Elisa\’s Theme ("The Shape of Water") - Alexandre Desplat

The contemplative cadences of Elisa's Theme from "The Shape of Water" underscore Alexandre Desplat's masterful comprehension of musical storytelling. This solo piano piece evokes the film's ethereal and romantic essence, seamlessly intertwining melody with emotion. Desplat, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score for this work, employs a nuanced palate of harmonies to narrate without words. This article unpacks the layered complexity of "Elisa's Theme;" its origins, its theoretical foundation, and the reasons behind its resonating popularity.

The Conception of "Elisa's Theme"

"Elisa's Theme" belongs to the Oscar-winning soundtrack of Guillermo del Toro's fantastical romance "The Shape of Water" (2017). Desplat, known for his delicate and precise compositional style, crafted this theme to reflect the spirit of the mute protagonist, Elisa. The piece was released within the film's soundtrack album in the same year and elevated the narrative, shaping audience emotions with its lyrical simplicity.

Behind the piece's success is the collaborative synergy between Desplat and del Toro, who shared a vision for the film's musical aura. Both artists, with acute sensitivities to their respective crafts, weaved an auditory landscape that enriched the cinematic experience. Desplat recorded the soundtrack with the London Symphony Orchestra, though "Elisa's Theme" stands apart as a solo piano work.

The release and subsequent acclaim of "Elisa's Theme" are testament to Desplat's ability to create music that transcends the screen and finds a home in the hearts of listeners. The popularity was solidified when the score won the Academy Award, cementing its significance in contemporary film music.

Dissecting "Elisa's Theme"

A music theorist's delight, "Elisa's Theme" is composed of a series of musical innovations that epitomize Desplat's style. Predominantly, the piece is written in a 3/4 time signature which adds a waltz-like quality, reminiscent of the film's period setting and its subtle dance sequences.

In harmonic analysis, the piece frequently employs a delicate balance of major and minor tonalities, creating a nuanced soundscape that mirrors the unfolding drama. Desplat's choice of the B flat major key provides a warm, yet melancholic feel that suits the narrative arc of the film.

The use of counterpoint and voice leading within "Elisa's Theme" showcases Desplat's firm grasp of classical composition techniques, weaving a texture that is both complex and transparent. The thematic motifs present undergo development throughout the piece, a nod to classical forms, yet remaining accessible to the listener.

The Resonance of "Elisa's Theme"

Beyond its cinematic function, "Elisa's Theme" has found popularity in concert halls and among piano enthusiasts. Its moving melody, coupled with its emotional depth, enables the piece to touch listeners on an intrinsic level, beyond the scope of the film's narrative.

The piece's structure, which is both predictable in its form and surprising in its harmonic twists, contributes to its broad appeal. This juxtaposition allows the listener to travel through the piece with a certain expected comfort, all the while being led through unpredictable emotional landscapes.

The simplicity of "Elisa's Theme" assists in its widespread accessibility; it is not bound by the complexities of avant-garde music, nor is it overly simplistic. The balance achieved by Desplat allows for a multifaceted appreciation from a diverse audience.


Alexandre Desplat's "Elisa's Theme" stands as a compelling example of contemporary film scoring. Beneath its serene melodic lines lie the rich textures and structural mastery characteristic of Desplat's compositions. In essence, the piece has extended its reach beyond the screen and into the personal playlists and performance repertoires of listeners around the globe.

Its harmonic eloquence and thematic integrity speak to the endurance of "Elisa's Theme" as not only a pivotal element of "The Shape of Water" but as a solo piano piece that resonates with its own unique vibrancy.

Publication date: 30. 01. 2024