by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
What a daunting prospect it must have been for Rostock composer and multi-instrumentalist Johann Pätzold, when he was approached to write the music for a documentary on the recovery of the great Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. With well over 1,000 years of musical tradition inside its walls, where would a composer start?
Pätzold – who records under the name Secret of Elements – stripped the ideas back to the elements themselves, with each of the documentary’s three episodes focused on wood, glass and stone. Building on these three fundamentals, he added aspects of spirituality and mechanics, including on the way musical references to the cathedral’s organ and choir.
What’s the music like?
Rebuilding Notre-Dame leaves a lasting and powerful reflection, and for Johann Pätzold it can be counted as a job very well done. He successfully evokes the distant past and the future within a sound framework that conveys the massive spaces in which the workers are restoring the cathedral. There is an air of reverence for sure, but also one of barely concealed horror at the plight in which the building finds itself.
The root of the music is the Adagio for Notre-Dame, composed first, and from this all the other ideas spring. It is a true lament, music of powerful regret and sorrow but also with an undercurrent of hope in its rising from the depths. Ruins also proves a moving utterance, an evocation of the choir, soaring to the heights over the support of the organ.
Born Again ends with a powerful and brilliant chord from the organ, the climactic notes of a surge of movement suggesting strong new beginnings. A New Chapter capitalises on this but with a rhythmic drive.
Shattered Glass is especially effective, while Stones generates urgency, suggesting many hands at work. The figurations in darker lower strings for Holy Grounds could be borne of Philip Glass, also with the organ towards the end, while Wood and Forest draws an exciting combination of scurrying orchestral figures and voices.
The final Resurrection is a suitably majestic way to bow out, restoring the cathedral to its former glory in music of power and splendour, great drums pounding in response to choral and orchestral might.
Does it all work?
Yes. Pätzold makes great use of audio perspective to convey the vast, empty spaces, while also bringing through a potted history of the music heard in the cathedral in the preceding years.
Is it recommended?
It is. This is a deeply impressive achievement from Secret of Elements, who has somehow captured all the emotions at play in the task of restoring one of the world’s most famous sacred buildings to its former glories. The fitting soundtrack suggests they will indeed be restored.