By Karol Krok
Wes Anderson’s dry sense of humour has found the ideal match in Alexandre Desplat’s equally sharp (and always crystal clear) writing. The two gentlemen collaborated already on Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom – both incredibly successful. This time, the director assembled an impressive cast and created a typically quirky, but entirely fictional, Quasi-European universe of The Grand Budapest Hotel. And, as in the case of two previous projects, music became an integral part in shaping the narrative.
Alexandre Desplat’s score is a mixture of various eclectic influences. Just as director Wes Anderson points out in his liner notes, they were inspired by different European cultures when creating this fictional country in Central Europe. It’s a delightful clash of French, Hungarian, Russian, German and Polish touches, with a tiny sprinkle of old Hollywood glamour. For this very purpose, all sorts of different instruments were assembled – celesta, harp, cimbalom, recorder, alpenhorn, whistlers and zither. All of that punctuated by variety of percussion, with the composer’s favourite timpani ever present throughout.
One theme, introduced early on (‘The New Lobby Boy’), resembles slightly the secondary idea from The Monuments Men, as well as main one from Rise of the Guardians. But here it is performed by balalaika, celeste and cimbalom, creating an interesting crossover of influences that separates it from the two other scores. Having pointed that out, The Grand Budapest Hotel is not a thematic score at heart and longer-lined melodies are completely absent. Instead, Desplat creates a collection of simple motifs, often associated with instrumental colours, to accompany his numerous characters and how their stories intersect.
The album is always upbeat, rhythmic and colourful. It never quite lets go. And that might be the thing likely to annoy some people. Most tracks are also incredibly brief – ‘Up the Stairs/Down the Hall’ is only 26 seconds long. But they blend into each other and the flow is not broken at any point. There are several pieces from other artists as well. A movement from Antonio Vivaldi’s ‘Concerto for Lute and Plucked Strings’ makes an appearance early on. Quirky and light, it exceptionally well with Desplat’s own music.The same happens with Pavel Vasilevich Kulikov’s ‘The Linden Tree’ for balalaika ensemble.
After a more innocent and careless opening, the music suddenly turns slightly martial towards the end of ‘Daylight Express to Lutz’, with ominous percussion taking the centre stage. In “Schloss Lutz Overture’ and ‘Last Will and Testament’, Desplat introduces organ (performed at St. Jude-on-the-Hill in London), which adds certain weight to his otherwise breezy compositions.
‘J.G. Jopling, Private Enquiry Agent’ introduces another element of the score – London Voices. Composer employs male only performers very much in the same way he used choir in Moonrise Kingdom. In the second part of the album the mood becomes a bit more serious, with the increased presence of percussion – being that the clapping hands of ‘A Dash of Salt (Ludwig’s Theme)’ or constant presence of infamous timpani. Both ‘The War (Zero’s Theme)’ and ‘No Safe-House’ returns, despite their titles, to a more upbeat tone. The latter brings back balalaika ensemble and voices in another delightful miniature.
Towards the end of the score and album, the music becomes slightly grander and also much weightier. There are some passages that seem to recall Philip Glass mechanical music for his early films (‘Lot 117’) – mostly thanks to the minimalistic organ figures. Even more dramatic is the use of male chorus in ‘Canto at Gabelmeister’s Peak’ – a marvellous moment recalling both Orthodox liturgy and Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Soon, solo organ takes over in a more somber statements of the same theme, before making room for threatening martial percussion. London Voices return once more, as does the cimbalom in a manic performance. The serious tone continues in a another lengthy rhythmic track (‘A Troops Barracks’), this time with increased presence of the orchestra. This entire 10-minute sequence is a real tour-de-force.
The bells announce a change of tone yet again in ‘Clear of All Charges’ and the whistling melody, accompanied by both balalaikas and cimbalom, brings the whole score to a satisfying close. The album’s coda is formed of two folk pieces – ‘Kamarinskaya’, performed by Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra, and the traditional arrangement of ‘Moonshine’.
Alexandre Desplat is in the middle of his outstanding run of excellence. His works are so diverse in style and the only thing have in common is amazing craft of the composer. There is not stopping of his creative force in 2014, in which he created five particularly strong scores and was awarded with double Oscar nomination for two of those. In this crowded period, The Grand Budapest Hotel stands a unique entry to his oeuvre and an instant classic. It probably even surpasses his compositions for previous Wes Anderson productions.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is out now from ABKCO Music & Records, Inc