If it’s the dead of winter, I’m probably watching Hannibal. There’s just something about Hannibal that lends itself to the cold; I have to be cuddled up under blankets, drinking tea while bathing in the lavish sets, incredible costumes, weirdly gorgeous murders, exceptional performances, and gruesome love stories that make up one of my all-time favorite shows. Hannibal – the show and the character – is dense, and lush, and disgusting, and positively drips with culture. (And blood. There’s also lots of blood.) While it would be fun to write about the exquisite suits in Hannibal Lecter’s closets, or the meals he crafts with understated glee, I come to you today to talk about another staple of my dead of winter media diet: classical music.
Because, dear reader, here is my truth: while I admire and appreciate those other factors of high culture, I cannot cook, my interior design skills are a nightmare, and I wouldn’t know what to do with fancy suits if a Bloomingdales personal shopper took up residence in my home. But the one quality that Dr. Lecter and I share is a deep and abiding love for a well composed Requiem. (We also share a deep and abiding love for Will Graham, but that’s another story.) So, without further ado, may I present: the top 10 classical music moments in Hannibal.
10. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 – “Sakizuki”
The fourth movement of Beethoven’s 9th is one of the most famous pieces of music in history. While Ode to Joy isn’t the selection “Sakizuki” focuses on, the sentiment stands. This episode falls early in the second season – and the scene it scores is the very first time we see, in no uncertain terms, Hannibal Lecter preparing human remains in his kitchen. Season One plays it cool, strongly inferring that the whole cannibal thing is happening but never showing anything explicitly. Indeed, half the fun of that season is not quite knowing when Hannibal is cooking a person or just cooking a meal. But this sequence lays everything out, once and for all, and without any flashes to the murder itself. The juxtaposition of Hannibal in his kitchen, carefully removing a foot and cooking the remaining leg with the grace and ease of a five star chef, while Jack and the team stand in the morgue looking at the space where that leg SHOULD BE – it’s majestic.
There’s a case to be made that all too often, classical music has been used to underscore moments of horror and disgust and that the combination has become a cheap gag. But that’s never the case in Hannibal. The classical music here fits, not just because of the trappings of high culture that seep through the rest of the show, but because Hannibal himself lives in this world. Its use is thoughtful, measured, always with intention. They walk right up to the line, but the use of classical music is never overdone. Dramatic, yes. Tacky? Never. So he doesn’t need an Ode to Joy to celebrate his meal. A lesser known part of the Symphony will do just fine.
9. Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor – “The Number of the Beast is 666”
I’m a sucker for a highly choreographed musical interlude. And that’s exactly the use of Mozart’s Piano Quartet here. As a package makes its way through the mail system for Dr. Lecter ℅ Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, it’s cleanly processed and x-rayed and moved from bin to cart to Mozart’s jaunty tunes, hitting every beat along the way. The score carries through while Alana hand-delivers the package to Hannibal, who opens it to discover Frederick Chilton’s lips, torn from his face by the teeth of the Great Red Dragon.
I never said this list wouldn’t be gruesome. I just said it wouldn’t be tacky.
8. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major – “Su-Zakana”
Season Two is essentially an elaborate dance. Jack and Will spend the entire season hunting Hannibal; Hannibal spends it countering, often a step ahead already, hoping that he’s earned Will’s true loyalty along the way. “Su-Zakana” is the set up, but because this is one of the most subtle shows ever (except when it comes to murder, the murders are never subtle) we have no idea that the bait has been set so completely and that Jack is finally willing to believe Will’s claims. Will and Jack’s adventure in ice fishing is directly laying the groundwork for the finale: and Hannibal couldn’t be less concerned. With Beethoven’s Piano Concerto blaring, he prepares a fish to serve Will and Jack, assuring them – and himself – that the trout he’s cooked is nothing short of Nietzschean. Anarchy and nihilism are Hannibal’s playthings, with Beethoven as the score.
7. Chopin’s Prelude No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 28 – “Hassun”
Chopin’s Preludes are, overwhelmingly, about death. Chopin requested his Prelude be played at his own funeral: it’s a haunting piece, deceptively simple and intrinsically meditative. The refrain’s tempo feels weary and restrained, like walking through thigh-high snow. In “Hassun,” it’s the underpinning to three of our main characters sitting in solitude, thinking. Jack sits alone in his office, pondering the aftermath of yet another murder, and avoiding the sadness in his own home. Hannibal sits across from Will’s empty chair, debating the next course of action in Will’s trial. Will himself sits alone in his cell, not knowing what will become of him. And a janitor works his way through the courthouse, ultimately finding the result of Hannibal’s meditation: the judge, murdered for a mistrial and laid out on display. My personal favorite moment in this entire sequence comes right at the close – as Brian Reitzell morphs the end of Chopin’s Prelude, already in a minor key, into something outright sinister. Fortissimo dissonance overwhelms the Prelude, ending the meditation and setting the wheels in motion for Will Graham to walk free.
6. Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46 – “Apertivo”
In his recovery from Hannibal’s attack, Will Graham finds himself stuck in a room with Chilton, once again unable to avoid his philosophical musings. This time, Chilton comes explaining Hannibal’s intention: for Will to survive, to continue living in this world. Chilton’s belief, that while the optimist believes we live in the best possible world, the pessimist fears it to be true, launches Will into a very intriguing hallucination. One in which he changed sides, laying his loyalty with Hannibal Lecter, murdering Jack Crawford side by side with Hannibal. (It’s not so different from how the series ends, except instead of by a cliffside murdering another serial killer, it’s in a dining room, murdering a lovely, emotionally damaged middle aged FBI agent. But hey.) For Will to jump to this hallucination implies that siding with Hannibal might just have been his better possible world – at least, one in which Abigail would still be alive.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The score to this particular fever dream is Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, a piece composed for an Ibsen play in 1867. The play’s plot is loosely based on a Norwegian fairy tale, one in which the hero battles serpents and trolls and generally goes about rescuing people. It’s a dreamy, almost mystical piece, perfectly suited to Will’s state of mind.
5. Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, Lacrimosa – “Sorbet”
Author’s bias alert: I love Mozart’s Requiem SO MUCH. And this is one of the first big choral classical music moments in the show. So those factors combine to place this entry here at pivotal number five. From here on out, shit is gonna get real. In this sequence, Hannibal sits at his desk, anxious, waiting for Will to show up for his appointment. He fiddles, stares at his phone, fiddles some more, before finally getting up to confront Will – who has begun his season one descent into madness in earnest and is hallucinating a landscape shared with Abigail.
The Lacrimosa is the most mournful part of any Requiem; they represent the moment that Mary holds the body of her son and weeps for his death. Think of it as the musical version of Michelangelo’s Pietà. Hannibal is more anxious than mournful in this scene, but as you watch his face, he’s clearly out of place. Genuinely concerned, even, that something has happened to Will to keep him away from their appointment. (And more to the point, away from him.) It’s a far cry from his thrill earlier in the episode, joyfully flipping through business cards looking for his next meal – and it’s all brought out because of Will’s absence. In Will’s headspace, this Lacrimosa is a tad less dramatic and a good deal more suited to the piece, as he continues to wrestle with his murder of Garret Jacob Hobbs. Will is mourning not just Hobbs, but Hobbs’ victims, and coming to terms with Will’s own newly self-imposed identity as Abigail’s surrogate father. The final resolution of the Lacrimosa settles just as Will and Abigail fully come into view: the “amen” settling majestically over a deathly – and domestic – hallucination.
4. Faurè’s Requiem in D Minor, Op. 48, Kyrie – “Shiizakana”
Another author’s bias: Faurè’s Requiem is one of those pieces I just adore. I’ve performed it, I love it, it gets under my skin in a way only choral classical music can. When I hear it, I want it to be EVERYwhere. Echoing from the rafters-levels-loud. The only time I’ll annoy my roommates with obnoxiously loud music is when I’m on a Requiem kick. (That, and all the screaming at my television, but that’s neither here nor there.) So this particular entry was always going to have strong standing on the list. But the sequence its paired with is so exceptional that I don’t even feel bad about it. As I said, shit is getting real.
Randall Tier, one of Hannibal’s old patients who has taken up murder in his spare time – complete with an elaborate ancient animal suit to allow him to fully transform – gets it in his head that he must hunt and kill Will Graham. (Gee, I wonder who made that suggestion?) There’s an extended, deeply unsettling sequence near the end of the episode in which Will’s dogs freak out knowing that there’s someone – something – in the woods around the house. Will safely barricades himself and his pack in the home, and as Randall crashes through the window in full gear, Faurè blares. We don’t see Will kill Randall (yet): the cut immediately jumps to Hannibal walking into his dining room to find Will standing at the head of the table with Randall laid out, dead. Even Steven.
3. Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Dona Nobis Pacem – “Sakizuki”
Now that we’ve talked about my Faurè bias, I have to admit that this next scene is one of my favorites in the entire show, full stop. Strains of Bach come ever so slightly through Brian Reitzell’s score as Hannibal stalks the cornfields where a nameless serial killer has been coordinating his victims to form a perfect color wheel: an eye to God. As Hannibal climbs to the top of the grain warehouse where the bodies have been so carefully arranged, the climax of Dona Nobis Pacem, the final movement in Bach’s Mass in B Minor, swells. Hannibal is overcome with pride for the killer’s design. It’s a religious moment.
Bach’s Dona Nobis Pacem takes its refrain from the piece’s earlier Gloria: a celebration. A moment of rejoice. It’s so grotesquely apt, and so weirdly moving, that Hannibal sees the killer’s art exactly as its intended. And if I had to pick a moment to point to that makes Mads Mikkelsen the perfect Hannibal Lecter, it very well might be this one. He thinks he’s attuned to the creator’s intention – but he’s ever so slightly misguided. Later in the episode, as he settles the killer into the eye of his own creation, they discuss the existence of God. (Like you do.) The killer is an atheist, and not interested in a resurrection. But Hannibal truly did have a religious experience looking down into the eye. He’s moved by the art. He insists, gracefully, that his own perspective preside over the scene. He’s charmed, and charming, and respectful. He also happens to be looking down on a literal sea of bodies with a sparkle in his eye.
2. Faurè’s Requiem, Pie Jesú – “Primavera”
You already know how I feel about Faurè’s Requiem. Its second appearance in Hannibal is far less rife with drama and spectacle, but much, much more heartwrenching. When the third season began, there was no telling who survived the sheer devastation that was “Mizumono.” Other than Drs. Lecter and Du Maurier, anyone could have been dead: Jack, Alana, Abigail, and Will were all left bleeding and pretty much every injury seemed like a mortal wound. When it seemed that everyone had made it out alive – battered, broken, but alive – it was amazing but not completely implausible. Will had survived unthinkable damage. Abigail had cheated death time and time again. But not, as it turned out, this time. After hallucinating Abigail for two full episodes (sometimes using her as a replacement for Chilton, sometimes just drawing her out of the depths of his tortured mind) Will finally comes to grips with reality: Abigail has died, at Hannibal’s hand, in front of him.
Within a Requiem, the Pie Jesú is a moment of rest. It’s mournful, but peaceful, raising voices in supplication to grant the dead eternal peace. It’s exquisitely wrenching for this to score the moment the audience finally sees the aftermath of “Mizumono:” Will’s salvation, his wound sewn up, side by side with Abigail’s autopsy. Cold, final, and clinical.
1. Bach’s Goldberg Variations – “Mizumono”
No top ten list about Hannibal can end with anything other than “Mizumono.” It’s just a rule. And that’s not even counting the context of Silence of the Lambs, which is famous for its own use of classical music – specifically, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which plays on a tape cassette whilst Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal breaks out of jail and leaves a few jail guards dead (and partially gnawed on) in his wake. “Mizumono” finds the Hannibal of my heart (no shade, Mr. Hopkins, but it’s not even a contest) staging his own grand escape. Scoring this sequence to anything other than Bach’s spectacular aria and the 30 variations that follow to make up the full piece would be nothing short of criminal.
Yes, for those of you unfamiliar, Bach’s Goldberg Variations are just that – a single five-ish minute long aria, followed by 30 variations on the theme. Think of it as a whole bunch of covers. They explore different tempos, different keys, styles, suspensions. And on and on. Now turn your attention to “Mizumono.” It’s an hour of television that never, ever lets you see what’s coming while also staying completely focused. There are constant variations on themes: the reprise of Jack confronting Hannibal, which was shown in the season opener – this time, with the complete sequence. The consistent build: first bringing Alana to the house, only to have her flee from Hannibal after he offers her an escape – right into the arms of Abigail, long thought to be dead. Abigail, who enters her own variation of a theme, this time acting as Hannibal’s hunting partner rather than her father’s, pushing Alana out a window. And that’s the moment, as Alana lays on the sidewalk surrounded by glass, that the first strain of Bach’s Goldberg Variations begin to play.
The piece carries through the entire last ten minutes of the episode. It scores Hannibal telling Will that he and Abigail couldn’t leave without him. Scores, ever so subtly, Hannibal gutting Will, first literally and then metaphorically as Hannibal murders Abigail. It’s the soundtrack to a bloodbath, and to Hannibal walking straight out of his home, into the rain, and out of Baltimore, beginning again in earnest for the credits sequence and playing right through Hannibal and Bedelia’s escape to Europe. It is, like everything else in “Mizumono,” completely and utterly perfect.
Do you have a favorite Hannibal music moment? Let us know in the comments!
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