Hannibal: Why Music Fans Should All Be Watching

By Caellin Rodgers

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Horror isn’t everybody’s cup of bloody tea. I get it, why you might have avoided Hannibal, with its skinned angels and corpse totem poles

But if you love cinematic music or films-as-art, you really need to catch up – season three has just begun and you’ve got a lot of binge watching to do before spoilers end up all over social media.

For the longest of time, tv has been considered secondary to film: they just don’t have the budget for creating works of art, critics of the genre said, it’s not tv’s fault. Even one of the most highly ranked films ever (Psycho, if you were wondering) began its life as a low budget, made-for-tv movie, “promoted” to film when it proved it was going to be “too good” for television. Now, though, with production quality starting to cost less, with the improvements in technology and the growth of the tv market (and budgets), tv is starting to finally gain equal footing with film. And Hannibal sits a (severed) head and shoulders above the rest, more artistic than most films, with an attention to detail that would make even Leo Da Vinci jealous.

Bryan Fuller (the show’s mastermind) utilises every aspect of cinematic storytelling to create an entirely new, bloodthirsty world for Hannibal Lecter to display his… skills. A blue-grey filter sets the scene, interspersed by disturbingly bright yellow as the show’s protagonist, Will Graham recreates the most horrific of murders; crimson, often seen in Lecter’s office or in his costumes, paints swathes of dried blood throughout most shots, the characters often lit from behind, entirely in shadow. Behind all of these colours, underneath the shots that are framed like paintings lies a bizarre, metallic, ethereal soundtrack that makes you clench your teeth and grab at the nearest soft object, terrified for the world of horror that Graham has found himself in.

Brian Reitzell, much like Lecter himself, seems to be both madman and genius. His scores are apparently huge, over 500 different instrument tracks in the score, he thinks – a combination of classic horror, like screeching Psycho strings, uncomfortable distorted drones and strange percussive sounds, some of which are played on instruments he’s sourced specifically for their relation to death. While this unsettling, groaning and screaming distorted soundtrack does make up the majority of the 40-something minutes of music per episode, as many fans of Silence of the Lambs will remember, Lecter has a particular taste for the finer things in life – particularly western art (colloquially, classical) music, and the soundtrack for Hannibal is interspersed with moments of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Bach (a particular favourite) and other familiar composers. There’s silence, too, of course – although only enough to allow you a brief breath of air before the score resumes its strangling dissonance.

And like all else in the show, the music ultimately reflects the control Lecter has over the world, himself and the people around him. The moments of classical clarity come when Lecter is at his worst – presented over scenes of him either cooking or serving elegantly crafted sculptures dinners, with whole legs of lamb (people), pork (people) or veal (also people). Even the silence most often comes at the hands of Lecter, especially towards the end of the first season, when Will Graham’s world starts to fall apart – bringing more dissonance and less quiet – Lecter is still able to occasionally quiet the horror that fills his mind.

And Lecter, of course, sometimes plays and writes his own music during the show. He plays the theramin (it’s a really cool instrument invented by a dude who successfully planted a listening device in a US ambassador’s office), and also the harpsichord: the literal instrument of death: it’s got no sustainability (its notes die immediately after they’re played) and is often even shaped like a coffin. Somehow, even the sweet tunes Lecter plays on it seem sour, so incapable is he of sustaining life.

So if you’re free, Hannibal would love to have you for dinner.

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