On Air Now
Early Breakfast with Lucy Coward 4am - 6am
26 October 2020, 16:46
The Queen’s Gambit has put a checkmate on all our other viewing it’s so good – here’s a rundown of the miniseries’ soundtrack, composer and featured piano music.
The Queen’s Gambit arrived on Netflix like any great chess opening – barely detectible but sensationally effective, with it quickly becoming one of the platform’s most talked-about new series, seemingly out of nowhere.
The miniseries, which came out for the weekend just gone (23 October), tells the story of orphan Beth Harmon and her meteoric rise through the world chess rankings.
Seven episodes tracking Harmon’s extraordinary early life, based on a 1983 thriller novel by Walter Tevis, features a strings- and piano-heavy soundtrack suitable for the brilliant series’ exploration of loss, genius, addiction – and chess moves more complicated than we can keep up with.
The series comes from the same director as Netflix’s Godless, Scott Frank.
The Queen’s Gambit | Official Trailer
The Queen’s Gambit soundtrack was written by Carlos Rafael Rivera, who has previously earned Emmy recognition for his work on the Godless soundtrack for Netflix.
This soundtrack is scored for orchestral strings and builds tension with interweaving passages in the cellos and upper strings, which seem to echo the moves of chess.
“It became clear to me then that I was going to have multiple melodic lines to horizontally imitate the game – point/move, counterpoint/response,” Rivera told Composer magazine.
The obsession and near-madness of protagonist Beth is carried in these string flurries, while contrasting calm piano motives seem to tap into her concentration and the “beauty” she experiences in a game of chess.
The Satie-esque piano passages also echo the actual Erik Satie pieces Beth’s adoptive mother, Alma, seeks solace in at her living room grand piano, an instrument that belonged to her own mother.
The director, Scott Frank, actually requested a piano-based score.
“At first, he actually wanted the entire story to be scored with only piano,” composer Carlos Rafael Rivera said. “And so the early sketches were. But as Beth’s world enlarged, it felt inevitable to increase the instrumentation for the music to fit the story.”
Beth’s adoptive mother, Alma, retreats to the comfort of her piano in low moods. Addicted to “my little bottle of tranquillity” and prone to sombre turns, she resorts to Satie on the keys for solace.
Alma plays Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 and the French composer’s heart-wrenching Gnossienne No.1 in the second episode (‘Exchanges’) where Beth is getting to know her adoptive mother.
Satie - Gymnopédie No. 1
The Queen’s Gambit stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, with Marielle Haller playing her adoptive mother, Alma Wheatley.
Bill Camp plays janitor Mr. Shaibel, who teaches Beth to play chess, and the series also features Thomas Brodie-Sangster – best-known as Love Actually’s beloved young Sam who finds himself “painfully” in love at a tender age – and Harry Edward Melling (Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter film franchise) as top chess champs.
Marcin Dorociński plays top Russian world chess champion, Vasily Borgov, while Chloe Pirrie is Beth’s biological mother. Christiane Seidel is headmistress of the school and orphanage Beth attends, and Moses Ingram plays Beth’s orphanage bestie and rebel, Jolene.
The Queen’s Gambit currently has the top rating of 100 percent on user-generated film review site, Rotten Tomatoes.