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Max Richter's 'Blue Notebooks' Offers Moving Portrait For Elisabeth Moss

Max Richter's music seems ready-made for movies – and that's not in any way a put down. The music is powerful on its own, but certain pieces take on new depth when paired with well-designed visuals.

"On the Nature of Daylight," from Richter's 2004 album The Blue Notebooks, has made potent appearances in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island and Denis Villeneuve's Arrival. Now there's a new short film, made specifically for Richter's gently swaying lament, featuring an arresting performance by Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid's Tale, The West Wing) and directed by George Belfield. Richter is reissuing The Blue Notebooks, which features readings by Tilda Swinton, on June 29.

Opening in a desolate diner, Moss' character takes a phone call that touches off a deep sadness and a lonely, all-night walk through the city. As gray morning light seeps in, she breaks down in tears of gut-wrenching anguish. But in the final moments, with the camera holding tight on her face, she rises with a look of woozy determination, perhaps even defiance.

Richter's music, with its bittersweet melody hovering over an oscillating bassline, also reaches a climax of unutterable grief — but grief that hints at a catharsis not unlike Barber's Adagio. In the album's booklet notes, Richter says he thinks of the piece as "a meditation on violence and its repercussions."

Moss is no stranger to Richter's music. In a press release, she noted that "My work has been inspired by his music for so many years and not a day goes by on set where I don't have Max's music playing in my ears before a take."

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.