For his bold retelling of Leo Tolstoy's masterwork Anna Karenina, director Joe Wright captured the theatricality of the 19th century Russian aristocracy by setting much of the film in an actual theater. Who better to bring it to life musically than Oscar-winning composer Dario Marianelli (PRS/ASCAP), who has brought his graceful touch to period dramas like Atonement, Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre? Marianelli told us about his unique approach to scoring this classic story.
I understand you scored some of the music for Anna Karenina before it started shooting. Which part of the score was that, and what sort of direction did you receive for it?
The first pieces to be written were the two waltzes. Together with a large mazurka, which was eventually cut during the editing process, they were the more complicated dances that our choreographer had to prepare, and that had to be learnt by the actors. Then there were several other setups that Joe [Wright, director] wanted to shoot to music, like the scenes in the French comedy theatre, or Oblonsky's clerks stamping documents in rhythm with the music, or the scene change from the clerks' office to the restaurant where Levin and Oblonsky have lunch together. So there were maybe six or seven pieces that had to be written and orchestrated completely before shooting started. Then there were a few piano pieces, prepared in case Joe decided he wanted to show the hands of the player, in two or three scenes.
The direction was more or less to feel free to experiment, which with Joe is always the case: I go away and start writing, and then on the basis of what I do we start a conversation. Joe was very receptive to what I was writing, and he immediately warmed to my initial ideas.
Did you have to do any research on 19th century Russian music while scoring Anna Karenina?
A little bit. I am quite familiar with a fair amount of Russian orchestral music from the 19th and 20th century. What I didn't know much of was Russian folk music, so I did some research into that. I listened to a lot of folk songs, and I recorded a few of them. A couple of very old tunes found their way into the score, and provided one of the elements of the musical world I was trying to create. I found it quite interesting to listen to the composers who started the whole idea of a Russian national school, Glinka and especially Balakirev, and to the folk songs they collected and used in some of their work. In the end I am not sure how much of that has gone into what I have done, but I am certain at least a little of that listening has coloured part of the score.
Were there elements of your score that were deliberately not related to the time period of the film?
Most of the score is historically very inaccurate. We were trying to create a fantasy Russia for our characters, and it was quite important not to be literal about anything. It is Russia seen through some very deliberately inaccurate glasses. The first waltz is probably the closest I got in the whole movie to something that might just about be possible for the time the action takes place in. The second waltz already becomes a point of departure, very quickly taking on a different route, and not a particularly literal or historically faithful one.
There's so much tension in Anna Karenina between the calm surface of the Russian socialite world, and the psychological torment that's brewing underneath. Did you try to capture that dynamic in your score?
Perhaps. There were many other points of the musical compass as well, and often I tried to mix them together. There is a definite vein of humour in part of the movie, as there is an aspiration to something true and simple, at least in some of the main characters, together with the mannered obedience to formal behaviour that clashes with some deeper and very strong desires. But I think the tension you refer to is reflected in the music by this very effort to integrate these very different elements.
You worked closely with a choreographer on Anna Karenina. What kind of input did you give on each other's work?
The music came first, and it was based on my understanding of the scenes, together with some rough timings that Joe gave me. Once I wrote the pieces, Joe, [Sidi] Larbi [Cherkaoui, our choreographer] and myself got together to try it out with dancers, and make some adjustments to the timings. A few weeks later I then went to Antwerp and I met with Larbi to see how his work with a group of dancers was progressing on the dances, and took some notes for further minor adjustments. I was on set with him when we shot those scenes, and we helped Joe to shoot as much as possible in ways that would allow for smooth editing later on. I had to make further changes once the film was locked, as inevitably the editing process had made necessary to move a few structural "hinges" in the piece. It was quite a long process.
This represents the fourth time you've collaborated with Joe Wright. How has your working relationship evolved over time?
Anna Karenina was certainly the most demanding of the movies we have worked on together so far; it was useful to have each other trust very well tested by previous collaborations. I think that trust in each other has grown on every project, and we are both keen to get each other's ideas. He knows that I speak my mind, and if there is something I find unconvincing, or if I have doubts about the meaning of what we are doing, I always find [him to be] a very good listener.
Anna Karenina is now in theaters. Find out more at focusfeatures.com/anna_karenina.
Dario Marianelli (PRS/ASCAP) is an Oscar-winning composer of film, orchestral and piano music. His film credits include the scores for Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, V for Vendetta, The Soloist, Eat Pray Love, Jane Eyre and many more. His score for Atonement earned him an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Original Score. Read Dario's full list of credits at his IMDB page.
Click here for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the music and dance sequences in Anna Karenina.