Danny Elfman

“Rabbit and Rogue”: Danny Elfman’s Larger-Than-Life Ballet Score

Danny Elfman’s film and television scores frequently exhibit a kind of quirky, slightly deranged humor. For example, listen to the zany music which accompanies “The Breakfast Machine” scene from the 1985 comedy, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, in which the persistent pulse of Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance meets 1920s Kurt Weill. I love the way the mechanized madness of that scene is launched by that quiet, initial rhythmic vamp in the bells.

Something similar to those chimes from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure can be heard in the opening of Elfman’s 2008 ballet score, Rabbit and Rogue, written for choreographer Twyla Tharp and the American Ballet Theater. Aided by the use of gamelan and other unconventional additions to the percussion section, it’s a larger-than-life musical romp which contains occasional echoes of the ballet music of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. (This passage from the Gamelan movement is infused with the soaring, lush romanticism of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet). 

The Finale opens with a string fugue which seems to pay homage to Benjamin Britten, along with veiled, tongue-in-cheek references to Shostakovich (these fiery string and shrieking woodwind passages) and Prokofiev (the dense, tuba-heavy orchestration and wide voicing here). There’s an interesting moment when the motives of the preceding movements collide in a crazy and colorful melting pot. In this case, Elfman had no film to accompany but there is still a distinctly cinematic quality about this music.

Recordings

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