WATCH: Downton Abbey composer at Harrogate Grammar School

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Downton Abbey composer and the man behind the music of recent series Grantchester and The White Queen, John Lunn, spoke all about his art to an audience of students at Harrogate Grammar School.

As part of the school’s Music Matters week, featuring talks and workshops from musicians from several genres, Mr Lunn drew the week to a close on Friday, January 16, 2015.

Downton Abbey composer John Lunn, speaking at Harrogate Grammar School.

Downton Abbey composer John Lunn, speaking at Harrogate Grammar School.

To an audience of students and members of the public, he talked about how the business of composing for TV and film has changed, and where he started.

He said: “It is funny how it has changed over the years and what composing for film is about. If you look at films from 40 or 50 years ago, like Dr Zhivago, there is an incredible amount of fantastic tunes but the music is so much on the surface.

“In the last ten years what I am asked to do more and more is actually story telling, getting inside people’s heads.

“A good example of this was Bleak House seven or eight years ago. Because it was a period piece, set in 1820, it was about women really when they were not allowed to say what they thought, so my job as a composer was to tell the audience what the female character was thinking.

“Tunes are easy I find, it is actually getting inside the nitty gritty of somebody’s head that is the tricky thing.”

Mr Lunn, who has written the music for five series of Downton Abbey, as well as several other prominent TV series like Waking the Dead, Harley Street, Bleak House, and The Passing Bells, said he will start with a script and find out what the story is all about.

Then the music, which forms part of the post-production process after all the pictures and frames of film are in pace, will be added, initially using technology but live musicians will then take over.

He played the opening scene of Downton Abbey and explained how he put this together, focusing on parts of the filming and having a musical accompaniment to each segment.

On Downton he said: “I have done five series of Downton Abbey now and I know the music better than the directors, so I am left to it.

“Nobody knew what music was going to work with Downton. It was set in 1912 and the problem with the music from that period in Britain is that it is really quite overwrought and it changes massively very very quickly.

“That is just too complicated for film music, you need to find a way of bringing the harmony out.

“I am good at recognising the germ of an idea and when the music comes in the picture changes and it wouldn’t be the same without the music.”

Mr Lunn started playing music when he was 14, taking up the double bass, he told the audience, though his initial preference was the cello.

His father was a saxophonist in a jazz band, so he grew up with music, and when he started playing the piano he began to dissect it and find out more about how it was put together.

He said: “Music is kind of part of the acting, part of the story telling, and that is really what you are trying to do. My job is not to recreate 1820, my job is to get inside people’s heads.

“Everybody says they want a tune but they don’t realise that they don’t. Tunes get in the way of drama and they slow the drama down, and the area that I am involved with there is a lot going on.

“I am not trying to write a brilliant piece of music, I am trying to contribute to a brilliant piece of drama.

“There is an old adage where if you notice the music in a film it isn’t doing its job and I tend to think that is true.

“When it is working really well it is all one thing, you are being drawn in, and the music is a big part of that process.”

The next project Mr Lunn will be working on is a BBC series, released in the autumn, about Vikings called The Last Kingdom.

He said he had no idea what music he would do for that, but it would probably sound like Game of Thrones.

Programme leader for music at the Grammar School Emily Segal said: “This is the end of our week of music matters, where we have been looking at the wonder of music.

“Composing is the one thing where we say, don’t ask me how to do that, so it is wonderful to be able to welcome John Lunn to the school.”