Beauty and the Beast – Alan Menken

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Only very rarely does a composer get the opportunity to go back to one of his earlier works and is attached to score the newly-made remake. Actually, I am not sure if this has ever happened before – it probably depends on what you think about John Williams having scored both “A New Hope” and “The Force Awakens”…

However, much to everyone’s surprise, the Disney executives decided to bring back legendary animation composer Alan Menken, an eight-time Academy Award winner – two of them won for the original “Beauty and the Beast” movie -, to score the 2017 live action adaption of the classic fairy tale while also contributing some new songs and reworking the pre-existing material into a brand-new score. Personally, besides the financial aspect, I am quite sceptical about Disney’s strategy of releasing remakes of their popuar films made back in the 1990s. Still, I acknowledge the enthusiasm and quality with which the artists in charge of the movie’s realization try to re-awake the spirit of the originals and make them easily accessible for a 21st century audience. So far, all of them have been huge successes, in terms of film making as well as musically-speaking. But while each of these adaptions logically received completely new original scores – the names of Danny Elfman (Alice in Wonderland), James Newton Howard (Maleficent), Patrick Doyle (Cinderella) and John Debney (The Jungle Book) immediately come to mind -, the 2017 adaption of the popular French fairy tale marked the first assignment for a composer to actually return to his prior work; with Menken being attached to the upcoming “The Little Mermaid” remake, set for a release date in 2018, we will see how this trend turns out.

Meanwhile, we have “Beauty and the Beast” (you don’t wanna know how many times I have typed “Beauty and the Beats” while writing this text), directed by Bill Condon – whose usual musical collaborator is Carter Burwell, by the way – and starring an all-star Hollywood cast including the acting talents of Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor alongside other high-profile players. Even if the movie itself failed to receive mainly positive critical reception, at least financially, Disney’s re-interpretations continue to be a massive success.

Apart from a few details aimed to give the story more depth, the story remains the same – even the shots are mostly familiar compared to the 1991 version – and the original’s songs do return as well. These newly orchestrated arrangements are actually quite beautifully done as they bring some kind of liveliness and boundless energy to the beloved Disney classics. However, my main complaint, and I am by far not the only one criticizing this, are the actors’ singing qualities. Obviously, most of them try to give the best they could do, but especially in comparison to the 1991 animated version, the songs – as represented in the movie – lack the spirit of the original, suffering from the actors’ flawed performance. While Luke Evans, casted as former soldier Gaston, continues to be a delightful surprise, his singing and acting being one of the best aspects about the 2017 version, in particular Emma Watson’s singing is badly processed through AutoTunes and, therefore, makes a very disappointing impression.

Despite this main complaint, the new songs Menken has written for the live action adaption, graced with lyricist’s Tim Rice’s words, are a real treat, an obvious benefit. “How Does A Moment Last Forever” is perhaps the most important new addition as it receives multiple appearances within the movie while also acting as the main end title song, where it is performed by singer Céline Dion. Menken himself notes it has a “very French boulevard” vibe to it, directly reflecting Belle’s past in Montmartre as told by her father Maurice. Furthermore, “Days in the Sun”, performed by the castle’s inhabitants, was originally intended to be featured in the animated version but got rejected very early on. Acting as “a lullaby for the enchanted objects in the castle, each remembering what it was like before the darkness came over their lives”, it has a sense of melancholy  and evanescence to it. For the moment when the Beast, played by Dan Stevens, lets Belle go to rescue her father Maurice, another new song, “Evermore”, was written – a classic Menken song full of romanticism and emotion that takes its full effect in the outstanding Josh Groban interpretation at the end of the movie.

But while the songs are actually kind of a mixed bag due to the actor’s rather average singing qualities, Menken’s updated score, building and expanding on his Oscar-winning masterpiece, makes by far the best impression. The way he – with the help of additional music composers Christopher Benstead and Michael Korasin – takes his pre-existing themes, modifies and changes single phrases of them, weaves them in and out, deconstructs and uses them as counterpoint, is simply outstanding. Particularly, the action writing clearly benefits from relying on a strong melodic core, combined with cleverly interwoven thematic material, an approach that often gets lost in modern film scoring. In comparison to his original work, the 2017 score sounds much brighter in scope, a result of the larger orchestra, 97 people in total, and a choir being subtly used throughout the score that gives it a certain feel of almost operatic grandeur, which is only further highlighted by James Shearman’s incredibly vivid, colorful orchestrations. Rounding off the instrumental palette are prominently featured accordeons and harpsichords, carefully accentuating the romantic flavour of the 18th century-France where the story takes place.

Anchoring the listening experience, Menken unleashes a full-orchestral “Overture” in which all of the score’s most important themes are prominently featured: Opening with a rousing statement of the “Beauty and the Beast theme”, the sweepingly buoyant “Gaston” theme soon takes command and leads into a festive, celebral variation of “How Does A Moment Last Forever”. Things calm down as the strings start playing the “Beauty and the Beast theme” – at first romantic, then turned into a jubilant arrangement as the brass joins on – which culminates into a gala statement of Menken’s new “Evermore” theme that ends this standout cue on a clear high point.

“Main Title: Prologue” opens the score as featured on the second disc with the magical seven-note main motif on piano, underpinned by frantic strings that accompany the early scenes as the arrogant prince is transformed into a horrifying beast after having ignored an enchantress’s request to help her. Following menacing outbursts of the brass section, the recurring seven-note motif, associated with the rose given to him, musically illustrating the fateful curse, ends the cue on a reflective note.

While the subsequent “Belle Meets Gaston”, mainly dominated by mickey mousing, builds upon the “Belle” theme, the tender “Your Mother” illustrates the relationship between Belle and her dead mother and, therefore, beautifully incorporates the melody of Menken’s newly written “How Does A Moment Last Forever”, the music ranging from nostalgic woodwind to haunting cello solo that receives its climax in a gorgeous string crescendo. Once again, the “Belle” theme makes an appearance in “The Laverie” that, due to the prominent use of accordeon, reawakens memories of France in the 18th century, thanks to the composer’s intention to honor the historical setting: “He (Bill Condon, the director)  and I both wanted more of a sense of the 18th century, of France, of the culture in musical terms.”

Meanwhile, “Wolf Chase” accompanies Maurice, Belle’s father, and his horse Philippe on a trip to the market as they loose their way in the forest and are attacked by wolves. Not only does the exhilarating brass writing – that is, in its well-organized hyperactivity, strongly reminiscent of Powell or Silvestri – perfectly capture the current danger, but it simultaneously acts as a testament to Menken’s own development as a composer for film scores – he even includes an aggressive minor key variation of the “Belle” theme. The return of the seven-note Rose theme at 2:48 marks its first return since the movie’s prologue and, therefore, majestically guides the listener back to the enchanted chateau.

As we get to enter the castle, the music fades into some mysterious suspense scoring but, fortunately, remains melodic all the time. Profound woodwinds, occasional choir lines – used very subtly – and tension-developing string work make up the trio of “Entering the Castle” – watch out for the hilarious yet sinister harpsichord performance of “Be Our Guest” at 0:59! -, “A White Rose” and “The Beast” as Belle, after having followed her missing father, is confronted by the Beast and decides to save Maurice by taking his place. However, she soon discovers that she is not alone: “Meet the Staff” and the buoyolantly playful “Madame De Garderobe” feature some heavy mickey mousing that, with its sheer playfulness, slowly enlightens the castle’s mysteries on a musical level. This path is further continued in the stunningly beautiful “Home (Extended Mix)” which has a wonderful sense of nostalgia and wondrousness to it, the fluffy woodwind writing and an accordeon, underpinned by soft strings, perfectly capturing a moment of concealment.

Alan Menken
Legendary composer Alan Menken during a performance of the “Beauty and the Beast” songs.

Still, the calmness does not last very long: After having found the rose that could end the Beast’s fate in the castle’s forbidden west wing, the furious Beast threatens Belle so that she flees into the near woods where she is chased by hungry wolves but gets rescued by the suddenly appearing Beast. Furious string lines, swirling woodwinds and frenetic brass accompany the life-threatening hunt that finds its end as the Beast routs the wolves out but gets seriously injured. Heartbreaking strings,  moving on from deconstructed appearances of the “Belle” theme to a simply gorgeous alteration of the love theme as featured in the song “Something There”, end “Wolves Attack Belle” on an emotional high point.

As she decides to take care of the Beast and nurses him back to health, a friendship soon develops which is reflected by the music’s regained light-hearted nature and occasionally-sprinkled hints of Menken’s classic “Beauty and the Beast theme”. Simultaneously, the composer develops his “Evermore” theme that receives its standout moment as the same-titled song is performed by Dan Stevens later on. The delicate “Beast Takes a Bath” and the subsequent, very elegantly-sounding “The Dress“, incorporating a lovely little statement of the “Belle” theme as performed on glockenspiel, act as a teaser to the legendary dancing scene in the castle’s ball room that is going to follow.

Discovering her father being sent to an asylum through a magic mirror, Belle leaves the castle, leaving behind an understanding but deeply saddened Beast, which is musically reflected in the tender “You Must Go To Him”, soft piano tunes and longing string lines contributing to the slowly-developing atmosphere of bittersweetness that is further accentuated by a gentle variation of the “Beauty and the Beast theme”, performed on harp, and a fragile woodwind statement of the seven-note Rose motif.

As Belle returns to her village, unforeseen events take overhand: Gaston realizes she has fallen in love with the Beast, throws her into ansylum together with her father and encourages the villagers to accompany him to the enchanted castle in the woods to kill the Beast. Rousing brass and dynamic string dominate “Belle Stops the Wagon” as she manages to escape and follows the murderous Gaston. This musical path is continued in the subsequent “Castle Under Attack” and “Turret Pursuit”, both of which feature several thematic statements – the “Belle” and the “Evermore” theme battling with Gaston’s motif are of particular note – embedded in Menken’s exhilarating action scoring that accompanies the fateful fight between Gaston and the depressed Beast. Being shot by the hate-blinded ex-soldier who then falls off the tower to his death, the latter dies in Belle’s arms who, with the last rose petal falling down, finally confesses her love and kisses him. The score’s tone changes from heavy brass outbursts to a haunting piano-led version of Menken’s “Evermore” theme which is then developed into a heartbreaking elegy for strings, harpsichord and accordeon. A lovely rendition of the “Beauty and the Beast theme”, played against a contrapuntal performance of the Rose theme, reappears and ends “You Came Back” on a reflective note.

The conclusive “Transformations” – which misses the choral finale that is presented on disc 1, yet does its name justice – builds upon a jubilant variation of the seven-note Rose theme, performed by heavy brass and brilliantly counterpointed by both the “Evermore” and the “Belle” theme, that majestically underlines the moment the enchantress undoes her spell and restores the servants’ and the Beast’s human forms. Baroque-sounding harpsichord performances lead over to the final ball scene as various hauntingly romantic interpolations of the “Beauty and the Beast theme” bring the famous fairy tale to its happy ending. A lovely rendition of “How Does A Moment Last Forever”, performed on solo horn, ends the score and, on a musical level, beautifully illustrates the romance that would not have been thought possible in the first place.

Without a single doubt, this new incarnation of “Beauty and the Beast” is a pure triumph; literally, it sounds better than ever before: The intelligence with which Alan Menken applies his themes, modifies and develops certain phrases, weaves them in and out as the story demands, is simply outstanding – it gives the score a feel of almost operatic grandeur that is further enhanced by James Shearman’s magical orchestrations.

Personally, I’d argue that this version is even better than the original score as it wonderfully shows how Menken himself – over the years – has matured as a composer; the score’s incredibly strong narrative, accentuated by the highly intelligent usage of leitmotifs, acts as a clear testament to Menken’s own genius and his enormous capabilities as a musical storyteller. In times where thematic-driven, full-orchestral Hollywood scores, unafraid of overflowing with emotion, become the exception rather than the general norm, scores like these should be treasured for not abandoning their roots and, therefore, concentrating on technically impressive melodic grace.

The soundtrack, released on Walt Disney Records, comes both as a 1-disc standard and as a 2-disc deluxe edition treatment, in which – over the curse of 132 minutes in total – the orchestra beautifully reawakens the timeless classic of “Beauty and the Beast”. Not only does Menken contribute another high-quality score, an intelligently executed re-intepretation of his original, but  he masterfully succeeds in bringing a tale as old as time to new life.

Rating: *****



Music composed by Alan Menken. Additional music by Christopher Benstead and Michael Kosarin. Orchestra and choir conducted by Michael Kosarin. Score orchestrated by James Shearman. Additional score orchestrations by Michael Barry and Kevin Kliesch. Album produced by Alan Menken, Matt Sullivan and Mitchell Leib.

Disc 1: Songs

1. Overture – Alan Menken (3:05)
2. Main Title: Prologue, Pt. 1 – Alan Menken (0:42)
3. Aria – Audra McDonald (1:02)
4. Main Title: Prologue, Pt. 2 – Alan Menken (2:21)
5. Belle – Emma Watson, Luke Evans & Ensemble – Beauty and the Beast (5:33)
6. How Does a Moment Last Forever (Music Box) – Kevin Kline (1:03)
7. Belle (Reprise) – Emma Watson (1:15)
8. Gaston – Josh Gad, Luke Evans & Ensemble – Beauty and the Beast (4:25)
9. Be Our Guest – Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Ian McKellen (4:48)
10. Days in the Sun – Adam Mitchell, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Emma Watson, Audra McDonald & Clive Rowe (2:40)
11. Something There – Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack & Gugu Mbatha-Raw (2:54)
12. How Does a Moment Last Forever (Montmartre) – Emma Watson (1:55)
13. Beauty and the Beast – Emma Thompson (3:19)
14. Evermore – Dan Stevens (3:14)
15. The Mob Song – Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ensemble – Beauty and the Beast, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Mack, Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Ewan McGregor (2:28)
16. Beauty and the Beast (Finale) – Audra McDonald, Emma Thompson & Ensemble – Beauty and the Beast (2:14)
17. How Does a Moment Last Forever – Céline Dion (3:37)
18. Beauty and the Beast – Ariana Grande & John Legend (3:47)
19. Evermore – Josh Groban (3:09)
20. Aria (Demo) – Alan Menken (0:36)
21. How Does a Moment Last Forever (Music Box) (Demo) – Alan Menken (0:59)
22. Days in the Sun (Demo) – Alan Menken (3:30)
23. How Does a Moment Last Forever (Montmartre) (Demo) – Alan Menken (1:21)
24. Evermore (Demo) – Alan Menken (2:55)

Disc 2: Score composed by Alan Menken

1. Main Title: Prologue (3:01)
2. Belle Meets Gaston (0:54)
3. Your Mother (2:13)
4. The Laverie (1:22)
5. Wolf Chase (3:14)
6. Entering the Castle (1:18)
7. A White Rose (3:57)
8. The Beast (4:03)
9. Meet the Staff (1:00)
10. Home (Extended Mix) (2:04)
11. Madame de Garderobe (1:28)
12. There’s a Beast (2:02)
13. A Petal Drops (1:02)
14. A Bracing Cup of Tea (2:06)
15. The West Wing (2:58)
16. Wolves Attack Belle (3:17)
17. The Library (3:05)
18. Colonnade Chat (2:53)
19. The Plague (0:51)
20. Maurice Accuses Gaston (2:01)
21. Beast Takes a Bath (1:21)
22. The Dress (1:01)
23. You Must Go to Him (2:50)
24. Belle Stops the Wagon (2:42)
25. Castle Under Attack (4:20)
26. Turret Pursuit (2:12)
27. You Came Back (5:13)
28. Transformations (4:06)


Album available on Walt Disney Records.


Check out this article if you want to learn more about the scoring process: http://variety.com/2017/artisans/production/new-music-beauty-and-the-beast-1202008008/

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