Home > Reviews > THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – Alexandre Desplat

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – Alexandre Desplat

grandbudapesthotelOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The latest film from the polarizing hipster director Wes Anderson is The Grand Budapest Hotel, a slightly farcical comedy-drama set 100 years ago in the fictional country of Zubrowka – a place Anderson describes as “part Czech, part Hungarian, part Polish, part Russian, part German, and a little bit 1930’s movie-studio in Culver City”. Ralph Fiennes stars as Gustave H, a legendary concierge at the famous European hotel of the title, and Tony Revolori as Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. Following the death of a wealthy elderly female guest Gustave and Zero become embroiled in a plot concerning the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune. The film features an enormous supporting cast drawn from Anderson’s ever-increasing roster of repertory players – F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and Owen Wilson among them – and has an original score by composer Alexandre Desplat, working with Anderson for the third time.

Desplat describes his score for The Grand Budapest Hotel as “the sound of Mittel-Europa”, a sort of cultural mish-mash of instrumental ideas and compositional styles that is intended mimic a mythical place that sounds just sort of ‘vaguely European’ to untrained American ears – much like the fictional country of Zubrowka itself is an amalgam of different architectures, landscapes and accents. To this end, Desplat augmented his orchestra with all manner of musical textures drawn from across the map: zithers, Hungarian cimbaloms, Gregorian chants, Alpen horns, whistlers, Russian balalaikas, organs, bells and even yodelers. It’s a perfect match for Anderson’s highly specific, highly unique visual sensibility, and is quaint and quirky almost to the point of absurdity. Everything in the score tinkles and twinkles, prances and dances, and everything is built around a single recurring thematic idea accompanied by various other little vignettes which highlight a certain instrumental texture, rhythmic element, or dance style.

Many of the cues are very short – the several Overtures, with their long and pretentious names, actually only last for 20 or 30 seconds or so each – but several cues do stand out. The main theme, which runs through a great deal of the score, is actually the theme for Moustafa, who narrates the story as an old man in flashback sequences, and from whose point of view the story is told. The theme first appears in “Mr. Moustafa”, and comes across as an elegant dance for a cimbalom underpinned by humming balalaikas. Later, this same theme crops up in “A Prayer for Madame D” accompanied by the regretful sound of a church organ, in “The New Lobby Boy” with a more jazzy and upbeat sensibility through the stand-up bass and brushed snares, and with subtle variances in other cues such as “The Family Desgoffe und Taxis”, the sturm-und-drang “Last Will and Testament”, and the propulsive “Night Train to Nebelsbad”, where the snares return doing a passable impression of the huff and puff of a steam train. In “The War” the theme appears in a more dream-like, nostalgic variation, with the cimbalom sounding almost wistful in comparison to its earlier performances.

Elsewhere, “Daylight Express to Lutz” starts out a little more forceful and vibrant – possible the first time glockenspiels have ever been considered forceful – and really amp up the drama with a more strident percussion section during the cue’s second half. Both “The Lutz Police Militia” and “A Dash of Salt (Ludwig’s Theme)” resound to great bonging timpani hits, some of which recall the percussion interludes from Desplat’s score for Birth. “J.G. Jopling, Private Inquiry Agent”, “The Cold-Blooded Murder of Deputy Vilmos Kovacs” and “No Safe-House” really brings the resonant sound of the church organ back to the fore, reveling in an unexpected sense of darkness and drama, but are often accompanied by the slightly bizarre sound of a male voice choir singing variations on the nonsense phrase “rum-te-tum-te-tum”. In these moments I can’t help but be reminded of Monty Python’s oft-seen comedy soldiers, running around on-screen like headless chickens, babbling incoherently to themselves as they go.

The ten minute sequence toward the end of the score, comprising the cues “Canto at Gabelmeister’s Peak” and “A Troops Barracks (Requiem for the Grand Budapest)”, provides the lengthiest most well-developed statements of the main themes and ideas: Moustafa’s theme, the Lutz Police march, the serious male voice choir (singing Latin religious texts), the jazz combo and the church organ, and much more besides. At one point, around the four minute mark of the Canto, the cimbalom launches into a wonderfully frenzied solo that is over far too quickly, but gives the piece a definite Renaissance feel. Similarly, the call-and-response militaristic brass performances and equally virtuoso organ solo in the Requiem are superb, bringing a rare moment of genuine danger into Mustafa’s plucky story.

A performance of Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Lute and Plucked Strings”, a traditional Swiss yodel, and various performances by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra round out the album, and fit in well perfectly with Desplat’s musical expressions, almost to the point where anyone not paying full attention would not realize where Desplat’s score stop and the source music begins.

The Grand Budapest Hotel certainly follows the musical trend established by both The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom, with its metronomically precise rhythms and almost child-like music box instrumental ideas. Wes Anderson and Alexandre Desplat are together creating a signature sound for their films, which has to be admired, even if you don’t particularly like the music itself. And this, I fear, will be this score’s downfall: it’s going to be just too quirky and precious and too hyper-stylized for many mainstream film music listeners to connect with. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a score which prances and capers through the film, every instrument plucked or struck, tiptoeing jauntily from one set piece to the next, and for some this sound is going to be unpalatable at best, downright annoying at worst. Having said that, I personally feel that it’s the best Anderson/Desplat score to date, and that with this score, the already-released Monuments Men, and the upcoming Godzilla, Desplat is primed to have a banner year.

Buy the Grand Budapest Hotel soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • s’Rothe-Zäuerli (written by Rüdi Roth and Werner Roth, performed by Öse Schuppel) (1:13)
  • The Alpine Sudetenwaltz (0:36)
  • Mr. Moustafa (3:04)
  • Overture: M. Gustave H (0:30)
  • A Prayer for Madame D (1:20)
  • The New Lobby Boy (2:18)
  • Concerto for Lute and Plucked Strings I. Moderato (written by Antonio Vivaldi, performed by the DZO Chamber Orchestra, cond. Siegfried Behrend) (2:53)
  • Daylight Express to Lutz (2:17)
  • Schloss Lutz Overture (0:33)
  • The Family Desgoffe und Taxis (1:49)
  • Last Will and Testament (2:16)
  • Up the Stairs/Down the Hall (0:27)
  • Night Train to Nebelsbad (1:44)
  • The Lutz Police Militia (0:50)
  • Check Point 19 Criminal Internment Camp Overture (0:11)
  • The Linden Tree (written by Pavel Kulikov, performed by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra, cond. Vitaly Gnutov) (2:25)
  • J.G. Jopling, Private Inquiry Agent (1:28)
  • A Dash of Salt (Ludwig’s Theme) (1:33)
  • The Cold-Blooded Murder of Deputy Vilmos Kovacs (2:48)
  • Escape Concerto (2:13)
  • The War (Zero’s Theme) (1:02)
  • No Safe-House (1:33)
  • The Society of the Crossed Keys (2:21)
  • M. Ivan (1:16)
  • Lot 117 (0:30)
  • Third Class Carriage (1:20)
  • Canto at Gabelmeister’s Peak (5:36)
  • A Troops Barracks (Requiem for the Grand Budapest) (5:19)
  • Cleared of All Charges (1:11)
  • The Mystical Union (1:27)
  • Kamarinskaya (written by Mikhail Glinka, performed by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra, cond. Vitaly Gnutov) (2:43)
  • Moonshine (traditional, arr. Alexandre Desplat) (3:22)

Running Time: 60 minutes 08 seconds

Abkco (2014)

Music composed and conducted by Alexandre Desplat. Orchestrations by Alexandre Desplat, Mark Graham and Xavier Forcioli. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes. Edited by Christopher Scarabosio and Yann McCullough. Album produced by Alexandre Desplat, Wes Anderson and Randall Poster.

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