However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time?
As famous as it is with its cinematography very rightfully, the soundscape in this film is just as important. It wouldn’t be the same without these carefully, handpicked masterpieces that also contribute to the fame they have today. Here are the essential pieces that are used in Kubrick’s period drama Barry Lyndon and how they enrich the meaning of the movie.
The main title begins with Handel’s Suite For Keyboard Vol. 2 No. 4 in D Minor - Sarabande. First impression: we’re stepping into the period drama. It’s an old chord progression La Folia which is used till Lully. It is steady, march-like and grand. It sets the perfect ground. The whole theme is completed just before the narrator and the duel scene starts. Kubrick, as a true classical music lover, made this piece popular by using it as the main theme in Barry Lyndon. Out of the sight, he had a particular reason to choose that part. For me, although it’s a dance, it seems indifferent to me. Maybe it’s not the right word; as if you’re trying to mask your emotions and try to be neutral. The film also is just like that. You don’t connect with Barry, you don’t get angry, you don’t get excited for him. You just observe things happening, just like the narrator who objectively explains everything. It’s big, it’s worth mentioning, but it just happened and no need to cry about it. It’s also because of the distant acting of Barry which I think was an excellent choice.
The second time you’re hearing the Sarabande; it is a re-composed version arranged by Rosenmann. It begins with the duel’s possibility with the bass and slowly gets thicker and thicker with the instruments added. This time the next generation faces the duel, and we’re slowly shown the progression of the events.
The third time Sarabande is played, when the narrator explains Barry’s love for his children. Clearly, there’s a generation and father-son image attributed to this piece. Also, I will repeat myself by emphasizing how emotionless it is. It is just static. You don’t get moved by Barry’s love for his child, he clearly loves him. But we saw how he treated his stepson and we’re not passionate about his love for his own child. We’re distant. It makes a perfect match with this piece. It goes on until the moment the priest came with bad news about the injury. Just when he starts talking, father-son relationship is disturbed, we understand that this chapter is getting closed.
Before end credits, the fourth time we heart Sarabande again was when his stepson came to visit him. Music didn’t start when we see the son returning, it waits just the precise moment of the man in the front desk confirming Barry is inside. Then, now that we’re sure they are about to face each other, music starts again with the base. We’re again facing a duel, again involving the next generation. This time duel sequence is even more detailed and long. This time it matters. It is not a story of his father he is told, or an event fuelled by his youth once. It’s his responsibility, his actions that caused this. This variation stays on the bass and percussion, it doesn’t get much thicker as texture. Its repetition is also a hint of history repeating itself. The shot we’re waiting for nearly 10 minutes doesn’t come at the end of the phrase. Again, it’s not dramatic. The situation doesn’t end magically when he shots his fire, it continues still.
At the end credits, we hear it in the original version. We shouldn’t underestimate the contribution of Handel’s music. It’s a Kubrick movie and we cannot over analyse this one; we can’t be sure if the main point is the society, aristocracy etc. Somehow, music makes it so obscure, we’re just witnessing and don’t need the feel of concluding anything.
The first time Barry sees Lady Lyndon and the narrator starts to talk about love; we hear Schubert’s Piano Trio in E flat, Op.100 2nd Movement. It’s not just placeholder music for the sentimental part, it’s carefully chosen and placed to a long sequence. Could a love scene be simpler than gazing at each other at the gambling table; getting closer by distancing yourself, and marching towards love with the Trio’s tempo and stopped just at the end of the theme. Reaching her at the repetition of the dominant that delays resolution makes us wonder if he’s going to kiss her. And she turns towards her at the tonic confirming he will. The second theme with violin starts when they kiss and as the narrator said ‘long story short, she was in love’. Music stops when Barry confronts her husband; we know he didn’t fall in love with her, he was after her money. There was no need for a trio in the absence of Lady Lyndon.
Le Rondeau de Paris
The only moment we see a transition from non-diegetic music to diegetic music is, when the narrator explains that Barry and Lady Lyndon live separate lives. We see Lady Lyndon with her children as if her emotions are vacuumed. Then we see Reverent, Lady and Lord Bullingdon performing the same piece in flute, cello and harpsichord and it becomes diegetic music. The piece is Jean-Marie LeClair’s sonata trio ‘Le Rondeau de Paris’. This track didn’t included in the soundtrack list, but I love the affect it created; she was performing her own soundtrack; always a powerful trick in cinema.
Vivaldi’s Cello Concerto
Vivaldi’s ‘Cello Concerto in E Minor’ accompanies Lady Lyndon’s sorrow this time non-diegetically. The first time we heard it is in the carriage where Barry blows smoke to Lady Lyndon’s face while the narrator explains she means nothing to him. Music continues where Lord Bullingdon complains to his tutor about his new father. The second time is when Lady Lyndon see Barry cheating. We follow her sorrow, Barry apologise and music is interrupted by Barry’s scene. Usually, we heard all the pieces completely, but Lady Lyndon couldn’t deserve a whole theme for herself; she’s not playing the primary role in her life. This melody is the most melancholic one in the whole film. Matched with Lady Lyndon’d deadly staring, we understand her sorrow and mood. The last time we hear the piece is when Lady Lyndon signs Barry’s depts and witnessing her family fortune melting in front of her.
Bach’s Concerto for Two Harpsichords
Before interrupted by Lord Bullingdon, Lady Lyndon was performing Bach’s ‘Adagio from Concerto for two harpsichords in C minor’. Its diegetic usage serves as a plot device rather than musical accompaniment. It makes sense them to perform Bach’s piece; and it was perfectly normal the piece is transformed into flute and harpsichord arrangement since Reverent’s instrument was flute. It was customary to revise the instruments at home concerts at that time.