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Penny Dreadful (Abel Korzeniowski)

September 2, 2014

cover_pennydreadfulPENNY DREADFUL

Abel Korzeniowski, 2014, Varese Sarabande
29 tracks, 72:48

I started looking for an expression of dark beauty, something that can be terrifying and mesmerizing at the same time — a poisonous infatuation,” says “Penny Dreadful”-composer Abel Korzeniowski.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

“Penny Dreadful” is a series on Showtime Television featuring some of literature’s most terrifying characters, including Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and iconic figures from the novel Dracula. They are lurking in the darkest corners of Victorian London. “Penny Dreadful” is a frightening psychological thriller that weaves together these classic horror origin stories into a new adult drama. The cast includes actors Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, and Eva Green. The show’s original music is by Polish-born Abel Korzeniowski (“Romeo & Juliet“, “W.E.”, “Copernicus Star”).

The musical themes of “Penny Dreadful” represent both different characters and abstract ideas,” explains Korzeniowski. “One of the most unusual for a gothic horror story is a group of themes related to Victor Frankenstein’s offspring — Proteus and the Creature. They are the paragons of the modern age, or as the Creature puts it, ‘modernity personified’. Their music sounds more like an alternative/indie rock ballad than a classical score. The black-clad Creature, with his heavy make-up and pale skin, even looks like he could be in a band with Jack White.

What does it sound like?

Unsurprisingly, the album opens with the show’s main title (“Demimonde”) – a predominantly frantic work for strings (particularly solo violin), woodwinds and timpani; though it has both gothic and lush undercurrents. One of the key elements here is a perpetual 6-note arpeggio for strings. This will prove to be one of the main ingredients for the score as a whole, and as such returns in many guises throughout the album. It also introduces a rising theme that will recur a number of times later on.

At a generous 72 minutes, the album offers dark cues, gothic ones and more romantic ones. Fans of the composer will recognise his musical voice straightaway. Lush strings, whimsical piano lines, playful arpeggios… it’s all here. At times it is reminiscent of his blockbuster score for “Romeo & Juliet”, though only by way of personal stylistics – though it does work well as the gothic counterpart to that most famous of love stories.

“First Blood” and “Mina” are particularly sinister cues with some exquisite suspenseful writing; whilst “Dorian Gray” is a brooding cue, with its 4-chord theme. Later cues such as “Asylum”, “Too Many Monsters”, “I’m Not Myself” and “The Last Rites” are full-on horror tracks with driving ostinati, stingers, dissonant clusters and a downright nasty atmosphere (in a good way).

The score houses a great number of beautiful melodic cues such as the melancholy “Modern Age”, the playful “Street. Horse. Smell. Candle” and “Welcome to the Grand Guignol”, and the lush “Closer Than Sisters”. Strings dominate these cues, with occasional highlights for piano or solo violin.

The last four cues provide the album with a sober and dramatic finale. “Back Hand of God” offers a lonely solo for piano, though the cue builds towards an oppresing climax that includes strings and choir. “In Peace” exquisitely reprises one of the score main themes. The high strings sound so fragile here, it’s just sublime. “I Was Never Going to Go to Africa” is a slow-paced cue full of longing emotions; whilst “Reborn” (reprising a five-note theme) is a little livelier and seems to conjure up a sense of hope.

Is it any good?

“Penny Dreadful” sees Abel Korzeniowski combining his familiar lyrical style with dark atmospheres. The result is a mesmerising work that on one hand evokes a sense of beauty, yet on the other hand imposes doom and gloom. “Penny Dreadful” is very much a work of ‘balance’. Not only between darkness and something more whimsical, but also between simplicity and complexity; for lack of better words perhaps. I’ve always found that Korzeniowski is a very economical composer. His writing and orchestrations are often sparse, yet his harmonies are interesting and there is always a sense of forward motion. There is great power in restraint – Korzeniowski proves it every time.

Rating [4/5]


1. Demimonde (Main Title) (1:36)
2. First Blood (3:22)
3. Right Behind You (2:15)
4. Modern Age (2:10)
5. Street. Horse. Smell. Candle. (2:25)
6. There Is a Place (2:05)
7. Welcome to the Grand Guignol (2:21)
8. Everyone Likes Oranges (1:45)
9. Abomination (1:13)
10. Pull the Trigger (2:03)
11. Mina (2:34)
12. Allegiance (3:39)
13. Dorian Gray (1:37)
14. Never Say No (2:40)
15. Where Do They Go? (2:23)
16. Transgression (3:36)
17. Asylum (3:41)
18. Closer Than Sisters (3:16)
19. Too Many Monsters (3:25)
20. Mother of Evil (2:46)
21. Secret Room (1:43)
22. I’m Not Myself (2:00)
23.Let Me Die (2:31)
24. To Be Beautiful Is To Be Almost Dead (2:49)
25. The Last Rites (2:48)
26. Back Hand of God (2:23)
27. In Peace (1:33)
28. I Was Never Going to Go to Africa (3:04)
29. Reborn (3:09)

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