Composer: W. G. Snuffy Walden
Label: Varèse Sarabande
The West Wing is one of my favourite TV shows and while a lot of that is down to the staggeringly good performances, scripting, direction and storylines, he it also had a great musical score from W. G. Snuffy Walden too. And now, Varèse Sarabande has released a double CD soundtrack to the series, which will enable fans everywhere to recapture some of the most memorable moments from the music of Walden.
The composer has worked with Varèse Sarabande to put together this ultimate collection and across both disks there is a sense of grandeur and passion that made the series so successful. In preparation for the release, Walden penned these words…
“As I turned the pages of that first script, the rich characters and informative stories captivated me. I was convinced: this would be an opportunity that was very rare in network television. As the project got deeper into production, it became obvious that this was exceptional work and I was blessed to be a part of the experience
“With our schedule and its breakneck speed, we hardly had time to give a second thought to what we were creating, but I knew it was magical. I wasn’t able to appreciate the artistry of the collective achievement in the moment, but I could feel its magnitude in the response from the devotees who watched it religiously every week!”
“The theme became “a piece of music that everybody identified with. It was magical how people felt proud to be an American when they hear that music. I don’t know how else to say it. I’ve just been told over and over and over again through the years by people who’ve been so moved by that.”
Across the two disks there are 44 individual tracks, taking the listener back to the grand days of The West Wing. There is a grandiose nature to Walden’s score full of sweeping, dramatic and intensely emotional themes that recall the majesty of the inner workings of the White House and the events that unfolded over the seven years of the show. Listening to these tracks again, it’s easy to be swept up with memories of old, reliving the days where the staff would talk and walk through the corridors of the west wing and the grand, military themes as crises unfolded and President Bartlett and his staff were faced with difficult choices.
I could discuss each track but then this would be a very long review, so instead I’m going to pick out the key scores from each disk. That being said, there is something beautiful and uplifting in every score, such is the nature of Walden’s work and they are all worth listening to.
- ‘One Down in Gaza’ – the third track on disk one has the familiar military drum beat that ran through the core musical themes of the show with a powerful, emotional and often sweet score, capturing one of the darker storylines of the latter seasons as Donna was caught up in the tragedy at a fact finding mission in Gaza.
- ‘Leo’s Lament’ – the fifth track deals with the death of Leo, built around the death of the actor John Spencer, which was one of the most emotional moments in the show’s history. It’s full of grief but beautiful too before rising into something powerful; the rising score sending a shiver down your spine.
- ‘Two Cathedrals’ – This was one of the best episodes the show ever did, as Bartlett raged against God at the death of Mrs Landingham. This piece, the sixth on the album is simply beautiful, a bittersweet edge as Walden captures the grander themes of the show in this one track. The soaring end is just stunning.
- Ways and Means’ – this season three episode saw Bartlett face the congressional hearing over hiding his illness. In this seventh piece, Walden adds an intense piano / synth beat with the military drum beat motif to create a sense of urgency and pace, building throughout. It certainly stands out amongst the other tracks.
- ‘The Dogs of War’ – The tenth track scores the early season five episode that brought Zoe’s kidnapping storyline to a conclusion. It is a piece fulled with emotion, building a sense of hope in a rising, beautiful score; the familiar grand themes of the series come into play with a bittersweet, emotional edge.
- ‘The Defector’ – The eleventh track has a tragic undertone, sweeping into a majestic, hopeful score before ending with a mournful piano piece that dealt with the failed attempt of a North Korean pianist to defect to the US in the season five episode ‘Han’.
- ‘Debate Camp’ – the sixteenth track from season four is sweet, majestic and uplifting that really evokes the grandeur of the series, ending with a nice version of the main theme.
- ‘Mr. Willis of Ohio’ – the eighteenth tracks from this season one episode has an ominous opening, with an emotional rising score that builds to something more hopeful and grand. Another standout track.
- ‘The Halls of the White House’ – the military drum beats, fast paced beat and grandiose playful score might feel cheesy out of context out of the show. But this track, the nineteenth on the disk, invokes the fast paced banter and movement of the inner workings of the west wing and wants to take you back there.
- ‘The Oval Office To Main Title’ – final track on disk one has fast paced beat bubbling under lovely orchestral piece building with military drums and majesty into iconic title sequence.
- ‘Proportional Response’ – the fifth track on disk two is grand, dramatic and full of ,military pomp while also feeling gravely serious too. It also has an emotive yet melancholy grandeur about it too, before ending on a more hopeful, sweeping climax, making it one of the more memorable tracks on the album.
- ’24 Hr Deadline’ – the seventh track is another dramatic piece invoking the pressure of the office and a sweeping majesty too that is triumphant and hopeful.
- ‘Charlie In The Oval Office’ – the next track is full of splendour and awe, a grand score ending triumphantly in a rendition of the main theme.
- ‘Mrs. Landingham’ – tenth track is a tragic, melancholy piece and really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. The beautiful string movements and the build to the bittersweet end packs a powerful, emotional punch without being too overstated.
- ‘One of Three’ – the eleventh track feels almost tribal, a more bombastic, guttural military feel filled with a sense of danger and urgency that really stands out.
- ‘Presidential Proclamation’ – the thirteenth track is a stunning piece; ethereal, beautiful, full of the warmth and hopeful grandeur but with a melancholy edge. It perfectly captures the essence of the series.
- ‘Strike Immediately’ – A darker, tense sixteenth track, full of danger and tension; the military feel pulling you right into the crisis unfolding before ending on a jarring, explosive bang.
- ‘What’s Next’ – Track eighteen is another grand, sweeping score, with a recurring, fast-paced beat and military feel that captures the feel of the show. There are some triumphant moments, full of pomp and circumstance, building to a sense of hope as it nears the end and a slowed down version of the theme kicks in.
- ‘The Nomination’ the final, beautiful track of disk two has a lovely gentle but uplifting version of the main theme full of hope and grandeur followed by another bombastic, dramatic beat at the end. It’s the perfect end to the album.
It is virtually impossible to pick out a stand-out track because the music of W. G. Snuffy Walden is so good. The moments where the main theme is invoked are a delight, his sweeping scores creating the majesty of the west wing of the Bartlett era, while the military-style, fast-paced tracks contrast nicely to reflect the drama and tension of the show.
This album is the perfect addition for any fan of The West Wing and, if you’re like me, it will make you want to go and rewatch the entire series all over again. (It might be fourth time…)