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Her Life and Legacy (Miguel d’Oliveira)

July 30, 2017


Miguel d’Oliveira, 2017, Private Promotional Release
14 tracks, 26:35

Marking the 20th ‘anniversary’ of Diana’s death, ITV has commissioned a new in-depth documentary.

Review and interview by Pete Simons

What is it?

Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy is a new 90-minute documentary from ITV marking 20 years since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Prince William and Prince Harry talk openly about their mother and her enduring influence; and they are joined by some of Diana’s best friends and family members.

The original score is by Miguel d’Oliveira how has worked with the director on a few earlier projects. “I had worked with Ashley Gething (director) on about 7 films before,” says d’oliveira. “Starting with Battle of Britain back in 2009; and had also recently scored 2 feature documentary films about the queen, Queen: Our Queen and Queen at Ninety (both for ITV and the latter also directed by him). As far as I know, I was on a shortlist of one for this documentary.

What does it sound like? And is it any good?

The score is mostly piano-driven, with additional roles for woodwinds, strings, celeste and a few other things. It’s a small ensemble, which gives the score an intimate atmosphere. Over the last twenty years, and probably even longer, we have build up Diana as some sort of larger-than-life, almost mythical figure. The point of this documentary is to show that she was, first and foremost, a mother. A woman who liked to have fun, just like anybody else. D’Oliveira made the right choice to score it ‘small’ and avoid large musical gestures.  On his approach to scoring this documentary, the composer explains: “My main concern from the beginning was to do it justice. Diana was an incredible woman and it would have been a disservice to manipulate any passages or let the music be a distraction. Taking into consideration what is expected (ITV vs BBC or Ch4) I tried as much as possible to avoid any judgement commentary with the score. I steered away from strings as much as possible and aimed at writing what I hoped was an adequately elegant, kind and reasonably sophisticated score. I found it 10 times harder to get the tone right than on the previous two films about the queen.” With regards to the directions he received, the composer adds: “Having worked together on so many films, I can now second guess what this director expects. But we still discussed earlier on where the score should go. How simple it ought to remain throughout and even basic instrumentation.

The vast majority, if not all, of the score is subtly upbeat. The music celebrates her life; it does not mourn her death (or… where it does, it is brief). It’s utterly pleasant music, something you can easily have on repeat for a while. Pizzicato strings and celeste merrily pluck along with the whimsical piano-and-wind melodies. A few moments, for example in “Someone Special”, “Not Sure Anymore” or “Someone Different”, vaguely remind me of James Horner in ‘forest’ mode; there’s just something about the piano motifs and the use of woodwinds that makes me think of that. “A Sea of Tears” is a beautiful cue for longing winds and sparkly piano and celeste. “Sense of Humour” is a fun little piece with somewhat of a jazzy vibe.

Due to the very nature of the gig, the composer steers away from adding ‘commentary’. In other words: it’s emotionally neutral. It’s all very pretty and elegant and optimistic, but there is no big emotional pay off here. That is by design and I believe it’s the right approach for this program. Yet, away from the show as a stand-alone listen, I selfishly wish it pulled on the heartstrings and bit harder. That said, there’s a longing in the music, a beautiful melancholy that resonates strongly with me.

Diana’s death came as a shock to friend and foe alike. I remember the news breaking on a Sunday afternoon, the last day of August 1997. I remember it very well, because the very next day marked my first day at University… studying Journalism. So I’m sure you can imagine what we talked about all day and for some time after! Miguel remembers that day as well and says: “I had just finished medical school and I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. Which for me is still quite bizarre, as I have no similar recollection regarding news of the death of all but one of our (Portuguese) heads of state. Afterwards I was super impressed by the astonishing public outpouring of grief, which i imagine had never happened not will do again, on the same scale. Reading about her then made me more aware of all the impressive campaigns she was involved with. She was a very inspiring, and very beautiful woman.

As mentioned earlier, the music appears orchestrated for a small orchestral ensemble. When asked if it was a live performance, the composer answered: “Sadly not. That was the plan but, the edit was constantly changing (a lot) and it went on right up to the day before the dub. So I had no chance to do anything live and it’s all me: performing, mixing and mastering. To make matters worse I moved house the week before the mix so had 3 days when nothing happened on my side.” For those curious enough, d’Oliveira mentioned that he used a few Spitfire libraries, as well as some of his own home-made samples. The quality of the samples and of the composer’s production is so high that it had even me fooled for a while.

Sadly, a commercial release looks to be out of the question. Those who are familiar with the composer’s work will know to expect a very pleasing and rewarding work. And those who are not yet familiar would do well to check out his site, or catch up with this particular documentary or shows like Joanna Lumley’s Trans-siberian Adventure.

What’s next for d’Oliveira? “The two series I am writing the music for now couldn’t be more different. Which is one thing I love about this ‘job’. I’m working on The Hairy Bikers Mediterranean Adventure and the second series of First Dates Hotel.


01. Heart in the Right Place (2.02)
02. Confused Feelings (1.48)
03. Fashion (1.06)
04. Someone Special (1.07)
05. Trying to Fit In (2.15)
06. Not Sure Anymore (2.04)
07. A Sea of Tears (2.39)
08. Granny Diana (1.47)
09. Sense of Humour (1.52)
10. Someone Different (2.07)
11. Picking Yourself Up (2.10)
12. Playful Mummy (2.18)
13. Caring Without Prejudice (1.31)
14. Princess of the Poets (1.49)

Special thanks to: Miguel d’Oliveira.

Review (C) 2017 Synchrotones

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