Downton Abbey Theme Piano solo sheet music by John Lunn
The Story Behind Downton Abbey’s Iconic Theme Song
Over the course of six seasons, the music of Downton Abbey almost became a character in its own right, and no piece of score was so significant as the show’s much-believed theme song. But composer John Lunn’s now-iconic melody wasn’t initially intended to serve as the title sequence.
Ahead of the new Downton Abbey film, John Lunn spoke with Town & Country about the differences between the sound in the film and the TV series, how he captured the pomp and ceremony of the movie’s central royal visit, and of course, the story behind Downton Abbey’s memorable opening sequence.
It was the first piece of music I ever wrote for the series, and the very first episode in season one didn’t have a title sequence. It just kind of started straight into the drama with a telegram, and there was a train, and then there was Bates sitting looking out of the window, rather forlorn. We don’t know his back-story; we don’t know that the telegram’s carrying the news that the heir to Downton Abbey has drowned on the Titanic. And eventually we arrive at a fantastic shot of the house.
The theme song was the music that I wrote for that sequence. The energy of it and the emotion of, just seemed to suit the whole season. I think we found three or four places in the very first episode to use it.
The very next scene was the servant getting the house ready in the morning, and there is a similarity with the train because the house is a well oiled machine in a way, so we used it again. And then, by the time I finished the first episode, it became obvious that this was going to be the main theme of the whole show. So, then we did a 30-second version of it, and they put the pictures to the music, which is quite an unusual way of doing things.
They’re quite vague, the titles. You see candelabras, and a dog’s bottom, and there are pictures of the house, but it’s the music that’s really kind of giving an idea of the thing you’re about to see, more than the pictures, I would say.
The story itself follows directly on from the end of the series. There is some new stuff, because there are new characters and there are new stories, I’d say for 50 percent of the film, fans will definitely recognize the music from the TV series.
When they were first editing the movie, before I had even started working on it, they used my music as what we call a temp score, and during a test screening, when the theme kicked in, apparently everybody cheered. So, I think it became obvious to everybody, producer, director, executive—if there was ever any doubt—that we were going to have to use the original theme.
I did really like the stuff I wrote for Mary and Matthew, so, when Matthew died, he kind of took my best tunes to the grave, which I’ll never forgive him for. I’ve told [Dan Stevens] that actually. [laughs]
There are, however, a few nods to Sybil because Branson plays quite a big part in the film. He’s not settled down with anybody. You know, the ghost of Sybil is still kind of there, in a way. So, there are nods to Sybil in it, definitely.
It’s a bigger orchestra for the film. We’ve gone from 35, 40 players to about 70. But you’ll still recognize it. It’s not suddenly going to sound like Star Wars or something. You know, it’s still essentially Downton, it’s just a bigger string section, slightly grander, and we took a bit more time recording it. It’s Downton Abbey, but just slightly better than it was before.
There’s a much bigger brass section, and there’s actually some timpani, and some drums, more military-style instrumentation that we’ve never really used in Downton before, but not on a massively different scale. I think, those moments, in fact, are probably the closest we’ve come to a conventional symphony orchestra.
There’s a huge ballroom sequence where we had to film the orchestra miming to previous recordings, and the music is by Johann Strauss. And at the end of the scene, there’s a fantastic moment with the sun setting, where Branson meets somebody and they have a dance together alone on the balcony, just after the ball.
So I had to write a piece of music which started off sounding like the Strauss, but then, metamorphosed into more a Downton Abbey-type sound, and getting that right was quite difficult because it needs to be seamless. You need to be completely unaware of it actually happening, or at least to feel like it’s still Strauss. But by the time we get to them and the sunset, it needed to have a bit more of an emotional impact. So, that was the hardest bit: sounding like Strauss and then metamorphosing into John Lunn.
(Read the full article here)
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