The Princesses' Round Dance Igor Stravinsky
14 December 2012, 12:14
The Downton Abbey composer and ex-Man Jumping band member fielded your tricky musical questions, explaining what it's like to write scores for TV and film.
John Lunn is well-known for his TV soundtracks, perhaps most famous for his soundtrack to British period drama, Downton Abbey. But his on screen scores are only the tip of the iceberg - he's also written operas, concertos, and started his musical career as a double bassist.
But what does he think of the series? How does he characterise the Crawley family, or capture the spirit of the Downton Abbey estate in music? You posed your questions to the composer, who chatted with Tim Lihoreau after his More Music Breakfast Show.
John Wesley-Barker: Congratulations on your recent successes. Do have any plans for 'concert' pieces in the future?
Thanks John, at the moment the only plans I have are for a possible concert tour of the music for 'Downton Abbey'.
Tim Lihoreau: And a ridiculously GOOD MORNING, John. Many thanks for sparing us some time, especially so near to Christmas. First question...has to come from Margherita, who is doing the Christmas special with you this Friday. And it's this. ‘Your music for Downton Abbey has had a great impact on so many of us. What were the first pieces of music that you remember having an impact on you?’.
Good morning! Doctor Zhivago, when I was aged about 12 or 13, then Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 but what really got me was seeing Paul Tortellier play Beethoven's Third Cello Sonata.
Tim Lihoreau: I now have the image of you in a Dr Z fur hat! But less of that. Can I ask you to tell us about Glasgow in your youth.
You're right I must get a Dr Z fur hat! After hearing Paul Tortellier I asked for cello lessons at school, but there were no vacancies and I was offered double bass. I was 14 so a bit of a late starter but the double bass was an inspired choice as so few people played the instrument and very quickly I was dragooned into playing for every orchestra in the county even though I could barely play it, so I was forced to learn very quickly. I actually grew up in Stirlingshire. My father had been a saxophone player in a jazz band so yes, it was a musical household, and jazz has been a very big influence on me also.
Tim Lihoreau: The 'silver lining', as it were, of the so-called 'endangered species' instruments.
Yep, and because I was always underpinning the harmony I began to become fascinated with the way music was constructed.
Parsons Books & Music: Do you find that you need to approach film music differently than music for TV? Thanks!
Not really, there's a slightly different schedule involved and there's less time to recap or revisit what you've done earlier as there's a good chance the first episode will have been broadcast by the time you get to the end of the series!
Tim Lihoreau: John, before I get onto your move into music for the screen, can we talk about the band that Brian Eno called "...the most important band in the world". They were called Man Jumping. And simply, for those who don't know, well... who, what, why... And why did Eno consider them so important?
From what I recall, he was slightly misquoted. Before we signed to EG records which he was associated with, someone described us to him and he said 'sounds like the most important band in the world. Our first album 'Jump Cut' was a very good album though and I think stands up to this day. It was a very interesting group of 7 musicians, all composers, all male with giant egos so it didn't last long!
Jo Forrest: Morning John. Can you explain a little about how you write for TV? Do you sit in front of an edit of the programme or just work from a script? How does it work for you?
The music is pretty much the last thing to be done so I work from the final edit of the show. The producer and I will work out where we think music should go and why we need it then I basically improvise on the piano to the screen which I record in a computer and then I will roughly score it for orchestra.
Johnny Nutseed: What is your most mysterious item in your house this Christmas time?
Actually it is probably a Bray harp which belongs to Ruth Wall. I'm about to do the music for the BBC's 'The White Queen' set in the late 15th Century and I'm hoping to record Ruth on the score next week and for practical reasons it's sitting underneath the grand piano at the moment, plus I'm about to hire a celeste for the same show!
Tim Lihoreau: Was it an obvious decision to put you on piano at the heart of the score of Downton Abbey? Is this a practical decision because of the way TV scores work, etc, or is it that you know the music best?
It's sort of practical in that until I record the orchestra I don't really know how much piano to use, so I always add the piano myself later. Also, I don't know why but I've always struggled to find anyone who can play the piano in that style, i.e. not quite classical but not rock/pop either with a lot of explanation.
Tim Lihoreau: John, MOLTO thanks for answering our questions. I'm going to let you go with one last question. Thanks for the time you gave us. Don't forget, the Classic FM Downton Abbey special is this Friday, at 8pm with Margherita Taylor. So the last question… What is the perfect Christmas for you? And will you get it this year? Best, and thanks again.
Thanks Tim, it was a pleasure. Unfortunately my perfect Christmas would involve me not being in the middle of a massive 10 part series, but I'll still manage to have good time, I'm sure!
Tim's Wednesday Web Chat is taking a festive break, but be sure to come back in January to ask your most probing questions to some great classical musicians.