Kate’s Classical Corner: Hannibal, Ep. 3.08, “The Great Red Dragon”
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 “The Great Red Dragon” here.
Classical pieces featured:
Alleluia from Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1773): Hannibal experiences his arrest from his mind palace
This famous movement from Mozart’s solo motet, beautifully performed here by boy soprano Aiden Glenn (the piece was originally composed for a castrato), is a fitting choice to represent how Hannibal elects to experience his arrest and incarceration at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The clear lines and elegance of Mozart require meticulous attention to detail and precise execution by the performer, traits Hannibal values. It follows that upon his decision to turn himself in, Hannibal would occupy himself with a performance such as this, rather than an elaborate opera or other large work, finding comfort in the intimacy and purity of Classical solo voice with piano. He’d also enjoy the opportunity to feel superior—the performance is sparsely attended, a small moment rather than a populist experience. Choosing a sacred work also ties this scene naturally to the Norman Chapel, where Hannibal sets it, and Will. What’s more, the Alleluia serves as a distinct counterpoint to the scoring of the scene immediately preceding this one, the chaotic, densely textured percussion and strings of Francis Dolarhyde. Hannibal and Dolarhyde are very different beasts and Reitzell demonstrates this clearly with his scoring and soundtrack choices.
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Notturno in E-flat major, Op. 148 by Franz Schubert (1827): Chilton eats dessert with Hannibal
One of only a few classical pieces to be featured twice in the series (the other being Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude and the Pie Jesu from Fauré’s Requiem), Schubert’s Notturno makes for a lush, sensuous, and inviting accompaniment to the preparation of Hannibal’s dessert. The same piece was used in “Dolce” to score Cordell’s presentation of his Hannibal-inspired menu to Mason. Whereas Cordell’s meal prompts Mason to gag and complain about textures, Hannibal’s dessert is lovingly shot by director Neil Marshall and enjoyed thoroughly by Chilton, who undoubtedly inspected the ingredients personally. In case there was any doubt, this soundtrack choice confirms it: Mason and Cordell were at best pale imitations of Hannibal. As with the Mozart, this piece counterpoints Dolarhyde and Hannibal, immediately following the growling percussion and sliding strings of the Dolarhyde mirror scene scoring with this warm piano trio.
- From the opening scene, Reitzell stretches himself with the scoring for Francis Dolarhyde. While the thread of heavy, layered percussion for killers connects the Dolarhyde scoring to the rest of the series’ approach, Reitzell thickens the texture with not only winds, but strings. The scoring as Dolarhyde discovers and externalizes the Dragon is split into two sections. As he observes his hands and stretches, familiarizing himself with the beast within, Reitzell uses layered percussion with low, animalistic bass as well as electronic scoring, and throughout, rising and falling in prominence, is a sustained pitch—the call of the Dragon. When Dolarhyde finishes training, his heartbeat and breathing sync up and are represented in the score. As he heads with purpose to get his tattoo and teeth, a strong, focused beat enters in a clear four pattern, the percussion driving forward. The thrum of the tattoo gun takes over—a sound and rhythm that recurs throughout the episode—and its different components provide syncopation, with five-note electronic-sounding (perhaps keyboard?) scales running up and down, providing some melodic motion. Dolarhyde’s scenes in this episode center on the struggle within him and the line between the man and the beast. Reitzell’s scoring in these wordless scenes contributes immensely.
- Two fun evocative touches from the opening sequence: Given the context, the use of tambourine-like percussion as Dolarhyde looks at the painting conjures the image of a dragon counting his gold. Also, the reverb-like effect Reitzell uses in this scene, as Dolarhyde stretches, calls to mind panels from comics featuring characters capable of mind control, waves of psychic energy emitting from a character’s forehead as they possess or control one weaker in will than they, just as the Dragon controls Dolarhyde.
- After building in subdivision and intensity, as Dolarhyde bows before the Dragon, the percussion fades away, leaving a simple chord on what sounds like an organ, conflict and strife receding as a believer genuflects at the altar of his god.
- After the strong, major end to the Mozart, Reitzell immediately goes to a minor second in his scoring for Alana and Hannibal’s conversation; from the clarity of Hannibal’s imprisonment to the uncertain wash of sound for Alana’s much murkier position. Here is where the strings first come in prominently, as the camera breaks and we transition back to…
- Dolarhyde! Again, Reitzell uses percussion to show Dolarhyde’s state of mind. The scene starts off chaotic as Dolarhyde looks in the mirror, attempting to speak before reducing himself to sounds and eventually, a low growl. As he hits his head, trying to quiet the voices inside, this confusion is shown to the audience as competing rhythms and percussion instruments. When Dolarhyde starts growling, when the Dragon comes out a bit—a low, undulating sound mimicking the breathing of the Dragon—the combative percussion recedes and Dolarhyde becomes focused, the strings guiding him towards whatever is hiding behind the broken mirror, sliding downwards until meeting on G.
- The scoring for the episode’s dialog scenes is understandably sparse, with conversations between Alana and Chilton, Jack and Will, Jack and Molly, and Jimmy and Z featuring toned down, but distinct instrumentation. Reitzell’s favoring of the piano for Alana comes through in her scenes with Hannibal and Chilton, as does Chilton’s connection to the clarinet, and Will and Molly’s discussion of whether Will should help catch the Tooth Fairy is scored to minor, mournful strings—helping will mean sacrificing Will’s peaceful life with Molly and Walter—while Jimmy and Z have a more active and light-hearted drum-based sound.
- The scene of Dolarhyde with the film projector begins with a neat effect. The scoring combines with the vocal of the song featured in the film to imply the sound of a religious intonation. This dissipates once the backing percussion for the song enters, but it’s a nice touch, however brief, for the transition into the scene. By the end of the scene, not only has Reitzell’s percussion-as-indication-of-mental-state returned, but the strings come in as well, whining up and down as Dolarhyde is enveloped by the film, and the Dragon.
- Along with the soundtrack choices, the contrast in the scoring for Hannibal and Dolarhyde can be seen in the scrapbook sequence. Dolarhyde gets bass Bartok pizz, Hannibal gets a few notes of refined solo woodwind.
- One of my favorite touches to the episode’s score is that it doesn’t particularly change as Will reads Hannibal’s letter: Hannibal isn’t telling him anything he doesn’t already know.
- The scoring for Will’s experience of the crime scene is striking. Not only does Reitzell feature piano prominently—an instrument he ties to Will even more than he does Alana—he uses percussion and repetitive motifs in the harp, along with a number of evocative touches (ghostly woo-ing in the children’s room, rising line resembling screaming in the violins as Will approaches the parents’ room, tinkling percussion to correspond with the broken mirror), to show the cumulative effect the crime scene is having on Will. He tries to maintain his composure, but not unlike Dolarhyde, he can’t shut out the information assaulting his senses without channeling something he may not wish to. Will tries to observe, but that proves too overwhelming and he must instead sweep the sounds away with his pendulum and participate in the violence.
- When Will does use his pendulum and takes Dolarhyde’s place, the score introduces an approximately quarter equals 120 metronomic beat. However unlike in “Mizumono”, which also heavily features quarter equals 120 percussion, here the aggressive whir of the tattoo gun replaces the delicate ticking of Hannibal’s timer. Breaking the mirrors jars Will from this propulsive need to kill, the tattoo gun replaced by tinkling percussion, harp, and bending pitches in the electric guitar. The drive to kill is one need. What comes next—which the viewer is thankfully spared—is something else entirely.
- The final scene, Will’s return to Hannibal after three years, features much thicker orchestration than Reitzell usually uses (outside of the percussion section). The score is minor, with an air of inevitability. After three years apart—for viewers, an episode—here we go again.
For even more Hannibal talk, check out the podcast I cohost with Sean Colletti for Sound on Sight, This Is Our Design!