Italian-born, London-based composer Dario Marianelli took his inspiration for “Pride & Prejudice” as much from Beethoven and Henry Purcell as from novelist Jane Austen and director Joe Wright’s updated film version of the classic romance.
Marianelli, hired before shooting began in June 2004, composed the piano pieces that are played onscreen by Elizabeth Bennett (Keira Knightley) and Darcy’s more talented sister Georgiana. “I took the early piano sonatas by Beethoven, written around the time that Austen was writing ‘Pride & Prejudice,’ as the inspiration behind those pieces,” he says.
“Purcell provided thematic reference,” he adds, “and there are echoes of one particular piece by him, also used as source music in the film. But beyond that the film was really asking for more expansive and free music, and I tried hard to capture a sense of butterflies in the stomach of first love.”
Piano is featured prominently throughout the score, and it is all played by acclaimed French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, whose recordings of Ravel and Satie had impressed Marianelli. “I just knew that Jean-Yves could bring the music to life not just by virtue of his beautiful sound and his precision, but also with the most exquisite sense of timing. He surpassed all expectations.”
The piano and romantic string writing lend the “Pride & Prejudice” score an undeniable classical feeling, as do the various dance pieces seen and heard, especially in the first hour. “We started by knowing that the piano was the heart of the score, and gradually expanded the textures around it,” says the composer. “Some pieces get quite big, in fact, like when Liz storms off in the rain to the little temple where Darcy proposes to her, or the arrival at the Netherfield ball. But the band never gets beyond the size of an early 19th-century symphonic orchestra.”
More fortunate than most composers — especially someone who is not known for large-scale features (his biggest credit to date was Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm”) — Marianelli did not have to deal with a “temp track” consisting of the music of other composers. He worked on the score throughout the editing process, supplying demos of music that could be tried out and tweaked along the way.
Marianelli did not write themes for specific characters in the film. “I am never literal in my thematic attachments to a story,” he says. The opening piece, for example, contains music often associated with Elizabeth, “but it is not meant to literally represent Lizzie. One could think of it as a side of her inner spirit that she does not even know about.”