Composer for the Histories

- You have now composed music for all Gregory Doran’s History plays for King and Country, most recently for Henry V. Did you approach this project with a long view so that there is a musical narrative/journey that takes the audience along with it?

I think Richard II has a very particular rarified atmosphere, and of course at that point I didn’t know how Greg was going to approach the Henry IV plays, so Richard was a stand alone piece at first. The Henry IVs are more earthy, bawdy and action packed, and required a different musical palette. What did begin to happen, though, was that Hal’s theme which grew through Henry IV get’s to return in Henry V , and plays out in full at the very end of the play. Also memories of Falstaff in HV are underscored with his music form the previous plays. The scoring of Henry V includes the soprano voice, which echoes Richard’s sound world, and the Te Deum towards the end seems to come full circle from the music at the very start of Richard II.

-Do you compose now with an eye on the music being recorded on DVD so that it can be heard without the context of the production? Is that a worry or is it liberating?

I think it is wonderful that the music from our shows now gets recorded. In the past, once the show has finished, that was it, the music may never be heard again. And considering that the RSC are one of the consistent commissioners of new music in the UK, it has to be a good thing. Sometimes there has been plenty of music written before the CD needs to be recorded (which is before the show goes up), so one is able to create longer pieces from that which will fit on a CD. In the case of HV, I hadn’t written specifically for the show yet, so I wrote 4 longer pieces to start with, containing the kind of music we were going to require; fanfares, heroism, the Te Deum etc, and then we recorded those and I was able to extract music from them for individual cues in the show.

-What is the main difference composing for theatre as opposed to film or TV?

Scoring for TV and Film usually involves writing to a finished picture. In the theatre, the show changes all the time up until press, so the composers job during the tech and previews is to be flexible to changes; re writing cues daily, or cutting music that you love! Mike Ashcroft, our movement director, on one show bought me a shredder for the tech, so that I could very obviously let everyone know when a bit of music was being cut.

-What is the best thing about composing for theatre?

What the music, lights, sound, acting and production all marry up perfectly, it’s a brilliant feeling of teamwork. Like a great sports team. You get more than the sum of the parts. I spend much of my time alone in the studio on TV and film, so the buzz of a lot of people pulling together in a theatre is wonderful.

-What is the most unusual instrument you use in the music for these shows?

Bagpipes, in Henry IV. But I think a combination I’ve not heard before is 3 trumpets and 3 soprano singers that I use in Richard II.

-Do you watch on the first night to see the audiences reaction and check they are reacting to the music?

I do watch 1st night, but it’s the reaction to the whole show you are interested in. Obviously I’m listening to the music, hoping nothing goes wrong.

-What would you advice be to a young budding composer?

Write for anyone who will play your music. As a teenager I wrote for school band, choirs, amateur instrumentalists, amateur dramatics, big bands. Hear your music being played. That’s how you learn. There are always people who want some music to play.

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