THE WEST WING – ORIGINAL TELEVISION SOUNDTRACK takes us back to pure presidential pageantry.
Review by Matt Cummings
In 1999, the composer W. G. Snuffy Walden was tasked with scoring an NBC television series about the politics and drama of the White House. THE WEST WING went on to become a bedrock of the network’s programming, influencing every element of the television president going forward. Its majestic theme became a recognizable one, garnering Walden an Emmy for Outstanding Main Theme Title and proving that a large orchestra could produce exceptional new music week in a week out. With the recent release of THE WEST WING – ORIGINAL TELEVISION SOUNDTRACK, we can relive one of the best series on television and credit its composer for giving the White House a second great theme alongside “Hail to the Chief.”
When the bookworm Democrat Josiah “Jed” Bartlet is elected U.S. president, he installs an inexperienced administration that’s forced to learn tough lessons while on the job: Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer), his deputy Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), Communications Director Toby Zeigler (Richard Schiff), Deputy Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), and Press Secretary CJ Cregg (Alison Janey). Together with First Lady Abigail (Stockard Channing), and his personal aide Charlie Young (Dule Hill), Barlet navigates through dangerous political battles and personal tragedies that will define his presidency and go beyond mere political theater.
From the recognizable drums of We Begin that began each episode to the beautiful second track The Aftermath, we know that Walden has chosen some of the best pieces from the series’ seven seasons. We’re gifted a mix of purely presidential themes like Halls of the White House and Walking the West Wing as well as great dramatic pieces like One Down in Gaza and Leo Has to Go. The show’s original theme is also lovingly reproduced throughout several tracks, including #13’s The First Commandment. But the very next track Oval Office to Main Theme sports an interesting electronic beat which is offset by Walden’s sweeping orchestra that includes oboes and french horns leading the charge. It’s here that the main theme appears, playing as presidential as Hail to the Chief.
It’s not often when a television series and its music are married so well; the weekly deadlines of the industry make consistency and exceptionalism difficult to maintain. But it’s clear that Walden achieved both with THE WEST WING, even with smaller tracks like #17’s Camp David and 18’s Proportional Response. Both come from some of the best early episodes and remind us how quickly Creator/Director Aaron Sorkin’s series jumped off the line. Another is season 2’s 18th and Potomac which track 18 memorializes with Mrs. Landingham. The entire score plays like something out of a movie, mixing these tender moments and big themes like #19’s One of Three and #29’s The Nomination If you like Walden’s terrific music for CBS’s SEAL TEAM, you’ll find WEST WING just as compelling.
THE BOTTOM LINE
THE WEST WING – ORIGINAL TELEVISION SOUNDTRACK is perhaps one of the greatest television scores from the early 21st Century. Its 29 tracks are gentle and moving at parts and full of presidential pageantry throughout, giving an added dimension to what was already a fantastic series. The brilliance of W.G. Snuffy Walden luckily lives on in other projects, but THE WEST WING stands as his opus, a sweeping and deeply personal experience that encourages you to revisit it and remember a time when being presidential actually meant something. Pick up this score, as none of it will disappoint.
THE WEST WING – Original Television Soundtrack is now available from Varèse Sarabande on both digital and CD.