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New Classical Tracks®

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New Classical Tracks: John Lunn's new 'Downton Abbey' film score is fit for a king (and queen)

'Downton Abbey' composer John Lunn Phil Watkins
4min 59sec : New Classical Tracks: John Lunn
17min 29sec : New Classical Tracks (extended)

John Lunn/Chamber Orchestra of London — Downton Abbey: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Decca)

"They seemed to love it, and they definitely laughed in all the right places, which is a good sign. I think there were a few tears as well."

That's Scottish composer John Lunn, who recently came to New York City for the premiere of the new film adaptation of Downton Abbey. Just like the television series, the music is still very much about all the characters in Downton Abbey and their relationships to each other. However, there is one big storyline that brings them all together: the arrival of the king and queen of England.

Why are the king and queen coming to Downton?

"They're touring Yorkshire. It's part of their duty to make themselves seen in parts of Britain where they're not seen very much. And Downton Abbey is obviously just one part of a tour.

"They're not actually there for very long, but everybody goes through upheaval to make sure it goes okay. As you can imagine in Downton Abbey, there are times when everything doesn't go okay, and some of that is hysterically funny.

"There's probably more comedy in it than we might normally have in an episode. There's one piece in particular, called 'Two Households.' The staff of Downton Abbey think they're going to be providing for the king and queen, and this is going to be one of their big moments. But actually the king and queen turn up with their own household, and there's this kind of rivalry."

One of the pieces is titled 'Maud' — is that a new character?

"Yes. It's Imelda Staunton, who has a big part in the show, and she's the cousin of Lord Grantham. When she dies, she's supposed to leave everything to Lord Grantham, but she's already told them she's not. So, there's a whole mystery around who she's going to leave it for. The music for 'Maud' is taken directly from a scene where she explains exactly who she's going to leave it to and why and the significance of it. It's quite a moving scene, that one."

You got to compose some new music for the film. Tell me about what you were most proud of, when it came to writing the new music?

"One of the hardest ones was towards the very end, during a fantastic scene on the balcony. It's the end of what's been a huge ballroom scene that has been mainly the music of Johann Strauss. The music of the ballroom was going to carry on out to the balcony, and the two characters were going to be dancing to Johann Strauss.

"But, when we edited it, we felt that it needed something more emotional. We actually arranged it in such a way that I could move from Strauss towards the end of the ballroom scene out onto the balcony, where we'd move to Downton Abbey music. That was really quite tricky to do in a way that didn't call attention to itself. It kind of sneaks up on you, and you're unaware of it. That's the one that's called 'Sunset Waltz.'"

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Downton Abbey: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Amazon)