Kate’s Classical Corner: Hannibal, Ep. 3.01, “Antipasto”
As a classical musician, I can’t help but be influenced in my interpretation of Hannibal by its amazing score and soundtrack, composed and compiled by music supervisor Brian Reitzell. I’ll be reviewing Hannibal season three for Sound on Sight and along with each review, I’ll be writing up a few notes (or this week—thanks to the sheer volume of music—many, many notes) on the episode’s scoring and soundtrack choices. This is not intended to be a definitive reading of Reitzell or Bryan Fuller’s intentions in regards to the music, but rather an exploration of how these choices affect my appreciation of the given episode. Read my thoughts on “Antipasto” here.
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Claude Debussy (1894): Gideon and Hannibal eat dinner, Hannibal tends his snails
Based on L’après-midi d’un faune by famous French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is a seminal work in the orchestral repertoire. It was hugely influential thanks to its use of color, timbre, and texture and features one of the most famous flute solos in all symphonic literature, the one heard here as Hannibal presents Gideon’s remaining leg to him. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun gives the impressions of a faun, who wakes and sees two beautiful nymphs, pursuing them before falling back to a heady slumber. There’s a dreaminess to the piece and the poem—it’s unclear if either nymph exists or if these are just the imaginings of the half-awake faun. In selecting this piece for the first Gideon scene, and returning to it in the second, Reitzell adds a layer of uncertainty to these particular flashbacks. Did they happen, or are they a figment of Hannibal’s imagination, a conversation invented by Hannibal in his memory palace to distract him from the loss of Will? To take a more direct reading, perhaps Hannibal is the faun and Will is the nymphs—how much of their friendship was real, and how much the fantasy of a lonely creature?
Debussy’s piece is layered with scoring from Reitzell, most entertainingly for me, the slap bass that precedes the sweep of the harp that returns the Debussy to prominence as Gideon rolls into focus while Hannibal glazes his arm. The scoring for Hannibal and Bedelia in Italy is wholly new to the series, a jazzy, ‘60s-inspired approach, and adding the bass before the Debussy connects the scene with Gideon to the main timeline. There are thematic parallels throughout the episode tying Gideon and Bedelia together and adding a musical connection is a nice touch.
Pavane pour une infant défunte by Maurice Ravel (1910): Gideon and Hannibal eat snails
Unlike Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess has no direct narrative, its title allegedly selected by Ravel because he liked the sound of the words. Originally composed for piano and orchestrated by Ravel in 1910, the piece shares dream-like texture of Debussy’s tone poem and the horn solo, featured in Gideon’s final scene, is particularly evocative. The Ravel is more melancholy than the Debussy and nicely transitions Gideon from his quippier earlier scenes to his end of episode warning to both Hannibal and the audience. The steady rhythm beneath the melody implies an inevitability to both the scene and Gideon’s certainty of Hannibal’s eventual defeat. And, most likely the reason Reitzell actually picked it, it sure is pretty.
Prelude Op. 28, No. 15 (the Raindrop prelude) by Frédéric Chopin (1839): Bedelia takes a bath
This is an interesting choice for two reasons. Composed by Chopin while on vacation with Georges Sand and her children, Sand claims in her Histoire de ma vie that Chopin relayed to her a dream he’d had while composing this piece during a storm, “He saw himself drowned in a lake. Heavy drops of icy water fell in a regular rhythm on his breast”. Aside from the clear parallel of Bedelia’s dripping tap and her imagined death, there’s the fun connection of Chopin and Sand’s whirlwind romance and Hannibal and Bedelia’s travels in Europe as well as Chopin’s macabre inspiration for a seemingly restful piece, the prelude’s beautiful and simple opening motive followed by dark chords in the left hand. The raindrop rhythm presses forward, quickly becoming insistent rather than reassuring, trapping the listener in its melancholy before returning to the opening motive and eventually, releasing them. It’s a great choice for Bedelia.
The second reason this is such an interesting selection by Reitzell is that it’s not the first time the piece has been used on Hannibal. In season two’s “Naka-choko”, it played during the dinner with Hannibal, Alana, and Will, as the trio discussed pigs, paradoxes, and boundaries (and Alana stared at the newly friendly Hannibal and Will with confusion and incredulity). Given the premiere’s focus on flavor and feed, “Naka-choko”’s discussion of farmers’ love for the animals they slaughter feels like a natural fit, with Bedelia’s discomfort at her dinner with Hannibal and Anthony analogous to Alana’s at the previous dinner, though of course Anthony is no Will.
“Sogno soave e casto” from Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti (1810): Hannibal cooks dinner for himself
Translated as “Fond dream of love, no more”, this excerpt is sung by Ernesto, the young lead of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, as he bemoans the loss of his beloved Norina, whom he has been convinced he must leave. A literal interpretation of the choice could see the Fells in Ernesto and Norina, with Hannibal literally separating them, or again, see Will and Hannibal’s relationship in the (translated) lyrics, “This madness will overthrow my plans! Sweet and chaste dream from my early years, farewell. … poor, abandoned, fallen to a low state, ere seeing you miserable, dear, I must renounce you.” But this is too much of a stretch even for me, so I see it mostly as a lovely piece selected for its warmth and of course, its connection to Italy.
Other pieces featured this week:
Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 (the Waldstein sonata) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1804): Hannibal meets Anthony Dimmond and discusses dissection
Serenade for Strings in E major Op. 22, II. Tempo di Valse by Antonin Dvorak (1875): Hannibal and Bedelia waltz
String Quintet in C major, II. Adagio by Franz Schubert (1828): Music that follows Dvorak at the ball
- I don’t have titles for them, but two 1960s Italian library cues are used in Hannibal and Bedelia’s dinner with Anthony, tying in well to the scoring by Reitzell in the opening scene of the premiere. They’re fun and flirty, perfect for the scene. This blend of old and new Italian inspirations, the library cues paired with Italian opera, keep the premiere from feeling stuffy or moored in the past. ETA: According to Bryan Fuller’s livetweet of the premiere, one of the cues is “Lulu” by Antonello Palliotti and Pappi Corsicato.
- One of Reitzell’s favorite instruments to return to is the woodblock, which stands in for the drip of water (or blood) and gives an added ominous edge to the scene of Bedelia washing up after killing her patient and Hannibal’s post-lecture scene with Anthony.
- Bedelia’s time out alone, shopping for the food Hannibal prefers her to eat, is scored with synth and drum machine, along with other instrumentation. While electric guitar has been used in the past (and is used in this premiere), and synth may well have been layered in previously, its prominent featuring here is shocking, a huge departure from the sound of seasons one and two. This contributes to the feel of “Antipasto” as a fresh start for Hannibal and the series. Particularly interesting in Bedelia’s scoring is the use of organ as she sits at the train station. Reitzell has remarked in the past that the organ is known as the instrument of life, whereas the harpsichord is called the instrument of death. The organ, if pumped, can sustain sound indefinitely whereas a harpsichord plucks its strings and their sound quickly fades. Foregrounding the organ as Bedelia presents herself to the camera contextualizes this as an action taken to preserve her life. Bedelia, it would seem, also wants to be found, though by the FBI, rather than just Will.
For even more Hannibal talk, check out the podcast I cohost with Sean Colletti for Sound on Sight, This Is Our Design!