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EMILY – Abel Korzeniowski

December 2, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Brontë Sisters – Emily, Anne, and Charlotte – are powerhouses of classic British literature. Born within four years of each other in Yorkshire between 1816 and 1820, the siblings would craft some of the most beloved works of the early Victorian era: Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, first published in 1847, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, published later that same year, and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published in 1848, are now considered masterpieces, and the fact that they were written essentially simultaneously is astonishing. While there have been numerous screen adaptations of the stories they wrote, there have been few biopics of the actual sisters themselves, which is surprising considering that they all led romantically tragic lives, and died young: Emily of tuberculosis aged 30 in 1848, Anne of tuberculosis she caught from Emily aged 29 in 1849, and Charlotte of a pregnancy complication aged 38 in 1855. This new film Emily, written and directed by Frances O’Connor, is a look at their lives mostly from Emily’s point of view. It stars Emma Mackey, Alexandra Dowling, and Amelia Gething as the three sisters, with Fionn Whitehead, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Adrian Dunbar, and Gemma Jones in supporting roles.

There are a certain number of feelings, styles, and themes that are associated with the work of the Brontë Sisters, and appear in all their stories. The rugged and windswept natural beauty of the Yorkshire Moors where they lived. The deeply romantic passionate affairs that occur between stoic gentlemen and wild, willful young women. Beautifully poetic prose that often incorporates elements of the supernatural, and a certain Gothic touch that sometimes borders on the broodingly melancholy. Many of these elements can be found in the music for this film too, which was written by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski. It’s ironic; you wait years for Korzeniowski to write a new score, and then two come out at once, with his score for Till having been released just a few weeks ago. However, as good as Till was, it is to Emily that fans of Korzeniowski’s sweepingly romantic, breathtakingly gorgeous previous work on things like Romeo & Juliet will likely gravitate the most.

Emily is, in a word, stunning. Composers don’t get to write music like this very often these days – music that is filled with a sense of longing, of romantic desire, of tragic beauty. There are sumptuous themes and melodies and dazzling harmonies that tread that line between light and dark, happiness and despair, life and death, all anchored by the composer’s traditional writing that focuses on strings and piano backed by a larger orchestra. Korzeniowski was director O’Connor’s first choice to score the film – she had heard and loved his scores for A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals – and he jumped at the chance to write more music in that bold, rich style. The score was recorded in Warsaw, and features piano solos by Szymon Nehring, who was a finalist in the International Chopin Competition in 2021.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just another BBC-style costume drama score; there are elements of that style, certainly, but Korzeniowski takes them much further, adding aggressive string harmonics, sampled church organs, and moments of unexpected dissonance, which adds a touch of modernity and more contemporary classicism to the music. There are also a few instances where Korzeniowski seems to be channeling the film music styles of Wojciech Kilar or Philip Glass, and a touch of minimalism creeps in, and I enjoy this very much indeed.

In an interview with Sean Wilson for the Spitfire Audio website, Korzeniowski describes several recurring themes. “The first theme is the first cue that you hear in the film, for the opening credits (“the Strange One” on the soundtrack). You have the turbulent violin and it’s the first time you hear the church organs coming in. Then you have a theme which is essential for the whole structure. This occurs during Emily’s failed attempt to become a teacher in Brussels (“Teacher” on the soundtrack). There are many themes. There’s a group of cues that rely on the tingling, trembling, hovering sound of the entire orchestra. There are three or four cues following this idea including the scene of them taking drugs (the intoxicating, impressionistic, dream-like “Boundless” on the soundtrack). You have the sharp notes on the violin and everything in the background over-saturates our senses.”

These recurring ideas dominate much of the score, coming back several times as the narrative demands, but there are so many fascinating ideas and beautiful moments, in addition to the aforementioned highlights. The frantic, rolling violins from “The Strange One” sort of become a recurring idea for Emily herself, and appear prominently in later cues such as “No Coward Soul Is Mine” and “Captain Sneaky,” as well as in some of the most prominent pieces in the latter part of the score, such as “The Mask” and “Where’s Your Blood”. The wild, fiery, passionate flair of these strings is interesting as the sound captures the internal desires of Emily, rather than her outward persona. Rural England in the 1840s was not a place for demonstrative, outspoken women, but rather than playing to the image she presents to the world, Korzeniowski instead speaks to the inner rebel trying to break out – and which, of course, eventually does through her depiction of Cathy in Wuthering Heights.

Several of these cues also feature loud, intentionally intrusive outbursts for choir and church organ. Korzeniowski says that these “blaring, Handel-like chorales” were again designed to speak volumes about the social structure of the time, and to amplify the absurdity of how “people continued to live powerfully on the inside” while projecting an image of proper decorum, and is one of several examples of compositional irony in the score.

This chaos is contrasted by the trio of rigidly formal classical piano “Rondo” cues, which are delicate and elegant and wholly lovely, in a very different way. Then, in cues like “Mother,” the gorgeous “Freedom in Thought,” the flighty and effervescent “Run,” the shimmering “The Cottage,” and the nostalgic “Letter to Charlotte,” Korzeniowski fully embraces his sweepingly romantic side with a series of staggeringly beautiful piano rhapsodies, often backed by churning, tempestuous strings. These cues underscore the film’s central romance, the forbidden relationship between Emily and the curate of the local church, William Weightman, who is posited to be the partial inspiration for her most famous character, Heathcliff.

However, Korzeniowski believes that the most romantic element of the score is actually the relationship between Emily and her brother Branwell Brontë, another tragic figure who died of drug and alcohol addiction at the age of 31, just a few months before Emily did. There is a scene in the film where Emily and Branwell speak to each other through the laundry sheets hanging outside their home, and Korzeniowski describes this moment as “a beautiful, intimate moment of two spirits communicating… incredibly poetic, delicate and poignant.” Korzeniowski scores this scene in “Through the Sheets” with graceful piano figures that fall like raindrops, and a wash of strings that feel like the sun, peeking out from behind the clouds and casting golden rays on the ground.

Elsewhere, there is dissonant, aggressive string writing in the oppressive “Terrified”. “I Shall Sing” is a slightly melancholy, but defiantly beautiful classical piano piece. “Demise” is as darkly tragic as one might expect, but is anchored around the fervent, florid violin solo of the Strange One theme, dancing expressively above a bed of ground basses and squealing, angry string harmonics that groan and creak and rumble in a highly threatening manner.

The final four cues – “Wuthering Heights,” “To the Moors,” “O Night and Stars,” and “The Autumn Tree” – reprise much of the score’s recurring thematic content, but with all their passions vigorously aflame. You can draw mental and parallels between Emily Brontë and her famous heroine Cathy in the music here – both have engaged in torrid, forbidden love affairs that would have outraged the society in which they lived, and both have had to deal with death and emotional turmoil throughout their lives. The visual imagery this music conjures up – of a beautiful Victorian lady striding breathlessly through the rough Yorkshire heath, raven hair wild against the wind, her bodice scandalously askew – is endlessly evocative and desperately romantic.

Emily is, in my opinion, the type of music that Abel Korzeniowski does best. It’s deeply imbued with a lush, unapologetic classicism, but at times it is also challengingly modern, and makes use of aggressive textures and unusual compositional ideas to add different emotional layers to the music. The themes are beautiful, the arrangements are gorgeous, the intellectual design of the score is excellent, and the performances are impeccable. The film came out in England back in October, which means I can proclaim it to be one of the best scores of 2022, and if the film comes out in the USA in time for an Oscar-qualifying run (and if the right people are listening), I can see it challenging for top honors there too.

Buy the Emily soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Strange One (1:00)
  • Rondo I (0:54)
  • No Coward Soul Is Mine (1:35)
  • Captain Sneaky (1:23)
  • Mother (2:22)
  • Teacher (2:27)
  • Rondo II (0:31)
  • Freedom in Thought (1:36)
  • Run (1:10)
  • Boundless (2:02)
  • Terrified (1:31)
  • Through the Sheets (2:06)
  • The Cottage (2:15)
  • Letter to Charlotte (1:34)
  • I Shall Sing (2:15)
  • Demise (1:38)
  • In This Life (1:28)
  • The Mask (3:25)
  • Where’s Your Blood (2:23)
  • Wuthering Heights (2:14)
  • To the Moors (1:28)
  • O Night and Stars! (1:40)
  • The Autumn Tree (2:16)
  • Rondo III (1:11)

Running Time: 42 minutes 25 seconds

Spitfire Audio (2022)

Music composed and conducted by Abel Korzeniowski. Orchestrations by Abel Korzeniowski. Featured musical soloist Szymon Nehring. Recorded by Tadeusz Mieczkowski. Mixed by James T. Hill. Edited by Neil Stemp. Album produced by Abel Korzeniowski and Mina Korzeniowski.

  1. Michael
    December 3, 2022 at 3:34 pm

    Thanks for the Review. Really loved Abel’s Score. And he also worked on the film as a executive producer as well.

  1. January 28, 2023 at 10:00 am

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