Oscar 2012: Original Score–Anna Karenina

“Anna Karenina” marks the third original-score nomination for Italian-born, London-based composer Dario Marianelli. “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement” preceded it, the latter won, and all three have been directed by Joe Wright.

“Anna Karenina” may be the most musically ambitious yet. Because much of the action takes place in an abandoned theater, with carefully choreographed movement among the characters, Marianelli began work three months prior to shooting, delivering waltzes, piano pieces and other music that would be needed on the set for playback.

“We never really talk about music only about the story, the characters, their motivations,” Marianelli says of his collaboration with Wright. “For me it is always important that the music helps build a self-contained and coherent world, even if a fictional one.”

Marianelli established the late 19th-century Russian setting with a score influenced by music of the time — especially that of Glinka and Balakirev. He also researched Balkan brass music and Russian folk music (adapting one old tune that’s sung in the film), and even wrote an operatic aria with words taken from the original Tolstoy novel.

As usual in today’s high-tech musical world, Marianelli mocked up the score on samplers and synthesizers to give Wright an idea of what the final orchestral version would sound like. “Mostly it is a matter for me to come up with a piece and then keep readjusting it to the changing edit of the movie,” he says.

The composer often visited the set, helping choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Wright accentuate the ballroom scenes, “making sure the music and the dance were always together in the right place.”

“‘Anna’ kept me busy for the best part of a whole year, as I worked together with the cutting room to ensure there never was any temp score in the movie,” Marianelli says. “In the end I think there was about one and a half hours of music, including incidental piano pieces.”

Sixty London musicians played the final score, with Marianelli at the piano.