Max Richter: On The Nature Of Daylight


Max Richter: On the Nature of Daylight


As part of Max Richter’s 2004 album The Blue Notebooks, On the Nature of Daylight has received international acclaim.

Richter composed The Blue Notebooks in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He has described it as “a protest album about Iraq, a meditation on violence – both the violence that I had personally experienced around me as a child and the violence of war, at the utter futility of so much armed conflict.” The album was recorded about a week after mass protests against the war.[3]

The album features readings from Franz Kafka’s The Blue Octavo Notebooks and Czesław Miłosz’s Hymn of the Pearl and Unattainable Earth. Both readings are by the British actress Tilda Swinton.

The album itself is a protest album about the 2003 Iraq War paired with feelings and emotions from Richter’s troubled childhood. The Blue Notebooks is perhaps one of Richter’s most popular albums with Pitchfork describing is as “note only one of the finest records of the last six months, but one of the most affecting and universal contemporary classical records in recent memory.”

As well as its use in the album, On the Nature of Daylight received its widespread acclaim during its feature in the film Arrival. Used at both the start and the end of the film, the work’s solemn atmosphere really grabs you at the heart.

The Music

Scored for string quintet, On the Nature of Daylight is slow in movement, simple in harmony and fruitful in atmosphere. Opening with unison chords, the lower strings take the lead in creating the luscious texture. The slow chordal movement adds to the solemnity of the music, with no real melody to grab on to, the music slowly moves along. 

Richter builds texture and atmosphere by his shift in chord progressions. He also gets the violin to take a melodic lead over two minutes in, which resembles the same sort of effect as the theme from Schindler’s List. The alternating note motif sits neatly on top of the droning lower strings. Tension is built through the slow piecing together of motifs and dynamics. As the violin begins to soar into its upper range, so do the lower strings. 

On the Nature of Daylight comes to a gentle close after a controlled swell in texture and dynamics, leaving the listener wanting more. 

Final Thoughts

This emotionally-driven work coaxes the listener into a state of calm whilst the slow moving strings work their way up their ranges. The intensity is kept through the consistent drones in the lower strings and the continuous chord changes. Each move counts in this work, with every chord creating new textural colour in the ensemble. A highly emotive work that is a must hear.


Alex Burns

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