Vanity Fair [Original Soundtrack]

by: Various Artists

William Makepeace Thackeray's satire Vanity Fair (first published in magazine installments, 1874-78) is a "Novel Without a Hero," as its subtitle proclaims, but it is not without a villain who has her reasons: Becky Sharp is a young woman lacking a fortune or a position in British society in the first half of the 19th century and is forced to make her way on her wits while happily unencumbered by scruples or morals. She is, in Thackeray's view, the ideal person in a world full of hypocrisy and materialism. In a contemporary world she is scarcely less so. Director Mira Nair might have attempted a modern version for her film adaptation, but she chose instead to go back to the original setting and cast Reese Witherspoon as Sharp. That compels composer Mychael Danna to write music in the style of the day, which means orchestral scores with classical and romantic antecedents, as well as chamber music. She sets poems by Lord Byron and Alfred, Lord Tennyson to tunes and has them sung by Sissel and Custer LaRue, respectively. She references Beethoven and Haydn, and even flirts anachronistically with Tchaikovsky when she gets to the battle of Waterloo. There isn't much suggestion of Thackeray's social criticism, at least in the music; the composer seems to have concentrated on matching the scenery and the costumes. Toward the end, there are a couple of Indian songs, "El Salaam," by Hakim, and "Gori Re," sung by Shankar Mahadevan and Richa Sharma, that come as a surprise and seem out of place. ~ William Ruhlmann

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