Anna Karenina (Dario Marianelli)

Final Musings: Anna Karenina offers a colourful array of Slavonic elements that once again display Marianelli’s usual degree of technical precision. Largely consisting of a series of waltzes and other forms of chamber music, the score requires time to take in and appreciate. And while it can be a rewarding experience in the end, it would have been nice to have heard some larger scale material from the ever talented composer. As it is, its a masterfully crafted work that you might not find yourself returning to very often.

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina has often been considered one of the greatest literary works of realist fiction. Accordingly, the classic tale has seen countless adaptations on the big screen and after having earned great financial and critical success with period pieces like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, director Joe Wright moves on to place his mark on the beloved Russian novel. Bringing back much of the crew that heralded his earlier triumphs, Wright sought to deviate away from the atypical nature of such costume dramas and dazzle viewers with his new interpretation. The result expectedly impressed critics although left some of the more traditionalists cold as they found the production to prefer style to heart. Regardless, the film will certainly garner a fair amount of attention during awards season.

And a Wright period piece would of course not be complete without composer Dario Marianelli waving his baton behind the screens. Marianelli’s music has often played a key, indispensable role in the director’s previous films, and to nobody’s surprise, the trend continues with Anna Karenina. The Italian composer is one of the most intelligent and admirable composers working in the industry today. His European sensibilities and elegant classicism offered a refreshing voice amidst tiring Hollywood conventions. Although his true gems lie in his darker fantasy material, Marianeli’s career lifted off the success of period pieces like Pride and Prejudice. With Anna Karenina being yet another one of those ventures, expectations were rather high for this score.

Marianelli approaches the film much like the director in the sense that he intentionally avoids the lush orchestral presence of more conventional period pieces. Anna Karenina is surprisingly a rather small-scale score, performed by a chamber ensemble in contrast to a full orchestra. The work isn’t one with big bold themes or massive Russian choirs but rather sumptuous waltzes, frenetic set pieces, and intimate works. It seems that the composer’s intent was to create a musical atmosphere that reflects the wild, cabaret-like nature of theatre that is explored in the film, and he performs this task remarkably well. Marianelli’s ability to meld together the appropriate sense of classicism and authenticity with great technical precision is what acts as the greatest strength of this score. Fans of Pride and Prejudice will certainly be pleased to hear that the music stays close to its classical roots, especially with the plethora of waltzes that might bring back memories of Shostakovich’s Jazz Suites.The composer is also very keen to craft his musical constructs off the basis of traditional Slavonic melodies portraying the score’s admirable dedication to maintaining authenticity of the period, sometimes creating music that you would have likely heard if you were a member of the Russian courts at the time. Various musical colours like the accordion, muted brass, vocal excerpts or even whistling effects are played against carefully crafted solo work (not unlike what was heard in Jane Eyre) to effectively reflect the settings of the film. And to reinforce the Russian atmosphere, folk songs are incorporated into the musical canvas in “The Girl and the Birch” and “Masha’s Song”.

The detailed attention to context continues to demonstrate itself through the themes as well. The album opens with a buoyant folk melody in waltz form. It’s a playful idea that seems to appropriately reflect the wild nature of the theatre. Cues like “She of the Heavens” are delightful little bits that exemplify the creative thematic and instrumental applications of the tune. The main theme is also introduced in the opening “Overture” at about 0:39 and is at its peak form in more emotionally potent cues like “A Birthday Present”. The final major thematic identity is a more antagonistic identity (possibly aligned with Anna’s husband) that makes its debut at 3:38 in “Dance With Me”. Marianelli, being no stranger to intelligent thematic writing also incorporates several smaller motifs throughout the course of the work that help weave the musical ideas into a whole. Examples include ideas like the one heard in “Beyond the Stage” which will harken back to the subtle yet effective writing in Jane Eyre.

Alas, its hard not to come to the end of the album and feel underwhelmed. Anna Karenina is very much like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice in the sense that Marianelli aims for technical precision, which he nails without question. The risk with such meticulousness however is that the work can lose its ability to easily connect with the listeners. Anna Karenina despite all its merits lacks the emotional resonance of Jane Eyre or the trademark stunner highlights that have accompanied his greatest feats like Agora. It’s here you can’t help but wonder how a bigger orchestral presence or bolder themes might have really benefitted this work. One could argue that the problem may lie in Marianelli’s strict adherence to the classical settings of the context, which once again calls for an analogy to his previous Wright projects. Pride and Prejudice and Atonement were also very much grounded in the composer’s classical sensibilities. The former, while pleasant and at times exceptional, strays often into the territory of rather conservative period music. The latter on the other hand strikes a perfect balance between restrained classicism and melodramatic romanticism. Anna Karenina finds itself precariously placed somewhere in between both ends of the scale. The score never truly reaches the engaging heights of Atonement, but it certainly exceeds Pride and Prejudice in musical diversity and emotional conviction.

Muse on These:

–        She is of the Heavens

–        Kitty’s Debut

–        Too Late

–        A Birthday Present

–        Anna’s Last Train

Now that isn’t to say that Anna Karenina isn’t without its highlights because that simply isn’t true. Whether it be the playful textures of “She is of the Heavens”, the incredibly dramatic “Too Late” with the composer’s trademark solo writing or the reflective “Anna’s Last Train”, there is a lot of great music to be found here. It may not have the earth-shattering crescendos we have heard throughout the man’s impressive career, but as is characteristic of Marianelli, you can’t help but appreciate the finer details. The array of colours that are portrayed are all impressively executed and the Slavonic overtones of it all certainly has its appeal. This score simply requires time to acknowledge how masterful the composition really is. Ultimately, Anna Karenina ends up being a score very closely attached to the film, consequently sacrificing some of the greater set pieces expected of him for sake of stylistic creativity. Regardless, it’s still a strong score. And don’t be surprised to find Marinalli earning yet another chance at Oscar gold during awards season.

Rating:  * * * *

2 Comments on “Anna Karenina (Dario Marianelli)”

  1. Craig Richard Lysy says:

    Once again you are right on the mark. Nicely done!

  2. Tribble21 says:

    Sadly enough, if the Oscar judges have it their way Reznor’s going to somehow get it again… He doesn’t even have to score anything… That’s how unjust the world is…

    Good review… and so nicely formatted and edited, I’ve read actual novels in print with more errors than this could ever have.

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