By Karol Krok
Piano virtuosos are often associated with some kind of mental instability and often downright madness. Perhaps it comes from a common understanding that genius demands certain sacrifice. But one has to wonder – isn’t this turning into some kind of cliche? In Eugenio Mira’s GRAND PIANO, Elijah Wood plays Tom Selznick, a pianist who developed a stage fright after being unable to play a piece and subsequently having a mental breakdown during the concert. Now, he’s returned to the stage, but little does he know that his life, as well as his wife’s, depends on this one performance. The film has received very strong reviews, with many people comparing it to Brian De Palma’s works, and those strong reactions also extend to the phenomenal score penned by Spanish composer Victor Reyes.
The soundtrack album is structured very much as a piano concerto, with each track being another movement in ‘Grand Piano Concerto’. They form very lengthy pieces with the symphony orchestra being used to full effect, but with the central instrument – the piano – being the main feature and highlight. It indeed feels very much like a real concert work, at least on a superficial level. The opening piece, ‘Grand Piano Main Titles’, serves as an overture, and seems to take inspiration from Ennio Morricone’s suspense writing from THE UNTOUCHABLES in its unnerving, but ingenious, low piano rambling. It is also the only cue that feels “filmic” in any way. The other four tracks blur the lines between the diegetic and non-diegetic.
All three movements seem to be different film cues joined together into longer pieces. There’s no big distinction between them, they all feature great piano solos as the main driving force with the full symphonic orchestral force serving as an accompaniment. And one has to admit it’s great to hear such an over the top performances in films, as usually the instrument is used to convey a very domestic atmosphere, most likely striking single chords only. In reality, so much more can be done with it. It’s such a versatile instrument, able to create wide variety of moods, some of them rarely explored in films. However, this is something that GRAND PIANO score is able to address very successfully.
The music is grand and operatic, with the moods ranging from concert like passages to turbulent suspense in Alfred Hitchcock/Bernard Herrmann tradition, as well as the infamous HANGOVER SQUARE concerto. There is some really interesting action music to be found in the latter part of movement two that puts to shame most action scores these days. But then again, this is the kind of music that most big studios hate the most and it is only in theatrical and stylised films like this that a composer can get away with. While the first two movements run over ten minutes long each, the final one clocks just under four. It doesn’t stop it from being any less grandiose, of course.
Similarly to the first track, “La Cinquette’ serves as an epilogue to the score and album. This time, it is only piano with no orchestral accompaniment. This virtuosic concert solo is a crucial element in the film, in which it is described as unplayable and that is exactly the piece that causes main character to break down during his performance. A fitting coda, one has to admit.
GRAND PIANO is an excellent album, structured in a way that anybody can enjoy it, even without ever seeing the film.. It merges the tense thriller sound with enjoyable piano performances that have never sounded better, and this score is another example that the most talented film composers work largely away from the Hollywood system. It’s film music at its most elegant and glamourous. Highly recommended.
GRAND PIANO is out now from MovieScoreMedia and Kronos Records