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Tulip Fever by Danny Elfman (Review)

posted Oct 23, 2017, 8:09 PM by Koray Savas

Tulip Fever is Justin Chadwick's period piece about a painter commissioned to draw a portrait of a rich man's wife in 17th century Amsterdam. The film utilizes common archetypes: the painter falls in love with the girl, the powerful husband can't find out, someone else knows of the forbidden love, they hatch a plan to be together... there are no surprises. However, this is an atypical genre for Danny Elfman, who delivers a lush orchestral score that helps the film sell the emotion on screen.

The album opens with "Sophia's Theme," a lyrical piece with minimalistic structures, percussion, eloquent string writing, and touch of his traditional choir. It is a common thread weaved through the album that gives it a romantic anchor on which the rest of the score builds upon, though it lacks a strong melodic imprint that helps make the theme standout from the rest of the score. In this regard, the theme supports the backbone of Elfman's tone and mood, but never really shines on its own merits. Moreover, while the first third of the album sets up a rather light and frolicking affair, the music slowly develops into a richer and more intimate harmonic language. It truly is one of Elfman's most beautiful scores in many years. The way he devolves the bright nature of this budding love into something more sinister and dangerous gives the music dramatic flair and weight. It taps really well into the psyche of the characters and ties it directly into the narrative, creating a fulfilling listening experience. "The Grand Finale" is the highlight of the score, in which the culmination of the earlier elements come together into a grandiose climax. Elfman doesn't cut it off there, however, and gives the listen a well-timed denouement with "Happy Family" and a reprise of Sophia's Theme to send things off neatly.

Tulip Fever is a prime example of Danny Elfman adapting his style and sensibilities to a film's individualistic needs. While the music lacks the memorability of some of his greater scores, it brings forth a beauty and love that is not too often heard in his film music of late. There is a real sense of passion and care put into the development of this score, and it pays off splendidly in the end when it all comes together.