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Lullaby Man: Carter Burwell’s return is the sound of ‘Breaking Dawn’

Carter Burwell wrote the score for the first “Twilight’’ film.JENNIFER S. ALTMAN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE/Jennifer S. Altman

AMAGANSETT, N.Y. - “Twilight’’ fans, many of whom already have tickets for Thursday’s late-night screenings of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1,’’ have to remind themselves that Edward Cullen is not a real guy. There is no wise-beyond-his-years, romantic vampire with flip-floppy hair who has the musical sensibility to write a lullaby that makes generations of women swoon (and order the sheet music).

That paranormal character played by Robert Pattinson does not exist in real life.

But Carter Burwell, the Harvard-educated film composer who scored the first “Twilight’’ and returns for the epic, two-part ending to the series, comes close.


Like the mythical Edward, Burwell, 55, is pale, pensive, and intense about eye contact. Like Edward, Burwell has chosen a homestead that is not only isolated but also features windows the size of walls that look out onto brilliant scenery. Like Edward, Burwell is devoted to family. And to be fair, it was Burwell, not Edward, who wrote the song we now know as “Bella’s Lullaby’’ for his real-life partner, artist Christine Sciulli. Burwell composed the piece when he and Sciulli were on the outs years ago. The song was his way of winning her back (they’re now married).

“I had to show her ‘Twilight’ - and with that piece of music,’’ said Burwell, alluding to the rough cut he showed his wife. “As far as I’m concerned, the music was hers.’’Jennifer S. Altman/For The Boston Globe

Years later, director Catherine Hardwicke began talking to Burwell about scoring “Twilight.’’ She had realized that fans expected the movie to include the lullaby written by the fictional Edward for his one love, Bella, a song that’s mentioned throughout Stephenie Meyer’s young adult novels. Burwell then realized that the song he had already written for his wife might fit. It’s a dissonant and longing melody that provokes the emotions one might experience when falling for one’s prey.

Burwell, who sat in his secluded Hamptons home on a recent weekday, explained that he did not just give that piece to Hardwicke. He first asked his wife for permission to use the song.


“I had to show her ‘Twilight’ - and with that piece of music,’’ said Burwell, alluding to the rough cut he showed his wife. “As far as I’m concerned, the music was hers.’’

It was that music that turned Burwell into a hero in the “Twilight’’ community, a strange and devoted pack that has devoured every book in Meyer’s vampire series, and, in some cases, created websites to discuss the films.

Those loyal fans felt so strongly about the dreamy and conflicted score, which accompanies Edward as he speeds up trees and sulks about his vampire urges, that they took to the Web to demand Burwell’s return for the final movies in the series. After director Chris Weitz chose composer Alexandre Desplat for the second film, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,’’ and director David Slade hired Howard Shore for “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,’’ some of the more die-hard “Twilight’’ fans petitioned on Facebook for Burwell’s return to the franchise, which will get closure with this weekend’s “Breaking Dawn - Part 1’’ release and next fall’s “Part 2.’’ The scores for the second and third movies were lovely, but they did not resonate with fans the way Burwell’s had.

“This will mean ‘Bella’s Lullaby’ can come back (as it should - it should have been a theme throughout the saga) and hopefully, we can have a shot of Edward (Rob) playing it. Also, his music was, I think, by far the best score of the three. Please, please bring him back!’’ pleaded one fan on the Facebook page for Melissa Rosenberg, who co-wrote the films with Meyer.


Another fan responded, shortly before it was announced that Burwell had signed on for “Breaking Dawn,’’ “Complete agreement to Carter Burwell coming back for BD 1 and 2 . . . it would be the icing on the cake, his music was to me 50% of why I love ‘Twilight’ . . . Bella’s lullaby should not be forgotten its [sic] part of Bella and Edward forever.’’

A fall into film scoring

If you’re Burwell, an intensely private man who blurs online photos of himself, and revels in staying behind the scenes on movies, this fan adoration and involvement is awkward. Burwell, who is from Connecticut and spent college and some time after graduation in Boston, fell into film scoring in the early 1980s, when a friend asked him if he would be interested in helping write music for a movie. He had gone to Harvard not quite knowing what he wanted to do with himself (he calls his Ivy League career “a random walk’’), but had played in local bands and knew by the time he left school that he wanted to pursue music. Harvard, he said, made it easy. He was allowed to experiment and even popped over to MIT to study in the school’s media lab.

Jennifer S. Altman/For The Boston Globe

Turned out the friend was working on “Blood Simple,’’ the Coen brothers’ first film. The Oscar-winning siblings would go on to hire Burwell to score everything from “The Big Lebowski’’ to “Fargo’’ to “True Grit.’’ Burwell also developed relationships with directors Spike Jonze, who hired him for “Adaptation’’ and “Where the Wild Things Are,’’ and Bill Condon, who worked with him on “Gods and Monsters’’ and “Kinsey’’ and who helms the “Breaking Dawn’’ finale. An Emmy sits on Burwell’s kitchen counter for his work on the recent HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce.’’ “It came yesterday,’’ Burwell said, embarrassed that the statue appears to be so prominent.


Burwell’s discomfort with accolades extends to the discussion of his “Twilight’’ fans, who have written him thousands of notes. He shrugs, admitting that he had no idea what he was getting himself into when he signed up to score the first film. He simply wanted to work with Hardwicke, who at the time was directing an indie film for Summit Entertainment (which, pre-“Twilight,’’ was considered a small company). “She said there was more to the film than a teen romance,’’ Burwell remembers of his first discussions with Hardwicke.

He wound up working closely with the director and her fledgling cast to get the music just right for the “Twilight’’ readers, some of whom had posted their own versions of “Bella’s Lullaby’’ online. Burwell even worked with Robert Pattinson’s sister, singer Lizzy Pattinson, who provided ethereal vocals for the haunting scene in which Edward catches Bella’s eye for the first time.

Soon after the release of “Twilight,’’ Burwell’s strange new fans - most of whom were young women - wanted to thank him for getting the lullaby right and wanted to learn the song themselves. They e-mailed questions, concerns, and thank yous.


“They’d say, ‘I’m having difficulty with the left-hand [piano] part,’ ’’ Burwell remembered, adding, “I endeavored to respond to all of them.’’

When Condon, of “Dreamgirls’’ fame, was hired to direct “Breaking Dawn’’ - which, like the last “Harry Potter’’ book, would be released in two installments - Burwell’s involvement was a no-brainer. “I’d say I’d work with Bill on anything,’’ Burwell said. “In addition to being a great director, he’s just a wonderful guy.’’

Condon, who spoke with the Globe by phone from Los Angeles, said he was thrilled to be able to bring Burwell and his lullaby back to the franchise. Condon said he offered Burwell the chance to bring back other musical themes from the first score, but that Burwell declined, saying that Bella and Edward deserved new music. “He said they’re older now. They were teenagers then.’’

Condon said one of the reasons directors enjoy working with Burwell is that his musical instincts are pleasantly counterintuitive. For instance, in “Breaking Dawn,’’ when Edward must turn his Bella into a vampire, a scene ripe with stress and action, Burwell went with more romantic music. He saw Edward’s decision to convert Bella as an act of love.

“He’s got a hugely intellectual bent,’’ Condon said. “He’s an incredibly articulate composer. Those things don’t always go together.’’

Inspired on deadline

Burwell only had about nine weeks to score 80 minutes of music for the film, which he calls a “melodrama.’’ “It’s really like an opera.’’

Burwell only had about nine weeks to score 80 minutes of music for the film, which he calls a “melodrama.’’ “It’s really like an opera.’’ Jennifer S. Altman/For The Boston Globe

He admits he was stuck on the film’s ending, which does, in fact (spoiler alert), see Bella becoming a vampire. Burwell said that when the footage came to him, it was simply actress Kristen Stewart’s face and long minutes of complete silence. There’s no dialogue, just the image of Bella in pain, becoming an immortal.

Burwell says that when he hit the deadline for the last piece of music, it was the weekend of Hurricane Irene. He had stayed at home, despite evacuations of the Hamptons, so that he could use every spare minute to finish his work. Not long after his wife left with their children, he lost power. Then, by candlelight, with a view of angry waves wreaking havoc on the beach just outside the window, he wrote the score for the final moments of Bella’s human life.

Talk about drama.

Condon said that is his favorite part of the score. And of course, there is the much-anticipated lullaby that Burwell wrote for the second “Breaking Dawn’’ installment. Robert Pattinson, himself a musician, will perform it in the film.

Burwell cannot say much more about the movie, of course. He is sworn to secrecy, and as of this recent afternoon knew no big details about “Part 2.’’ He does say that he plans to get to work on it soon, writing on his grand piano in his tiny office, which features a keyboard below two monitors that allow him to watch movies and play at the same time.

In the meantime, Burwell is preparing for the big release of the first “Breaking Dawn,’’ hoping that fans will approve. As he waits it out, he’s back to himself, his family, his oversize piano, and the quiet - much like somebody else we know.

Meredith Goldstein can be reached at