CD Review: TULIP FEVER (Soundtrack by Danny Elfman on Sony Classical)

by Tony Frankel on August 8, 2017

in CD-DVD,Music

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DIM BULB

I’m a big Tom Stoppard fan, so I was thrilled to hear that he adapted Deborah Moggarch’s novel Tulip Fever, and that it was set to be filmed. But that was 2004. Then after plenty of stops and starts and recasting and studio changes, filming finally wrapped on the historical drama, directed by Justin Chadwick. But that was 2014. After an on again-off again release schedule, the film—with an all-star cast—is slated to be released in the U.S. by the Weinstein Company on August 25, 2017.

I wondered listening to Danny Elfman’s newly released soundtrack if the delayed releases meant there were some problems with the film, because Mr. Elfman simply doesn’t seem inspired. There is no plot summary nor are there liner notes in Sony Classical’s full color 12-page booklet (it’s just photos and titles), so I can only go with the press release: “Tulip Fever follows a married woman in 17th century Amsterdam, who begins a passionate affair with an artist hired to paint her portrait. The lovers gamble on the booming market for tulip bulbs as a way to raise money to run away together.”

Film scores can be notoriously choppy on albums because they’re not composed for a listening experience, as one would hear a symphony, but to support the action. In just over 43 minutes, we get 18 very short tracks that have an almost pastoral quality with plenty of ascending chords and piano plunking, but you will be hard-pressed to find a theme of any kind (I know it’s there somewhere, but if there’s a theme in “Sophia’s Theme” I certainly couldn’t locate it).

It’s all atmosphere that could serve either a children’s magic story or a romantic jungle adventure. It is at turns lush, playful, cheeky, well-produced, and glossy, but it’s wholly lacking in character, sometimes innocuous, and derivative of hundred’s of 80’s soundtracks. There’s also little attempt to evoke or reflect the 1600’s (although there’s a slight Renaissance meets minuet feel in “The Streets”). Sometimes a passage will evoke a bittersweet flavor, but then it meanders from urgent to calm and classical to modern like a score in search of a motif. While it may turn out to be appropriate for the film, it’s forgettable here even as background music because it never settles on a mood; the selections are constantly getting in their own way (for samples, go to Soundtrack.net). It’s not surprising to find that there are five orchestrators, who all cleverly toss in whatever tricks they can in an attempt to make this flower bud sound like it’s in full bloom.

Tulip Fever
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Danny Elfman
Sony Classical
18 tracks | 43:10 minutes
release date August 4, 2017
available at Amazon

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