1492: Conquest of Paradise
by Gavin Stok June 10, 1996
1492 is Vangelis' first soundtrack release since Antarctica 9 years ago. Based on Ridley Scott's epic about Christopher Columbus, it has been debated that the release is better described as a studio release than a soundtrack for the reason that little of the music on the soundtrack actually appears on the film, and the music that does is repeated many times over. But regardless of whether it is defined as a studio album or soundtrack, 1492 stands out as an epic piece of work by an artist who has proven himself to be one of the masters of electronic and atmospheric music, shown by his soundtracks to Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner, and further proven by some of the tracks from his many studio albums.
To put across the sense of exploration, heroism, and other traits characteristic of the film, Vangelis has used drawn out electronic chords and used an English chamber choir. On some tracks the feeling is of solitude and reflection, while on others it is of victory or triumph. The first single from the soundtrack, Conquest of Paradise, is the perfect example of the latter, merging a chant from the choir with electronic chords that lead up to higher pitched electronic chords and voices. Other tracks, such as Monastery of La Rabida, Twenty Eigth Parallel (the second single), and Pinta, Nina, Santa Maria (Into Eternity), are good examples of the former.
The album has been engineered so that many tracks which lead into each other, and when this occurs it is generally because the tracks are trying to portray similar feelings of tranquility or conquest. The most notable change of emotion in the film starts at Hispanola and follows through to Monica and the Horse. It is these tracks that are clearly portraying the most dramatic parts of the film. Given the overall sound and emotion given from the rest of the album, these tracks are distintively louder and more dramatic, and it is for this reasont that they distract. They sound good in their own right, but because they are so different seem like filler tracks between Eternity and Twenty Eight Parallel.
The beauty of 1492 is that you can often picture the scene of what the music is trying to convey without actually having seen the film; the use of the choir and instrumentation is perfectly suited. One of the tracks which exemplifies this is Pinta, Nina, Santa Maria (Into Eternity). This track goes for 12 minutes and shows the mastery of the atmospheres and emotions that Vangelis can create through his music; the repeating rhythm and main melodies give the sensation of movement, while the extra use of instrumentation in parts adds extra atmosphere. This track is one of the best that Vangelis has ever released in his career.
Overall, 1492 has given yet more credibility to Vangelis' work. It is an original and distinctive piece which beautifully portrays to the listener the sense of tranquility and conquest that the film was designed to portray. It is music with emotion, and deserves to be in any listener's collection.