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Hiatus Helper: Composer Brian Reitzell Talks the Music of NBC’s Hannibal [SDCC Interview] 

Photo Credit: Mary Powers/TV Goodness
Photo Credit: Mary Powers/TV Goodness

The fall television season is less than a month away, but unfortunately for Hannibal fans, we have to wait until late Spring for the return of the series for season three. Sigh. On the upside, the season two finale was so magnificent that it leaves viewers with plenty to talk and speculate about until the premiere. And one of the best parts of that epic finale was the music. God, I don’t think any fan will forget that chilling music, particularly the score that began right after Dr. Bloom was pushed out of the window by our beloved Abigail. I know I certainly won’t.

We were able to catch up with Hannibal composer Brian Reitzell at San Diego Comic-Con last month to discuss the memorable music from the finale, as well as the entire soundtrack from the second season. The one piece that I just spoke of – and the one that I think most viewers will remember – was actually Reitzell’s spin on Bach’s Goldberg Variations. If you listen closely to this piece, as well as the music in the earlier scenes of the finale, you can also hear the winding of clocks, which were not the sound effects but actually part of the music itself.

Photo Credit: Tina Charles/TV Goodness
Photo Credit: Tina Charles/TV Goodness

Reitzell: “When Hannibal Lecter writes the invitation to Jack Crawford we know there’s going to be a fight. I literally used my kitchen timer, I used to be a chef and I have some good cooking things. It’s a great timer. I broke the timer somehow winding it up, had to get another one. Luckily they’re not expensive. So I thought it’d be really interesting that once he signs that thing out that the clock starts, because the audience knows, and that’s such a cliché. I loved it.

So I recorded it, the entire episode until the fight starts. And when the fight starts the alarms go off, right? The Pink Floyd moment. So what I did is, I then took that clock out and played on top of it with things wood blocks, lots of percussion. Percussion is primary. So I created this very complex tapestry of the clock ticking. Sometimes the clock was in, so constantly replaced. I only took it out when Will and Alana were meeting just so time stands still with them.

As we get out to the fight, I did my own variation, and that’s just a piano. It’s a piano playing the Bach aria from the Goldberg Variations. And the Goldberg Variations are based on variations of the baseline, it’s 20-something of them, not the melody. So I did my own variation, then I time-stretched it over seven hours. And I swear to God start to finish that took me over 20 hours, and it’s a nine and a half minute long piece of music. I mean, the concept of it, I had to build onto it, add bass, add things to it. And the rearranging of the piece and the concept of stretching it, and then that happened really quickly.”

Besides the finale, another season two episode that I don’t think fans will forget anytime soon is “Yakimono,” where Dr. Chilton (Raul Esparza) is framed as the Chesepeake Ripper and is supposedly killed by Miriam Lass in the final scene (check out our Comic-Con coverage of Hannibal where some major news regarding Dr. Chilton was revealed).  If you go back and re-watch these scenes with Dr. Chilton, listen closely for clarinets, woodwinds, which turn out to be the thematic music associated with the character.

Reitzell: “Chilton’s character for me was always woodwinds. And it became more and more, if you go back and watch you’ll see I actually used clarinet with him a lot. There’s something about the clarinet that I thought was his character. That’s all real clarinets. I have a guy named Lars who lives in Norway who plays all the woodwinds for me, except for the fake ones that I do or that one of my musicians does. But in that instance that was very influenced by Messiaen.

There’s a Messiaen piece that’s just got this really interesting just slightly jazzy clarinet part. But then those chords come in where we just stacked, when he walks into the kitchen and sees what’s going on. I mean, those were performance pieces. Those are improved pieces, that I did like seven takes and then cut them together to create the final scene.  But Chilton was always the clarinet. And the sad thing is, once he was seemingly dead my woodwind player’s, ‘I’m out of a job’.”

Of course, talking to Reitzell about the music of the show would not be complete without asking him about Dr. Lecter and his harpsichord.  When it was first revealed that he played the instrument, I was a little taken back.  It just didn’t seem to fit the character in my opinion.  But, as time went on, I began to realize the total opposite was true.  Little did I know but the harpsichord is actually the instrument of death, and so what could be more perfect for a cannibalistic serial killer?

Reitzell: “The thing about the harpsichord is, the harpsichord is known as the instrument of death because the notes die, right? You pluck them once, there’s no sustainment at all. It also was adorned often so that it looked like a coffin. Whereas the instrument of life is the organ, because the organ has got this nonstop flow of air. The very first meeting I had for Hannibal, and I only had two, up in Toronto, they asked me, ‘Brian, what instrument would you put with Hannibal Lecter?’ and I said, ‘The harpsichord’.  And they didn’t agree with me. They didn’t say no, but they’re, ‘Really?’ because I don’t think they had one.

But then later in the show you see him composing something, which is something that we made in the summer. And we had no idea what the scene was, nobody had any idea. We just knew we needed him writing something, so I tried to make it quite simple because I learned in the first season that Mads Mikkelsen can play piano but kind of not great. He’s not a great player. So it needed to be something he could play. And once we were dealing with the picture as opposed to what, it all worked out totally different. But it worked out very well I think.”

If you love this music as much as I do, then you are in luck. In collaboration with Lakeshore Records, a four volume soundtrack has been put together, with the first two season one volumes already available on iTunes and the final season two volumes being released this Tuesday, September 2nd. They can be pre-ordered on iTunes at the following links:

Hannibal Soundtrack, Season 2, Volume 1

Hannibal Soundtrack, Season 2, Volume 2

Hannibal  returns for season three in late Spring 2015.

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  1. FictionIsntReal

    I had been under the impression that Hannibal owned a harpsichord & theremin in the books.

  2. Mary Powers

    You know, you may very well be right. I remember Hannibal being able to play multiple instruments, including the theremin but I don’t particularly remember the harpsichord. I’m in the process of reading all of the books and just started “Red Dragon” and will post back here once I find out for sure.

    Great point, and thank you for your response!

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