The innovative British-German composer Max Richter recently released his ninth studio album called Voices. A decade in the making, Voices explores mental and historical landscapes as well as universal themes that seem particularly relevant today. The voices of the project come from people around the world who responded to Richter’s social media invitation to be a part of the work. They, together with actor Kiki Layne and the historical voice of Eleanor Roosevelt, read the words of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights in many different languages, set to Richter’s compositions—which range from quiet and meditative but also rise to Wagnerian heights.
Eleanor Roosevelt reads Article 1: “All Human Beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” The U.S. and Europe had only come out of the savagery and devastation of World War II at the time of the declaration. They were and continue to be aspirational goals for humanity, full of optimism and hope. Although they sound a little naïve given today’s toxic climate, Richter believes that the declaration “is something that offers us a way forward. Although it isn’t a perfect document, the declaration does represent an inspiring vision for the possibility of better and kinder world.”
Voices comes as a double CD—the first includes the readings while the second features “Voiceless Mix” versions of the tracks—in other words, just the music. Richter is a post-minimalist composer, and you hear the influence of Henryk Górecki (luminous Symphony #3), Arvo Pärt (haunting depth of Tabula Rasa), and Philip Glass (repeated triplet figures) in his music. Richter’s work can evoke strong emotional responses. Once while listening to the opening track of the music-only CD, I was reading a moving New York Times article about first responders who had succumbed the previous week to Covid-19. Reading the piece in combination with hearing to the music soon became very emotional for me, and I had to rush to the tissue box. I’m reminded of Ludovico Einaudi’s music, Craig Armstrong, Erik Satie, as well as Thomas Newman’s score for The Shawshank Redemption. So few notes can trigger such powerful emotions.
Max Richter burst upon the scene with 2002’s Memoryhouse, and I loved his re-imagining of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in 2012. Richter also scored a major hit with his 2015 work Sleep, which has remained popular over the years. Some may remember the two overnight live performances of this 8-hour long ultimate lullaby that took place in downtown’s Grand Park back in 2015, with cots and blankets instead of traditional seats. Now the composition has been transformed into a free app that offers musical sequences to help with focus, medication, and of course, sleep. Richter also composed a new wake-up alarm sound just for the app. The free app “has been a labor of love,” says Richter, who has continued to find new ways to share his music with audiences worldwide.