'Downton Abbey' Composer John Lunn Talks Show's Success, Likely Tour: Exclusive
The much-beloved TV series Downton Abbey may be ending after its sixth season, but the Crawley family may live on in a tour that would bring the music and residents of the manse to the show's millions of fans.
The series' composer, John Lunn, revealed to Billboard that he and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes are in discussions to create a touring event that would feature the show's music and cast, with Fellowes hosting the evening. "I'd say there's a 75 percent chance it will happen," Lunn says.
But first, Lunn -- who won an Emmy in 2013 for his work on the show -- has to complete writing music for the final season which airs in the U.K. in the fall and in the U.S. in January, 2016, as well as finalize music for a previously unannounced third Downton Abbey soundtrack due out this fall. The first soundtrack spent two weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Traditional Classical Albums chart, while the second peaked at No. 2.
The Scottish composer talked to Billboard prior to playing a suite of Downton Abbey music with a symphony at the Krakow Film Music Festival in Poland recently. He will also perform music from the show in Paris with an orchestra later this summer. While he swore he didn't know how the series will end, he did give away a few hints about what's in store for the final season and revealed what was, surprisingly, the show's hardest scene for him to score.
What kind of direction were you given in writing the theme?
The brief I was given was The West Wing because, I suppose, there was some sort of political thing between upstairs and downstairs. It's like a small country, Downton Abbey, people lead and people serve and people do. Musically, it wasn't a great direction; I kind of knew what people meant by that -- sweeping.
Since when does the Downton Abbey theme have words?
For the [first] album, we were aware that TV soundtrack albums don't always sell that well. We felt that we needed some kind of hook, so I took it to Don Black, a very famous lyricist. He did "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Born Free." He did a lot of work with John Barry. We really hit it off and he came up with these words, "Did I make the most of loving you?," which everyone interprets as being about Mary and Matthew and they're probably correct.
And then Matthew got killed off.
Not only that, [that] episode in the U.K. was due to go out on Christmas Day and I wrote a piece of music to accompany his death. At the very last moment we had to go in and re-record it because it was too sad and the music was too tragic. They were really worried that it was going to spoil everybody's Christmas Day. I had to rewrite it and give it some kind of hope at the end. Obviously I can't write a happy tune to it, but to try to take people into some kind of warmer territory. It was really hard.
You score the episodes to picture so you start cold each episode. Run through that process.
In every episode there will be at least one new story line that will require some different kind of music. There will be several story lines, some of them have been going on for several seasons, so I'll know what the [music] is and it's a question of molding the [music] to the dialogue. I don't think we've ever used the same cue twice in the whole series. No one really has a theme. Couples have themes. The themes are about relationships between people. The house has its own theme.
What's it like to write for the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, played by Maggie Smith, who usually provides some sort of comic relief.
Funnily enough, I find writing comedy music a bit tricky. Most of her music has to do with some kind of comedy. Although, in the last [season], the story about her Russian ex-lover, there were more tender moments and I had to find a way to deal with that in a way I hadn't dealt with her before.
What scene has been the hardest to score?
Isis' [death] was a nightmare. Writing for a dog dying, on the one hand, it's incredibly sad. On the other hand, it's not a human being either. I just treated it like it was a member of the family, which, technically, I suppose it is. The other reason is we have a dog that is so beloved by my daughter and son that the idea of writing a piece of music for a dog dying would have just had them in floods of tears, so I don't think I even told them.
In addition to winning an Emmy, how has the international success of Downton Abbey enhanced your career?
In some ways it's been brilliant, in other ways, it's been quite tricky. To really capitalize on it, I probably should have moved to L.A. I live in London. I'm going to stay living in London. My kids are at a delicate age in schooling and I want to be around. And also, Downton does take up a big chunk of the year. There's quite a lot of things that I haven't been able to do because Downton is in the way, but, certainly in the U.K., I'm now one of the top two or three… I get offered most things. I kind of get to pick and choose what I want to do really.
Give us a hint of what's to come in Season 6.
There's a way to go for Carson and Mrs. Hughes before they actually get hitched up. I'm not saying anything more. It's not going to be plain sailing. There's a few hints about how well the estate is doing. I haven't seen any real hints so far of how it's going to end. In England, there's nine episodes. I've read everything but the final script.
What will be on the new soundtrack?
It will encompass all the best stuff from [seasons] 1 through 6. It will come out in the autumn. The first two were on Decca. We're in negotiations with several parties [for this one].
Are you thinking about touring behind Downton Abbey?
Yes. There's talk of Julian Fellowes and I and some of the cast doing a live tour the way Dr. Who did; 70 percent of it will be music from the show. There might be some Elgar, there might be some jazz of the periods. Some of the actors will likely recite. We'll have a screen. We may have the music live to several scenes. Julian may be the host. I'd say [there's a] 75 percent chance it will happen.