Adagio in D Minor, which debuted in John Murphy’s score to Sunshine, is one of the most beautiful compositions in soundtrack history. Hell, I’ll go even further and state that it’s one of the best tracks in the past 20 years.
While the track is not explicitly related to horror, I feel the need to bring it up because it’s been used in countless other places both in film and television. We’ve all heard it, we all know it, but how many of us have really stopped to listen and appreciate it?
Adagio in D Minor was composed by John Murphy and the British electronic band Underworld for the movie Sunshine. The term “adagio” is derived from the Italian “agio,” which is a tempo indication that the music should be played softly and with ease. Indeed, the track starts off slow and pensive, gradually increasing with piano and strings before reaching a tense climax, but never compromising its deliberate tempo.
— FOUNDATIONS OF HORROR —
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It’s easy to hear both John Murphy and Underworld’s influence because the score borrows from both cinematic and rock landscapes. The punch begins with a dramatic piano, then pulsating electric drums, and caps the wave off with stark synthesizers. This first rendition in the Sunshine soundtrack is titled “The Surface of the Sun.” In Murphy’s second rendition in the same film, entitled “Kanada’s Death Part II,” the same notes and sounds are heard, only now a heavy industrial guitar is thrown into the mix to lend a more urgent and chaotic feeling. This latter rendition is more along the lines of rock ‘n roll—a hodgepodge of Hans Zimmer and Trans Siberian Orchestra.
The first time I even heard of this track was in the Cloverfield trailer entitled “Robert.” It was the first time I recognized the careful marriage between score and emotion, or more broadly audio-visual storytelling. The trailer—because of the Murphy score—seemed less about the monster and more about the people, and their near-hopeless plight for survival. It lent this humanly, but grim tone to the film. I was so moved by the trailer, I had to seek out the score. Moreover, after listening to the full score, I became a soundtrack junkie. And as strange as it may seem, I never associate this track to its parental film, but always Cloverfield.
I can do no justice in explaining the emotional impact. It must be seen and heard to be believed. Below are the clips in which this track is used: the original scene with “Kanada’s Death Pt. II,” and the “Robert” trailer, each with its own emotional resonance. If nothing else, Murphy and Underworld composed one of the most eclectic tracks in soundtrack history.
The original clip from Sunshine.
Here is the Cloverfield trailer that did it for me:
For the Adjustment Bureau trailer, they use the track titled “Sunshine,” which is a third rendition of “The Surface of the Sun.” It reminds me how trailers throughout the 90’s used Hans Zimmer’s “Burn It All Track” from Backdraft.
In fact, John Murphy remade “Kanada’s Death Pt. II” for Kick-Ass, in the iconic scene in which Hit Girl tries to save Big Daddy. Like Sunshine, this moment is reflective of the track’s urgent and mournful timbre. The track is more instant, punctual, charged with deeper guitar wails, and electrified with distortion. Then, as it nears the crescendo, it becomes ethereal, and finally evaporates in a wash of cymbals. For this scene, the track is renamed to “Strobe (Adagio in D Minor).
Adagio in D Minor has also appeared in the season finale of Fringe and V, but finding examples is scarce. What isn’t scarce is my love for this track. Perhaps this isn’t an awareness post per se, but an appreciation of a brilliant piece of music.
Also, if you like Sunshine, you should check out other similar movies on par with it and Event Horizon: Eye-Opening Movies Like Event Horizon That Will Haunt Your Dreams
Last Updated on January 25, 2023.