"There is no widely accepted explanation for the importance of music to humans, but one possibility is its ability to express and relieve emotional tensions that can't be put into words," explained Burwell. "In Carol, two women are romantically attracted to each other but the culture of 1950's America hasn't provided them with a language for this. Expressing these inexpressible feelings is one of the roles of the score in this film."
"There are three main themes in the score," Burwell described. "The music over the opening city scene plays the active engagement and passion of Carol and Therèse. In this scene it's telling you something about the characters before you ever see them, since they appear for the first time around the last note, but eventually this will become their love theme."
"There is also a theme for Therèse's fascination with Carol, first played as Carol drives Therèse to her house," Burwell continued. "This is basically a cloud of piano notes, not unlike the clouded glass through which Todd Haynes and Ed Lachman occasionally shoot the characters. This piano texture required a little studio magic so the left and right hands of the piano could be processed separatelythe left disappearing into a cloud and the right still distinct enough to carry a melody.
"The third theme is about absence and loss. Its fullest expression is the montage after Carol leaves Therèse and tries to explain herself in a letter," said Burwell. "It's the best example of the use of open intervals such as the fourth, fifth and ninth, to veil sentiment. The hearts of both women are broken, but rather than play the pain the music plays the emptiness."