Rachel Portman delves into the melodic, string-drenched melancholy of Georges Delerue in this beautifully crafted score without deliberately evoking the film's 18th century period, and adhering to a hard classical style.
The orchestral veneer of the titular track conveys the era's gilded, regal architecture, poofy hairstyles and fashion, but Portman's writing aims to capture the Duchess of Devonshire's emotions as she moves through a fairy tale marriage towards being branded a colossal disappointment when the Duke's ongoing quest for a son is rewarded with another daughter, followed by a decision to introduce a noxious mistress.
“I Think of You All the Time” is a good example of the score's multi-layered depiction of disappointment, sadness, and apprehension, wherein a brief thematic quote is cast aside after the cue's opening bars, and Portman focuses on steady tones and hard-placed harmonics to create a sense of friction, perfectly nailing a major conflict before swerving back to the main theme in a more tragic variation. Portman's use of low, orchestral shading in place of busy notes also serves “Rape,” because it lets the scene's onscreen violence communicate the horror, while the orchestral sounds add discretionary dramatic support.
To the other side, the lofty theme variation in “Six Years Later” is a delicious galloping waltz with eddying string figures that recede beneath the rhythmic pulses prior to another full theme recap. Most of the cues are variations and straight theme restatements, but the lush orchestrations are very soothing, and some thematic variety is offered via chamber performances of excerpts from Beethoven's “Twelve German Dances,” and Hayden's lovely “Adagio from String Quartet Opus 1 No. 3 in D Major.”
The lack of brass and a strong emphasis on harmonic swells gives The Duchess a deceptively calming quality, but Portman does bring in sparse percussion and piano figures in moody tracks like “Never See Your Children Again,” which steers the score into more strained drama, and her use of solo violin (“Gee is Taken to the Country”) also sharpens the score's intimacy.
Whereas much has been written of using a virtual all-string orchestra to convey fear in the horror genre, The Duchess demonstrates how rich colours and sophisticated emotional shades can be achieved with great success.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan