Kate’s Classical Corner: Hannibal, Ep. 3.05, “Contorno”
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. This is not intended to be a definitive reading of Reitzell or showrunner 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 review of “Contorno” here.
Piano Sonata in B-flat major, K. 333, III. Allegretto grazioso by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1784): Hannibal plays the piano
Both of the classical pieces featured in this episode were presumably chosen as direct references to other works, the first of which is Thomas Harris’ Hannibal, in which Hannibal plays this Mozart Sonata on a harpsichord. The particular performance of the piece used is lovely and fluid, though this makes the shots of Mads Mikkelsen’s doubling rather distracting, as the bench appears to be too high, raising his shoulders and arms too far above piano and making him feel disconnected from it. His upper body is also rather stiff, at least in the shot from Bedelia’s perspective of his back, which would come through in his sound. The piece itself is beautiful—delicate and harmonically simple, but playful—and an excellent choice to accompany Hannibal’s trip down memory lane to when he was a younger man. I have trouble believing Hannibal wouldn’t have the piece memorized, but that’s one I’ll give the show, as putting the sheet music there gives the director something to show Mikkelsen looking straight ahead at, rather than just down at his hands.
Hannibal’s preference for the harpsichord over the piano, finding in its fleeting sound a closer parallel to life, is interesting. The harpsichord functions by essentially plucking strings, whereas the piano strikes strings with padded hammers, allowing gradations of volume not possible with the harpsichord. This makes the attack of a given note, the way it starts, crucial on the harpsichord, as the notes cannot be sustained via a pedal or made to last longer by holding the keys down. The sound is produced and shaped with care, then quickly dies, whereas the sound on a piano can linger much longer. For Hannibal, life is fleeting, but memory continues on.
Overture to La gazza ladra by Gioachino Rossini (1817): Hannibal meets with Pazzi, Jack fights Hannibal
The wonderful use of the La gazza ladra overture in this episode is a reference to A Clockwork Orange, in which the main character attacks two compatriots to the strains of this overture, which he hears playing from a nearby stereo. It works on many more levels than this simple homage, however. There’s the obvious connection of Rossini being one of the most famous Italian classical composers, but the piece also suits the situation well. Its snare drum opening and march-like first theme matches Pazzi’s walk into the lion’s den, the inevitability of his fate, and it’s fitting that Hannibal would select an overture, as attacking Pazzi will mark the start of a new chapter for him. Killing Sogliato was tempting fate—killing Pazzi seals his fate. Reitzell layers scoring over the Rossini, adding dissonance to certain moments as Hannibal stares down Pazzi, looks Pazzi foolishly ignores, and when Hannibal grabs Pazzi, the drums mimic his heartbeat: first intense, then gradually slowing as he passes out.
Once Jack arrives and restarts the record player (notably, Hannibal bothered to turn off the record player once Pazzi blacked out—the music was for Pazzi and the situation, not just for Hannibal to enjoy sans context), the piece picks up in its second half, much more active and playful than its stately opening. Jack is serious, but this is a far cry from the battle of wills in “Kaiseki” or “Mizumono”, a number of the action beats timed to the music, making a dance out of portions of it. Layered in with the Rossini is again scoring from Reitzell who, along with several other touches, references his “Mizumono” score to match the visual callback to the season two finale of Hannibal’s head going through a pane of glass which shatters into small raindrop-sized chunks that bounce off his face. The triumphant ending of the piece is perfect for Jack’s demeanor as he closes in on Hannibal and its comedic tone winks knowingly at the audience, playfully calling out Hannibal’s farcical escape. Jack and the rest of Team Baltimore have had a crappy two years. This closing sequence is exhilarating, a much-deserved win for Jack that the audience is allowed to enjoy completely because we know Hannibal won’t die and we also know he absolutely deserves everything that’s happening to him.
Other scoring notes:
- Just as entertaining as the use of the Rossini, for me at least, is the groaning, distorted sound Reitzell employs as Will tumbles head over heels while being thrown from the train. It feels like a character speaking in a comedic slo-mo, or Will thinking a super-slow, “Oh no!” midair. The shuddering, distorted sound that follows is an extension of the scoring used when Pazzi calls to turn in Hannibal for the first time, but whereas there it felt like a sob, here it feels like a beacon pulling Will forward. And of course, when the Ravenstag reappears, there’s a quick heartbeat that comes with the former Broken Hart/Stagenstein.
- Whereas the soundtrack and certain moments of scoring are very prominent this week, many of the dialog scenes feature very light scoring, particularly the scenes with Hannibal and Bedelia, Will and Chiyoh, Jack and Pazzi, and Alana and Mason. Even the score for Hannibal’s final scene with Pazzi leaves plenty of space, a change from the use of Rossini earlier. The main dialog scene with a prominent score is Pazzi’s initial phone call about the bounty, which has a driving energy not dissimilar to the ticking clock of “Mizumono”. By calling Mason and starting down this path, Pazzi puts into motion the rest of the episode’s events, a series of dominoes he’s unable to see will lead to his grisly demise.
- Though it is more subtle, there is quite a bit of scoring for Chiyoh and Will’s train scenes. Rather than mimic the chugging of the train, the score for their opening scene evokes the smoke Chiyoh is discussing with tinkling percussion and (something akin to) vibes. Their next scene features electric guitar, which we heard with Chiyoh in “Secondo” as she dealt with and reacted to her prisoner’s attack, and their final exchange features heavier scoring still, with organ or keyboards adding to the heavier percussion and sounds of the train. The score drops down for their conversation, but the ambient noise picks up subtly before Chiyoh pitches Will over the railing, accompanied by a massive hit of percussion.
- There may not be much heavy scoring in the dialog scenes, but there’s plenty of it in the wordless ones: the snails are accompanied with heavy distortion, Jack’s scattering of Bella’s ashes is set to cello and oboe (among many other instruments), and the callback to Bedelia’s shopping brings back the drum machine scoring from “Primavera”.
- After ending with the Rossini, Reitzell goes for a pop/synth sound over the credits, a nice change of pace that lets the audience come down organically after the energy of the final sequence, rather than dropping out the score entirely or using a different classical piece.
- The scoring accompanying the shot of the Pazzi wood carving is evocative, the use of organ a nod to Hannibal and the counterpoint striking. Unfortunately, I can’t place the piece, so I do not know whether credit goes to Reitzell as the composer, or someone else as the composer and Reitzell as the music supervisor, for choosing it. If you are familiar with the piece, and it is indeed a preexisting work, rather than original score, please leave a comment below with the title and composer!
For more Hannibal talk, check out the podcast I cohost with Sean Colletti, This Is Our Design!