Marianelli calls ‘Karenina’s’ experimentalism liberating

Eye on the Oscars: Music Preview

Joe Wright’s fragmented, hyper-stylized adaptation of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” presented plenty of challenges to all who worked on it. But for Dario Marianelli, who has scored all but one of Wright’s five features, the unusual structure meant unexpected opportunities. “It was a bit of a liberation when he came up with that idea,” Marianelli says. “There was a lot of freedom to explore and do crazy things, not to be constrained by the boundaries of the genre, and experiment a bit.”

The composer subverted the expected in various ways, including peppering his score with the accordion. “I imagined bands that would play in a French theater and contrasted it with the sophisticated waltzes and mazurkas of the aristocracy,” Marianelli says. “And I made up my own versions — like a Balkan band, with lots of brass from Serbia or some such place. It was all made up and scrambled. You don’t expect to hear a cancan in ‘Anna Karenina.’ And even if some of my pieces ended up on the cutting-room floor, they are there in spirit. I was constantly getting away from a predictable sound or even a historically accurate sound.”

One of the biggest surprises was the presence of heavy brass. “We had sessions with three trombones, two trumpets and a bunch of tubas,” Marianelli says. “One of the things Joe said early on was that on the way to the tears are going to be some laughs. He wanted us not to be afraid to be grotesque or go over-the-top, to just try it and see if it worked.”

Wright’s cut-loose approach proved just what the composer needed. “I have to write music that surprises myself,” he says. “Otherwise it’s boring. And Joe definitely doesn’t hide music. When there’s music, you hear it. It’s doing something. So what a wonderful chance this was for me.”