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Soundtrack review: Tulip fever (Danny Elfman – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Tulip fever (Danny Elfman – 2017)

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“Tulip Fever” is a 2017 historical drama film directed by Justin Chadwick and written by Tom Stoppard, adapted from a novel by Deborah Moggach. It stars Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Jack O’Connell, Zach Galifianakis, Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz, Holliday Grainger, Matthew Morrison and Cara Delevingne. Set in the Netherlands in the 17th century, during the period of the tulip mania, the film tells the story of an artist (Dane DeHaan) who falls for a married young woman (Alicia Vikander) while he’s commissioned to paint her portrait by her husband (Christoph Waltz). The two invest in the risky tulip market in hopes of building a future together. Danny Elfman wrote the score.

Over the last 30 years Danny Elfman has become a legend in dark fantasy movies; his countless collaborations with Tim Burton, his incessant ability to transpose Burton’s wacky ideas into music have made him one of the greatest composers of our times. Lately, with a slight distancing from his fetish director, Elfman has ventured into musical territories less familiar to him; I haven’t enjoyed his romance or thriller scores as much and I hope “Tulip fever” is different. The score starts with “Sophie’s theme” which is a vigorous and feverish piano theme that evokes great internal turmoil. The next cue “Lost” is a beautiful orchestral piece which is encouraging to hear since I could do with a sweeping orchestral score from Elfman. It’s also nice to hear a melody like “Willem” which makes me think of a period story. I am taking this score step by step, cue by cue and it works because the string section and the rolling piano in “The unveiling” keep the elegant orchestral sound. It’s charming music with a small orchestra and the flute sneaks in every now and then and give me a very nice feeling.

Without exciting me emotionally or making me feel the weight of the historical drama, “Tulip fever” still makes for an enjoyable standalone listen; I am always up for a textural orchestral score that sometimes has nice melodies, other times bursts of string energy and other times charming piano motifs. When the flute appears the music also puts me in a good mood so there are pleasant moments in it. Those bursts of energy break the linear pattern of the music but still doesn’t give it the peaks and lows I would expect from a historical drama; I was at least expecting to feel this in the almost 7 minutes long climax “Grand finale” but it also stays quiet and restrained. The music is nice to hear but not emotional enough to make me feel something.

“Tulip fever” is one of the quieter and most elegant Danny Elfman scores; for a composer who has made so many fantastic scores where the music was anything but restrained this means quite a departure and I wouldn’t have recognised him if I didn’t know he wrote the score. You will discover here and Elfman in a Carter Burwell mood and it’s interesting to hear.

Cue rating: 83 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 10 / 43

Album excellence: 23%

Highlights:
Lost
The orphanage
Happy Family
Sophia’s Theme (Reprise)

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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