By Teresa Martin
There is rarely anything more pleasantly surprising than a “sequel” soundtrack that outdoes the first. The Season Two soundtrack for Once Upon a Time achieves this and more. Not only are there superb new renderings of old favorites and new tunes, but also tracks from Season One that didn’t make the cut. Hence this release is a double treat as both a sequel and an extended addition.
The first track is “Sleeping Beauty,” which mirrors the first moments of the pilot. It begins with music that signifies the sweeping scenery, urgency, and the coming of an epic scene: Prince Phillip awakening Aurora with a kiss. The theme utilizes what is now Isham’s Once signature use of stepwise melodies climbing higher and higher, while occasionally gently descending.
The “classic, swashbuckling mode of Hook,” as described by the composer in my interview with him, is used in “The Duelists” and “To Neverland!” The latter begins with wind instruments that portray the melancholy of Hook’s loss as well as the call of the sea. Then it takes off in a forward motion such that one can almost imagine Errol Flynn is about to appear. This is gloriously exciting making one wish to jump on the Jolly Roger and go on an adventure with the pirate.
“True Love” begins with the romantic, sad, yet soothing Belle Theme and then features a haunting cello solo. Just when one’s emotions are at the breaking point, more instruments join in with the repeating sol, la, te, do pattern so prevalent in Season One, with the strings accompanying the progression, ascending step-wise, building into a surprising transition to the “falling” fa, mi, re, do of the Snowing Theme. Then it crescendos and tears start to prick the eyelids, a common side-effect of this exquisite motif. “The Burning Room” also gives prominence to the Snowing Theme. This rendition is bittersweet, but then rises to an ominous, unusually loud delivery as Charming and Snow realize they cannot touch and become separated again.
“Tallahassee” has a “city” feel to it, an easy, light jazz mood, full of yearning for the lost love and dreams that this place signifies for Emma and Neal. The eminent peril which we all know is approaching occurs in the second part of the track as the music speeds up and harsher percussion is used, finally ending in the nostalgia of a quiet end.
“Cora’s Waltz” says almost more about her character than her theme. It is in a ¾ meter with harsh downbeats which fade into a melodic tune played by the winds, and then a beautiful violin solo. This waltz is, like Cora’s Theme, in a minor key. The entirety of the track illustrates how Cora’s story is all a dance; dangerous, yet with beauty within; frenzied, almost out of control, like the character. Its companion piece “How Magic is Made,” which is a complete version of Cora’s Theme, accompanies the infamous spinning wheel scene with Cora and Rumplestiltskin and highlights both the darkness and dysfunction of both Cora and their relationship. The melody is almost a mocking of the Snowing and Belle themes as it moves up and falls, but dissonantly, never resolving into a consoling major. Rather the music ends with repeating half steps often heard in soundtracks to foreshadow approaching danger. The tune is utilized in Cora’s later Storybrooke scenes as an ominous sign of the presence of evil, which she personifies as the woman who tore out her own heart.
“We Are Both,” which is played during one of my favorite moments in Season Two, shows the value of hearing the music alone, thereby making the Once soundtracks must-haves. Charming’s “We are Both Speech” is as pivotal a moment to the Once story-arc as when the clock begins to move in the pilot. The progression that made me think of “good will win” in the Season One track “The Clock Moves,” is used here again at the conclusion of this equally triumphant moment. Certainly this is not an accident and serves again as a testament to the genius of Isham as a dramatic composer. The music is not just accompanying the action, it is the action. The oration, fondly dubbed as Charming’s version of the Saint Crispin’s Day Speech from Henry V, affirms who the inhabitants of Storybrooke are: a ”band of brothers.” And yes, good will win.
One of the simplest, yet sweetest surprises which ends the soundtrack is the inclusion of “The Main Theme.” The four notes ring out on chimes which open Once every week. A short, but delightful addition that is as iconic as the other tunes which the audience now associates with the show.
Tracks from the “extended version” include “Regina in Love,” “Meet the Jefferson,” and “Hedge Maze.” “Regina In Love” serves as a poignant reminder of her life when she was happy. “Meet the Jefferson” is marvelously jumbled and jangled just like the character while “The Hedge Maze” allows the listener to relive the bizarre world of Wonderland.
Mark Isham writes in his introduction to the CD that “it was a fun challenge to weave last season’s established musical concepts into this season’s expanded world. The best part was seeing how the music really became a character in the show . . .” How he accomplishes this is found within his exciting soundtrack and provides the listener with the thrill of following the magic he weaves.