Film studios are providing a rare fourth quarter in which honest-to-god musical history is explored in fact-based scripted films. Nicholas Britell, through composing and arranging traditional tunes, was responsible for at least a dozen cues in the film, all of them based on the music of the mid-1800s.
"The research focused on two areas," the pianist/composer says. The first musical notations of them came in after the Civil War, but in the preface of nearly every [book], they mention how difficult it was to write Western notation for the many African rhythmic elements and diverse sounds that did not fit Western melodic and harmonic structures."
Britell, who was involved from the beginning of the shooting, and director Steve McQueen focused on the functionality of the music, and how the cadences of songs coordinated with workers' movements in cotton and sugar cane fields. "I looked to fiddle tunes to add levity and contrast with the spiritual, which spoke much more to the truth."
Credit Columbia Records for seeing a soundtrack opportunity that truly enhances the musicality of the film and extends the relationship between Northrup's world, related post-emancipation music and such contemporary acts as Clark and Cody Chestnutt. Britell's "My Lord Sunshine (Sunrise)," sung by David Hughey and Roosevelt Credit, will receive an awards campaign.
Nonesuch has joined with CBS Films in promoting the music of "Inside Llewyn Davis" as a companion piece, and Disney is connecting with music aficionados by offering the Sherman brothers' demos of "Mary Poppins" songs in its deluxe soundtrack to "Saving Mr Banks." In the rare case of "12 Years a Slave" -- which was just nominated for four SAG Awards -- the music elevates the storytelling and becomes a vital listen.