Home > Reviews > ANNA KARENINA – Dario Marianelli

ANNA KARENINA – Dario Marianelli

November 23, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Anna Karenina is a classic of Russian literature, written by the celebrated author Leo Tolstoy in 1873. It tells the story of the titular character, Anna, a Moscow socialite married to the taciturn Alexei Karenin, a stoic Government official 20 years her senior. Anna’s life is thrown into turmoil when she meets and falls for the dashing Count Vronsky, a handsome and wealthy cavalry officer who sweeps Anna off her feet, and shows her the true meaning of love. However, repressive societal norms, pressure from friends and family, and Anna’s own insecurities about what she wants from life means that her difficult choice between a safe, but dull life with Karenin and a wild, but potentially ostracizing life with Vronsky becomes agonizing. The story has been told on film many times over the years; this lavish new version is directed by Joe Wright from a screenplay by Tom Stoppard, stars Keira Knightley as Anna, Jude Law as Alexei, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky, and has a stellar supporting cast that includes Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson and Matthew Macfadyen.

The score for Anna Karenina is by the Anglo-Italian composer Dario Marianelli, who worked with director Wright on Pride and Prejudice in 2005 and won an Academy Award for his score for their film Atonement in 2007. As one might expect given the subject matter and the time period in which the film is set, Marianelli’s score is very, very classical, and is generally built around a series of opulent waltzes. Marianelli’s use of waltzes throughout the score is clearly intended to mirror the dance-like courtship and love triangle between Anna, Alexei and Vronsky, as the central figures move about between each other in an increasingly complicated web of deceit, passion and anger, fueled by Anna’s continual oscillation between the two men in her life.

There is a central recurring theme heard throughout the score – a four-note motif very similar to James Horner’s danger motif that first appears in “Clerks” and is subsequently restated throughout the score, most notably in “Anna’s Last Train” – but strongly identifiable thematic content is not the crux of the score in terms of it being the most memorable element. Instead, the various instrumental textures and recurring compositional styles characterize Marianelli’s work; in terms of orchestration, the score relies heavily on a string and woodwind-led orchestra, with only the merest hints of brass and percussion. Like Jane Eyre before it, Anna Karenina also acts as a showcase for the violin performances of the British wunderkind Jack Liebeck, whose sumptuous solos can be heard in several cues, notably the opening “Overture”, “Unavoidable”, and “I Don’t Want You To Go”. For me, a more solid thematic core would have made the score a little more approachable, but despite this small drawback Marianelli’s lavish music remains interesting for its duration.

Cues such as “Anna Marches into a Waltz”, “Kitty’s Debut” and “Dance With Me” conjure up imagery of well-heeled gentlemen and beautiful women in fine gowns lavishly courting each other in glittering Romanov ballrooms. “Dance With Me”, especially, is a very clever cue which becomes more frantic, dissonant and disjointed as it progresses as Anna is literally swept of her feet by Vronsky, causing her previously ordered and cautious world to be thrown into chaos.

Russian folk music plays a major part in the score too, and to capture its authenticity Marianelli often highlights traditional local instrumentation, including balalaikas and garmon accordions. There is also a great deal of regional dance pastiche in the form of mazurka-style pieces that give the score a distinctly classic Russian flavor. “She Is of the Heavens”, for example, has a section for whistlers and a lyrical vocal performance over a bold, vibrant traditional melody for clarinets, while later tracks such as “The Girl and the Birch” use new performances of an old Russian folk song called ‘Beroza’ to excellent effect. The “Can Can” is a wild gypsy dance piece that is wonderfully anarchic, while at the other end of the scale the opera cue “At the Opera” sets Tolstoy’s own words from Anna Karenina Part 2 Chapter 9 to a classically inflected orchestral melody that is very effective.

As the score develops into its second half it becomes more serious, and more conventionally romantic, capturing both the passionate relationship between Anna and Vronsky, and the subsequent devastating fallout she suffers, both in her marriage to Karenin, and her standing in Muscovite social circles. Cues such as “I Don’t Want You To Go”, “Too Late” and “Leaving Home and Coming Home” give Liebeck the chance to convey assorted tortured emotions through his violin performances, while the lush and emotional “Lost in a Maze”, the unexpectedly powerful “A Birthday Present”, and truly sumptuous “I Know How To Make You Sleep” allows the full orchestra to rise to the fore in some of the score’s few moments of overwhelming thematic beauty. It is these cues that will undoubtedly capture the attention of those who fell in love with Marianelli’s earlier romance scores.

Anyone who came to Marianelli through scores like Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre will find a great deal of the latter half of Anna Karenina to their liking, but your tolerance for the classic waltzes and intentionally authentic Russian folk music that makes up most of the first half of the score will determine your level of appreciation for the CD as a whole. The lack of a truly memorable main theme may make Anna Karenina a little impenetrable for some, too. Personally I found the Anna Karenina to be a richly orchestrated and beautifully performed score which is perfect for the film, which is unfortunately missing that tantalizing, elusive ‘something’ that would otherwise result in multiple returns to the soundtrack.

Rating: ***½

Buy the Anna Karenina soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Overture (3:20)
  • Clerks (1:06)
  • She Is Of the Heavens (2:00)
  • Anna Marches Into a Waltz (0:58)
  • Beyond The Stage (1:24)
  • Kitty’s Debut (2:36)
  • Dance With Me (4:22)
  • The Girl and the Birch (1:01)
  • Unavoidable (1:42)
  • Can-Can (2:01)
  • I Don’t Want You To Go (4:58)
  • Time For Bed (1:04)
  • Too Late (2:02)
  • Someone is Watching (1:27)
  • Lost In a Maze (2:10)
  • Leaving Home and Coming Home (2:04)
  • Masha’s Song (1:36)
  • A Birthday Present (4:18)
  • At the Opera (1:27)
  • I Know How To Make You Sleep (2:27)
  • Anna’s Last Train (3:53)
  • I Understood Something (3:19)
  • Curtain (1:53)
  • Seriously (2:07)

Running Time: 55 minutes 15 seconds

Decca 3716013 (2012)

Music composed by Dario Marianelli. Conducted and orchestrated by Benjamin Wallfisch. Featured musical soloist Jack Liebeck. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Edited by James Bellamy. Album produced by Dario Marianelli.

  1. Christopher
    December 7, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Excellent and very accurate review, Jon. You have explained my feelings about this score far better than I could have.

  2. Telmo Lemos
    January 3, 2013 at 8:28 am

    So, if there is no “big memorable theme” the score cannot be considered superlative. Why do you guys always need to have a great theme in a score? Film music is not all about THEMES!!! Stop with this melodic nonsense. Anna Karenina is a great score, 4 star score, not 3 and a half just because there is NO BIG THEME. This irritates me, really.

    • Peter Greenhill
      September 5, 2020 at 6:47 am

      Yes, some are obsessed with themes. Not every film requires a theme that can be whistled in the washroom or on the subway. This is a gorgeous score.

  3. January 7, 2013 at 5:29 am

    Reblogged this on Lendologist and commented:
    2012 Golden Globe Nominee
    Listen Now

  1. January 10, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: