Music Pick, “State of Grace III” by Paul Schwartz is
a Blend of Monastic Chants and Contemporary Zest!
Monastic chants and ethereal Latin lyrics make timeless and effective scene-setting music.
Paul Schwartz has
made a reputation out of bringing this ancient, reflective music genre up to date. He has a string of albums
to his name including “Earthbound” and the “Aria” trilogy. His latest album, “State
of Grace III” completes the “State of Grace” trilogy.
“State of Grace III” continues his partnership with Lisbeth Scott. Her vocal range and the bell-like
clarity of her voice add superb depth to an eclectic mix of musical accompaniments. Lisbeth has featured
on all of the “State of Grace” albums and previously on his “Earthbound” album.
Schwartz’s talent is the incorporation of modern influences and, from time-to-time modern instruments and
recording technology to this musical style. You are left with a strong familiarity in the pieces however
the injection of contemporary zest is what makes Schwartz’s compositions so popular as atmospheric music
for TV productions.
In the same way that Thomas Newman’s “Dead Already” has become the signature of “American Beauty”,
Schwartz’s pieces have become connected with classic advertising for products like ice cream. People will
recognize his haunting arrangements because unknowingly they are the background to life.
His talent in merging and melding medieval and modern music is most obvious in “Christe Redemptor”,
the first track on the “State of Grace III” album. He incorporates a funky back-beat that you would
scarcely expect in an incantation-type track. However, the result works exceptionally well and would not
be out of place in the pop-classics chart.
The deep and sinister track “Agnus Dei” incorporates a haunting piano overlaid on a bed of synthesized
wall-to wall sound. Originally intended as a musical setting for part of the Roman catholic mass, this interpretation
of “Agnus Dei” illustrates something of the mysticism of religion.
There is no predictability to Scwartz’s arrangements. “Beams of Heaven”, for example, features a
string quartet and the voice of Lisbeth Scott with English lyrics. Picture yourself in a Victorian or Edwardian
drawing room with the plush décor and stiff-collared audience and you will get the flavor of this
piece. Just to keep you off balance, there is also a nuance of Irish Folk embedded in it too.
“Center of my Heart” would not go amiss as a Peter, Paul and Mary track from the ’60s. Forgive me
if you’re too young to remember. This is a song of lightness and dark. The harmonies lift the piece and the
lyrics, in understandable English, are deeply emotional and searching. Verging on a mantra, this song is
a wonderful reflection to assist in combining humanity and spirituality.
Schwartz’s background as a classically trained composer at the Royal college of Music, London, England becomes
evident in “Lux Aeterna”. This is a sweeping orchestral piece featuring strings and a haunting
melody. Its beautiful pace carries your emotions along with it.
In “…et lux perpetua” the composer uses a strident drum-beat to drive this spiraling piece
to a spine-tingling crescendo. By contrast, the following track,”To You”, demonstrates Schwartz’s
breadth. It is a light balladic number utilizing Lisbeth Scott’s striking voice and the accompanying piano
and clarinet to subtly lull your senses.
The swirling strings and angelic voice in “Listen” are akin to a call to action. Lisbeth Scott again
uses a haunting vocal to generate an atmosphere of gentle stimulation. If you need a gentle kick up the posterior,
this might be just the music to do the trick.
“Somnium” is the Latin word for dream and this track just takes you there. It’s another soft, meditative
track with gentle harp music providing the backing to beautiful lyrics. Schwartz is a magician with minimal
resources and he demonstrates it perfectly in “Somnium”.
In his time, Schwartz has conducted Broadway shows and it is not surprising that “Salve Regina” is
an atmospheric anthem with a touch of the Andrew Lloyd Webbers. He was involved in the original production
of “Phantom of the Opera” and it is possible to hear the threads of that style permeating his work.
The plaintive strains of “Soledad” conclude the album. This is a piano and violin instrumental duet
that tears at your heart strings and is an odd note on which to leave such an uplifting piece of work. One
can only conclude that Paul Schwartz felt the need to balance this angelic collection of music with a piece
that brings you back to the realities of life. Everything can’t possibly be rose tinted!
“State of Grace III” is an extraordinary piece of work and deserves a place on the shelf (or even
the MP3 player) of the most discerning music buff. If you are in the least spiritual, you will understand
the structure of his work. If you are not, you will just love the mellowness of the sounds that Schwartz
produces in his unique style.
Paul Schwartz is a self-confessed background character. He claims that he only designs the shape of the music
and allows the performers to translate it as they feel fit. “State of Grace III” demonstrates clearly
that Schwartz influences more than he would like to admit and the results are exceptional.