenyan musician Ayub Ogada assured, quite literally, an authentic voice in The Constant Gardner. Rossini even makes a cameo appearance in Almodóvar's La mala educación (Bad Education) via the Kyrie from his Petite Messe Solennelle which is sung by the male choristers of a boarding school where duty of care is, to say the least, compromised.

Although perhaps not a household name, Iglesias is no stranger to award nominations and triumphs. He received Academy Award and Bafta nominations for The Constant Gardner, The Kite Runner and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. He was nominated for the European Film Awards for La mala educación and La piel que hábito and won in 2006 for Volver. Confounding the notion that a prophet is never honoured in his own land, Iglesias has triumphed in ten out of twelve nominations for the Goya Award.

Projects in progress include Ridley Scott's Old Testament epic Exodus: Gods and Kings and Julio Medem's presumably more intimate and personal Ma ma.