This Way, That Way: The two sides of Danny Elfman’s creative brain battle it out in his Serenada Schizophrana.
DA: This is your first non-narrative orchestral work, right?
DE: Yeah, this is the first.
DA: In terms of the form of the piece—and that’s another of the great charms of this work, it’s not a knock-off of an off-the-rack classical form. It has its own little internal structure where everything feels in balance. Everything commingles and it still makes sense. How did you deal with the form? When you were working through the material, how did you know when you had gotten to that destination where you could say, “Okay, this one has said what it needs to say, let’s move on”?
DE: I didn’t! I just wrote and wrote, then finally got to the point where, “All right, this one seems, now, to be winding down.” And I was aware of the fact that I could only keep it within a 45-minue framework. There were a few cuts I made here and there, but not many. I figured if it ever really became a problem I would drop a movement, which I didn’t want to do. I figured I’d have to, but then it clocked in close to 45. They wanted it 40, but you know, we cheated a few minutes.
DA: Close enough.
DE: So it was just a weird evolution. And like I said, nothing is ever what I expect. I set out to do something a little more traditionally co-joined, and ended up with something that was more like a six-headed monster. I wasn’t expecting that, but on the other hand, I got to the point where I said, “That is what it is! If I start trying to force it into another form, it’s going to not be true to itself anymore. I’ve just got to trust that on some weird level, this makes some kind of sense.” Whether it was subconscious of not, the pieces, as I was writing them, always played in the same order. I figured there had to be a reason for that. They weren’t random. I was always playing these pieces exactly in the same order. If I changed the order, it wasn’t feeling correct to me.
DA: Right. Now the piece on disc is slightly longer than the New York premiere, right? You’ve added a little bit to it?
DE: I added a little. There was a flute solo that we had to cut from New York. And there’s a bonus track we added at the end. And in the second movement, John [Mauceri], as the conductor, slowed it down. He played it slower than we played in New York, so it was actually two minutes shorter at Carnegie.
DA: You’ve worked now in everything from the concert world to the film world to video games, rock songs, TV music. You’ve covered so much territory, is there ever going to be anything where you’ll sit back and say, “I don’t want to dip my toe in that pool. I don’t have anything to say there”?
DE: At this moment, if I was asked to do an opera, I would say no. I don’t understand opera; I don’t have an ear for opera. I don’t feel like I have a feel for it. But I have been approached, here and there, to talk about ballet. Ballet is something that makes more sense to me. I feel like I’ve always been inspired by rhythmically propulsive music. Much of the music that inspired me when I first started listening to music was ballet. From Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev to The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. These were all ballets. So that might make sense. But opera would be the thing that I would say no to. I don’t really get extended opera—how that’s put together, or the structure. I suppose if I did it, it wouldn’t be an opera. It would be something else.
DA: There’s nothing wrong with that, either.
DE: Well, perhaps. But all I’m saying is that that’s the most distant to my instincts.
DA: What’s going one with your upcoming projects? I know you’ve got Charlotte’s Web.
DE: Yes, Charlotte’s Web comes out in December. I’m in my first Disney computer animation movie right now called Meet the Robinsons. That’s for the beginning of next year. Then I go right to an edgy, intense Middle-Eastern thriller called The Kingdom. I’m excited. It’ll be fun going from a children’s movie to something that’s quite the opposite.
DA: A little bit more schizophrenia for you.
DE: Oh yeah! I like that!
Also in this issue: Two Serenada Schizophrana album reviews!