ScoreKeeper Reviews Danny Elfman's CHARLOTTE'S WEB Score!!
Published at: Dec. 19, 2006, 12:04 p.m. CST by merrick
Greetings! ScoreKeeper here with an aural window into one of the more anticipated scores of the year, CHARLOTTE’S WEB (2006) by Danny Elfman.
Admittedly, I am an ardent fan of Elfman primarily because his work transcends the contributions of a mere musician. He is a filmmaker who routinely displays his virtuosic knowledge of storytelling in almost every score. His instincts on how music works in a film have always impressed me, and there aren’t many composers who compare with his pin-point emotional accuracy.
Although I grew up with an affinity for the animated CHARLOTTE’S WEB (1973) as well as the book, not much has piqued my interest in this latest version other than Elfman’s attachment. It seems an ideal vehicle for Elfman’s unapologetic brand of magical music with a wistful twist.
Upon absorbing the music it will most certainly place me in my local theater when this film hits screens on December 15th. Here is a track listing of the score as it appears on the CD (Sony Classical 88697 02989 2) which is due out December 5th:
1. MAIN TITLE (2:12)
2. THE INTRODUCTION (1:27)
3. LULLABY/ESCAPE (4:05) performed by Dakota Fanning
4. INTRODUCING CHARLOTTE (5:52)
5. IN THE MUD (1:00)
6. TEMPELTON (2:29)
7. THE PLAN BEGINS (2:57)
8. “SOME PIG” (1:29)
9. THE WORD SPREADS (2:55)
10. THE FALL MONTAGE (0:49)
11. THE DUMP (1:50)
12. “RADIANT” (1:43)
13. THE BIG DAY (0:54)
14. “HUMBLE” (2:52)
15. “TERRIFIC” (1:23)
16. FAREWELL CHARLOTTE (1:11)
17. WILBUR’S HOMECOMING (8:58)
18. ORDINARY MIRACLE (3:30) performed by Sarah McLachlan
The score commences with the “Main Title” and immediately Elfman begins to paint a picturesque panorama of the story’s setting. The first few brushstrokes of the score bounce off the canvas using Copland-esque rhythms while a staggered entry of pizzicato and arco strings dance with the surrounding accompaniment. The orchestra then rises to a rousingly energetic anthem of the main theme before politely subsiding to allow the first violins to continue unabated while a flute chirps in the distance. Elfman’s ubiquitous vocalize choir signals the coda with their lilting punctuation of each phrase.
The texture is decidedly orchestral but with the addition of guitar, fiddle and a simple battery of percussion it maintains an intimate, folk-like balance with a hint of Americana for good measure. When hearing this music there is little doubt the story takes place on a farm, but in typical Elfman fashion, he has swaddled it in a blanket of pure imagination. You are certainly aware something magical will happen here.
The following piece, “The Introduction,” begins like a thoughtful question before blossoming into an effervescent piano solo as virtuosic as it is beautiful. This rare display of concerto-like piano writing, not often heard in film music, was explored by Elfman in his first concert work SERENADA SCHIZOPHRANA (2005) in the first movement entitled “Pianos.” In the context of the film, it adds significantly to the allusion of a spider weaving a web.
One might be surprised to find Dakota Fanning performing the vocals in “Lullaby,” but in fact the subtle maladroitness in her voice gives it its guileless charm. It reminds me of the way Joe Hisaishi uses the child’s song in many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. The “Lullaby” theme is beautiful; a simple waltz analogous to Victor’s theme from CORPSE BRIDE (2005). It’s stately simplicity lays the foundation for what will evolve into Charlotte’s theme.
One of the first noteworthy cues on the disc is the indefatigable “Introducing Charlotte” which begins with a quote of Charlotte’s theme in the high violins. Showcasing Elfman’s innate sense of development, each phrase of the theme is then sent through an array of acrobatic variations. It’s impressive to hear Elfman weave a tremendous amount of material from such small threads of music. It’s a skill he has practiced intensively over his long career and one that is essential to perfecting the craft of musical composition. “In the Mud” demonstrates these skills as well with a fleeting burst of rapid developments of the main theme each cloaked in a variety of guises. I particularly love the intermittent double-stops on the fiddle. It’s not overwhelming at all but it gives it a dash of country spice for taste.
Elfman demonstrates devotion to his craft throughout this score, but the magnitude of his talent is never more evident than in the music for Charlotte and her web. It began with “The Introduction,” expanded to the stately “Introducing Charlotte” and then develops further in “The Plan Begins.” The virtuosic piano writing and soaring choir return capturing not just the activity of the moment but the magic enveloping it as well. Many will reflect on the music for EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990) while hearing this piece. It’s certainly one of my favorite tracks on the disc.
There are four messages which Charlotte weaves into her web. Elfman managed to capture each one in their own unique way. Not just in the meaning of the word itself but also by reflecting the reaction of those who witnessed it. The motorized energy of the “Main Title” makes a triumphant return at the revelation of “Some Pig.” It’s more folksy and slightly less orchestral than it’s opening counterpart but markedly more spirited and exhilarating.
The second of Charlotte’s messages, “Radiant,” picks up where Charlotte’s previous music left off. The piano returns once again along with these particularly cool percussive string harmonics which are doubled with celeste and a refrain of Charlotte’s theme on solo flute. “Humble” is the most intimate and perhaps the more playful of the four messages while “Terrific” reprises the excitement of “Some Pig” with a sprightly return of the main theme.
One of Elfman’s more refined specialties is ending a film. He indubitably knows how to finish a movie and CHARLOTTE’S WEB is no exception. “Farewell Charlotte” and “Wilbur’s Homecoming” represent some of the most beautiful music in the score. The former features a gorgeous refrain of Charlotte’s theme for strings, flute, celeste and choir. Subtle pauses in the progression of the melody suggest “But wait...” before its final rising cadence fades into complete stillness. Its unadulterated beauty can only be matched by its emotional fortitude.
“Wilbur’s Homecoming” is equally as powerful and at eight and a half minutes long, wraps up many of the musical ties woven throughout the score. Here we hear Elfman’s signature celeste, a gorgeous violoncello solo, and the subtle shading of a female choir all volleying fragments of the main theme, Charlotte’s theme, Tempelton’s theme and other leitmotifs. The main theme climaxes with full orchestra, guitar, choir, and a large brass section. I’m particularly partial to the melismatic choral parts which are a slight departure for Elfman. He tends to use choirs more for punctuation and shading. Here we get wonderful Mozartian vocal passages that traverse up and down the scale weaving in and out of each other. Simply sublime.
One of the traits I admire in Elfman’s work that appears evident in this score is that he doesn’t blanket long periods of the film with homogenous material. He treats each second of the story differently than the previous and subsequent seconds of the film. He’s constantly evaluating the film’s needs and giving each measure of the music a particular function in hopes of fulfilling those needs.
There are hundreds of hours worth of functionless film music being written these days. With Elfman I can always be assured that he’ll not only write music that I’ll have a particular proclivity to listen to outside of the film, but that it will also serve its role as a functional entity within the confines of the story.
Having heard the music for CHARLOTTE’S WEB countless times these past two weeks, I'm pretty sure that I love listening to this music. Now I have to wait patiently until the middle of December to find out if this music will function as spectacularly within the context of the film as it does when separated from it.