First of all, we would like to thank you for grating this interview. Mr. Marianelli, after getting your Oscar for “Atonement”, have you become more “demanding” on your job requests
I think work has been more or less the way it was before, always a mixed bag of different projects, some more appealing than others. I recently worked with Joe Wright for the 3rd time on "The Soloist", and it was another good experience for us, a very different movie from "Atonement" and "Pride and Prejudice". I also completed "Everybody´s Fine", and had a chance to collaborate with Paul McCartney on the End Credits song he wrote for the movie, and that was fun.
How did you get involved in “Agora” project?
Alejandro was aware of my music for a while, even before the Oscar. The Oscar is a very visible recognition from the industry, but I am not sure that it is responsible for everything I have done since.
Alejandro Amenábar has played an active musical role, composing the entire scores of his own films. What about your relationship with him?
I had a very good relationship with Alejandro, and we have became friends very quickly, working together. I told him straight away that I was very concerned that he was a composer himself, and I accepted to take the assignment only on condition that he would let me free to explore my own ideas, and follow my instinct. He was incredibly respectful of that, and I feel I had the space I needed to write what I really wanted, for Agora.
Some people have pointed that the final result of your score is very similar to other recent historical films such as “Troy” or “The Kingdom of Heaven”, which were somehow influenced by “Gladiator” score. Did Amenabar suggest you to work on that direction (regarding the historical characterization)?
Not at all. I don´t think Agora is particularly influenced by those scores, in fact. It is more likely that all these scores are influenced by older music, and in my case I can see a closer homage been paid to Carl Orff´s Carmina Burana, or Bach´s Passions. I suspect this happens very often, that some film scores might recall each other, when in fact they have influenced by music from earlier periods.
How did you get the inspiration in order to compose the "Hypatia theme"?
It is the very first thing I looked for, something haunting and heartfelt, like a proper love theme, as I thought there was a risk in the movie: Hypatia´s interests, astronomy, philosophy, nature, might come across as too intellectual, and cold. I suggested to Alejandro that we treat Hypatia´s love for science as her true love, a sensual and full blown love affair with the skies.
Which was the hardest scene in musical terms? Was it difficult to assemble those “impossible” sequences on a planetary scales, which reveal a transcendent dimension of the human being in relation with the ethnic and temporal landscape where the story takes place?
At the cost of sounding flippant, I have to say that the score for Agora flowed quite easily into place, and there was never really a problem to come up with music that matched my own feelings for what Alejandro was putting on the screen. Perhaps, in terms of technical difficulty, the loudest scenes, like the storming of the Library, were the hardest, just because there was so much sound and shouting coming from the characters, and I was trying to reinforce it without overloading the overall sound.
In the film, there´s plenty of tension among different civilizations; however, the initial theme of "Alexandria" shows these civilizations living in peace. Which were your musical intentions to reflect that "harmony” among civilizations?
I think I was mainly trying to find an interesting sound and rhythm for a place that is buzzing with energy. Ultimately, it felt right not to imply too much discord at that early stage in the storytelling.
We have perceived some lightness on the orchestration, as soon as the music involves the "knowledge” themes; rather opposite to the heavy symphony of metal and drums that describe "the intolerance". Have you conceived theses opposite orchestrations as a deliberate feature of the score?
Yes. But it comes with the way the story is told: how would you put heavy drums and metal and loud choirs under quiet dialogue?
How did you reach the "universal theme", which we could refer as the "Earth chant” or lament?
If you are talking about the theme with the woman´s voice, I have associated Parvin´s voice to an "Earth chant" for a long time. It is of course a conceit: I don´t believe Earth, or Nature, really takes such interest in our fate. But if it did, then it might feel moved to empathize with the more tragic side of our existence, and I wanted to give that feeling a voice.
How did you approach the ethnic sound arrangements and integration in relation with the traditional orchestra? Regarding that matter, let´s talk about the use of the duduk. Did you just think about getting an exotic sound? The voice of Parvin Cox is a great complement used in some cues. What does she offers now in “Agora”?
I fall back on a few techniques which I have practiced on many occasions now. The main point is that I feel the need to capture the emotional side of those non-western elements, as they bring into the music a depth of time and tradition that is impossible to achieve with other means. The reason I keep going back again and again to Parvin, and to Dirk Campbell, who plays a variety of woodwinds on the score, is that I feel they are incredibly emotive musicians, and somehow they are able to channel in their music-making something very deep. What I always try to avoid is using non-western sounds as "decorations" or "flavours", just to sprinkle a bit of local ethnic colour on an otherwise traditional sound. That does not interest me at all, and it is ultimately about the emotional content of the music that I care about. I think the only synthetic sound was a very gentle low pad that I have used occasionally in some cues. All the other sounds where from real instruments.
The Argentinean Lucio Godoy was requested for composing some additional music in “Agora”. Do you know the reason for making this decision? Are you satisfied with his contribution?
When you see someone playing an instrument or singing on a movie, the music must be pre-recorded, to allow the actor to mime to playback. Lucio worked on all the cues which are not part of the score, but are played by characters within the story. I only came on board after shooting was over. I think he has done a brilliant job.
Tell us about working in a historical project. Did you previously know the classic works of Miklós Rózsa, Alfred Newman or Alex North?
I am not sure it is very different from working on any other type of movie. Somehow the composer must come up with something that enriches the movie, that add a new layer of depth and understanding, and that possibly helps the director to create a "believable" self contained world, for the duration of the movie. When I hear scores for big epic movies of the time you refer to, I can´t help being excited by the sounds, the scale and the ambition of the music, but I think they belong to that era. I think film making has became more introspective, and in the best cases offers a more subjective point of view to the audience. I suspect that if one took a Rosza´s score on a modern movie, it would immediately feel out of place, now, and quite overbearing.
Would you work again with Amenabar? Tell us something about your upcoming projects.
Of course! I had a great time on Agora, and I hope there will be other chances to collaborate. I am just about to start a couple of movies, one is "Eat, Pray, Love", with Julia Roberts. I am also writing some concert pieces at the moment, collaborating with the London Philarmonic Orchestra for a cycle of children stories for narrator and orchestra.
That´s all, Mr Marianelli. Thanks a lot again and good luck in the future.
You´re welcome. Good luck to you and keep on working so well in your web site!