Secret of Elements ~ Rebuilding Notre Dame OST

As Notre Dame burned on April 15, 2019, the entire world felt a tug in the throat.  History and hope were going up in flames.  The symbolism of the cathedral stretched far beyond France, even beyond religion.  Thanks to heroic efforts ~ and some might say divine intervention ~ the bulk of the architecture was saved, although grievous damage had been inflicted.

A small number of movies have addressed the fire and its aftermath.  Now Arte has produced a three-episode series about the reconstruction.  Rebuilding Notre Dame debuts on March 4, accompanied by a striking soundtrack from Secret of Elements (Johann Pätzold).  As is often the case, we’re reviewing the music without having seen the visuals ~ an advantage for the objective, as we are able to conclude that the music stands on its own, flows as a whole and uplifts the spirit in a manner concurrent with the narrative.  Culled from three hours of material, the OST proceeds from mourning to recovery to celebration, incorporating choir, organ, harp, strings, and “Gabriel,” one of the cathedral’s bells.

The introductory notes sound like a tolling.  “Lost Piece” grows humbly and swiftly, launching into the drama.  “Adagio for Notre Dame,” the track from which the entire project developed, is suitably mournful, matching the opening of “Lost Piece” with a true-to-life peal.  While listening, the sorrow comes rushing back, a feeling ushered away in the tonal shift of “Stones,” its sole liability being the similarity of the second half to the CW’s Flash theme (compare at 00:30).  If only Barry Allen were available to rebuild the cathedral!

Thanks to the harp, “Shattered Glass” already sounds holy; in the documentary, the track scores a scene in which rain falls through a gaping hole in the roof, drenching the cathedral.  The fact that one can imagine this while listening is a testament to Secret of Elements’ attention to tonal detail.  After touching on loss and awe, the music tilts toward the task at hand.  The rapid chimes of “Old Chapel” are like little hammers, the debris cleared, the reconstruction begun.  The drama coalesces in “Wood and Forest” in a swirl of strings and soaring chorals.  “Born Again,” which arrives late in the set but is used as the main theme of the series, sweeps up the pieces and installs new panes.

Secret of Elements reminds listeners how it felt to watch the cathedral burn, but doesn’t settle on despair; the resurrection is the lead story, and while this triumph remains relatively unknown to global audiences, Rebuilding Notre Dame is a feel-good story worth sharing.  (Richard Allen)

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