Very cool article.
Downton Abbey - the inspirations behind the music
Music is the last element to be added to a Film or Television Show. It’s the glue, the binding that holds all the elements together, the final ingredient. At its best it should be covert, creeping up on the audience as it charts the emotional peaks and troughs, filling in for thoughts and ideas often left unsaid - and occasionally at its most effective when it stops. Sometimes music is the last chance to rescue anything that isn’t working properly, whether it’s an unclear plot line or a lackluster performance; thankfully, Downton Abbey doesn’t require either of those.
I like to think that the music in Downton is less about individual characters than about the relationships between them so there are themes for Matthew and Mary, of course, Bates and Anna, Sybil and Branson etc.; the one notable exception being the house itself. The house has its own theme, its own character, and it is the seed from which all other themes emanate. It is, of course, the title music.
In order to prepare myself for Downton Abbey, I did listen to a lot of English music of the period c.1912, mainly Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, the Serenade and the Enigma variations; Vaughan Williams’ 5th Symphony; Holst’s St Paul’s Suite, The Planets; and Delius’, A Song of Summer and The Walk to the Paradise Garden. This was music I was already familiar with as in my younger days I had performed most of it with various orchestras but I felt, useful though it was, that it was all rather overwrought and too complicated for Downton Abbey. Without having any real conception of what I was going to write I started work on the opening scene of series one episode one…
The series begins with a telegram, the front of a train crashes in to view, the telegram is passing along the wires beside the rail tracks, there is a man, alone and thoughtful, apprehensive, staring out of one of the carriages, the camera pans up to the sky, the clouds, we follow the telegram and eventually we arrive at the House, the final destination for both telegram and man, although we don’t see either till later. I started with the energy of the train - a repeated two note ostinato under a simple alternating chord change - as we see the man, Bates - a lonely single note tune on the piano is picked out - between the phrases of which an elegant, aspirational string tune weaves its way, becoming ever more dominant until finally, just as the harmony is at its most expansive, the energy is released and we arrive at a splendid view of Downton Abbey.
All of these elements became integral to the score for Downton, in fact, in the subsequent scene where the house itself is shown coming to life early in the morning, with the energy of the train becoming the industry of the servants, the aspirational tune gives them a sense of pride in their work as we wander through the magnificent rooms and the solo piano notes are reserved for our first introduction to Lady Mary.
John Lunn is the Emmy Award winning composer of the theme and soundtrack music for Downton Abbey. Downton Abbey - The Essential Collection is available now through Amazon: http://bit.ly/QfS0nE