Kate’s Classical Corner: Hannibal, Ep. 3.09, “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…”
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 “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…” here.
Classical piece featured:
24 Preludes, Op. 28, no. 2 in A minor, Lento by Frédéric Chopin (1839): Hannibal prepares Abigail for the Red Dinner
Yet another classical piece to previously be featured on the series (this brings the total up to four), this prelude by Chopin is lovely and dark, a natural fit with the scene. The somber feel of the piece along with its steady left hand rhythm suggests the inescapability of fate, each of the characters being pushed towards the Red Dinner. The prelude features a simple melody in the right hand while the left hand churns below, moving into and out of dissonance. Hannibal appears calm in this moment, but he is anything but: Will has betrayed him. One could also interpret the two hands as the ominous, powerful Hannibal and the (comparatively) innocent, delicate Abigail, soon to be overpowered. These are stretches, though—likely the piece was simply selected for its beauty.
Reitzell has previously reused Op. 28, no. 15, “The Raindrop Prelude” (in season two’s “Naka-choko” and season three’s “Antipasto”), because it matches the tone of the show so well and is such a gorgeous piece, so it’s unsurprising that he feels comfortable doing the same thing with no. 2. I will admit to being distracted by the choice a bit—this prelude was originally featured in season two’s “Tome-wan” as Will ground meat and prepared food for his dogs—but as there are likely only a few other people out there following the classical music selections on the show closely enough to notice (shout out to the fabulous Hannibal’s music!), that’s more on me than Reitzell. Perhaps there’s a thematic tie? Will cooking for his pets while Hannibal cooks with his, Abigail?
Other scoring notes:
- The opening scene, with Will and Hannibal speaking again after three years, had a couple elements to its score that reminded me of tuning. There are piano and guitar featured in the mix as well as a perfect fifth (the interval violins, violas, and cellos are tuned in) that sustains—making for an open, unresolved sound—until it changes to minor. An A holds here (the note that string instruments and orchestras tune to) and being a string musician, I associate soft, held As with tuning, warming up the instrument and getting ready to get to work. For someone with my associations, it gives the beginning of the scene an anticipatory feel.
- The piano, Will’s instrument, remains present in the scoring throughout the opening scene, with sustained pitches building tension underneath. In contrast, Will’s conversation with Alana has keyboard or organ, making for a more sustained, less percussive sound. This changes when Alana says, “I’m not just worried about you”: there’s a roll of thunder (perhaps a thunder sheet?), along with piano and percussion, that feels decidedly ominous, though not necessarily accusatory.
- Later, when Will channels Dolarhyde, percussion takes over, but it’s not the heavy, aggressive percussion of “The Great Red Dragon”. It’s lighter, with ringing, faint instruments holding pitches and counterbalancing the rhythmic percussion: Dolarhyde is being filtered through Will. The scoring grows more dissonant, however, as we lead to the unfortunately-rendered CGI Will, drenched in blood and looking at the moon, the scene ending with yet another sustained pitch and of course, percussion.
- Not all percussion scoring is created equal, of course. As Freddie lurks outside the hospital, waiting to get pictures of Will, energetic percussion revs up in the background, carrying over to a strong four pattern as we transition to Hannibal and Alana. Dolarhyde’s percussion is much more aggressive and chaotic; as Dolarhyde imagines his tail, the score growls and rattles. This percussion, in comparison, is steady and controlled, lightly pushing the scene forward.
- The use of strings in the Dolarhyde arc has been notable. Here we get dissonant violins and rising clusters of pitches as Abigail is faced with her father’s corpse as well as a warm, inviting string sound as Will begins to watch home videos of the Leeds family. Reitzell has previously used solo instruments, only expanding into larger sections with this arc. With string sections, he can get far more power and intensity, as in the Abigail scene, and much greater warmth, as in the Will scene (however briefly, before the Dolarhyde percussion creeps in). The blend of sound that comes with a section gives far greater options to a composer. For example, an entire section playing incredibly soft and thinly will make for a hazy, evocative but sustainable sound, whereas a soloist would sound wispy. There’s also much greater potential for dynamic variety, building from one soloist to a full section playing at full power. Watching Reitzell expand his musical vocabulary, at least in regards to the Hannibal score, has been one of the more exciting parts of this arc so far, and I look forward to hearing what he comes up with next.
- I’m unsure whether the piano piece used as Frances sits at the table presumably with his family is pre-existing or an original composition, but either way, it is delightful. The slow three beat gives it a dance-like feel that, along with its tonality, feels like a European oom-pah-pah before speeding up a bit and feeling more American and rag-like. As it twists and speeds up, the scene and score feel increasingly artificial, a group of marionettes or wind-up toys with their less than nuanced accompaniment, before settling in the silent movie music range, which is of course fitting for Dolarhyde. The sequence feels very old-timey and the music is a big part of what makes it work so well.
- The scoring for Reba and Frances’ scenes is incredibly tense. In their first scene, Reitzell incorporates—or perhaps more accurately, doesn’t play over—the sound of empty air, the sound of two people awkwardly not talking. When Reba invites Frances inside, however, the scoring becomes far more ominous, with distorted sound bending down as he crosses the threshold. Rather than the percussion of Dolarhyde, we get a sound wall, a wash of percussion and other sounds that intensifies throughout their conversation, particularly after Reba mentions speech therapy, only dissipating when she reassures him. When Reba moves to touch Frances’ face and he grabs her hand, however, the percussion enters: she’s no longer with the bashful Frances, she’s with the unstable Dolarhyde.
- When Molly and Will are talking, a melancholy, relaxed piano line with lots of space comes to the fore. When he’s dreaming, there’s guitar, distortion, and lots of percussion. As he wakes up, there’s the sound of something striking metal, far more aggressive than the score for not-currently-projecting Will so far this arc. With Molly, Will has a strong sense of himself and the scoring reflects this. In his nightmares, he’s much closer to Dolarhyde.
- We get a flashback to “Mizumono” with Hannibal and Abigail so of course, after the Chopin, we hear the return of “Mizumono”’s ticking, pulsing score, just as when Will revisited his “Mizumono” conversation with Hannibal in “Primavera”.
- The scoring over the credits has a nice, melodic percussion sound that is a welcome change after the Dolarhyde percussion at various points in the episode’s score.
For even more Hannibal talk, check out the podcast I cohost with Sean Colletti, This Is Our Design!