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The Music of Downton Abbey

Thursday, January 19, 2012

PBS has a hit on its hands with the British import “Downton Abbey.” Set at the start of World War I, the drama’s Jan. 8 season premiere doubled the average prime time audience for the network. We discuss why the former colonies seem to love a soap opera about the Earl of Grantham, his family and his servants with John Lunn, who composed the show’s iconic theme music.


John Lunn

Comments [38]

Alba from Chile

I love Downton Abbey!
I want to know what valz they dance in the last season, in the special christmas chapter?


Jan. 07 2014 09:52 PM

What is the name of the wedding music at Lady Mary's wedding?

Dec. 04 2012 07:32 AM
Renee Sanders from Hancock NY

I'm very much taken by DA! However, the script for the second season was disappointing. Please return to the loyalties and moral fabric
of the characters as displayed in the first season! Went online
to see where I could find the captivating theme music!

Nov. 09 2012 04:42 PM
Rita from New York

Can you please advise us of the names of the tunes played at the Servants' Ball Downton Abbey Season 2 Finale? I recognize the Tales From The Vienna Woods but not the other songs. Thanks.

Sep. 08 2012 12:25 AM

The beginning of the Downton Abbey theme song reminds me of the X-Files theme song.

Jan. 31 2012 04:25 PM
Mercedes Herrero from Brooklyn NY

John should definitely commit to Downton Abbey. I think Julian Fellows has written an extraordinary first season--like chekhov, even the seemingly minor characters have yearnings, complexities, are humanized. The downstairs are as vivid as the upstairs, and each are trapped in their class in their own way. He captures the end of the aristocratic patrician class very well, and the changing times--with the daughters wanting to be more useful and how the invention of something like a lightbulb affects their whole system. It's pretty glorious to watch. There are subtle shades of feeling. I found myself on the verge of tears quite often. Second season seemed less subtle and well drawn--probably wrote it faster. ENJOY it!!!

Jan. 19 2012 10:38 PM
T.J. Karns from Union, NJ

For John Schaeffer: Re: Downtown Abbey. Love this historical romance/WWI saga. For example, the love story between Head House Maid Anna Smith and Valet John Bates is exquisite, very special. I am praying that they overcome the obstacles and marry. Characters are perfectly cast all around. Heartfelt how the war changes them and their lives and caste system. Should you commit? Of course. However, a better question might be: Is DA more/most appealing to women vs. men? My husband is simply not interested, while I am glued to the set. Mrs. T.J. Karns, Union, NJ

Jan. 19 2012 03:08 PM
Elizabeth from Brooklyn

Of course you must plunge in as soon as possible...I like to watch more specifically for the pairing of camera work and music There are some amazing continuous camera moves at key junctures that are enhanced by the music...almost like a dance,
For Maggie Smith alone you'd have lost some real magic if you don't watch this program!

Jan. 19 2012 02:46 PM
Amanda Durant from Manhattan

I grew up with Masterpiece Theater through my parents, who watched all the great classics of the 70's and early 80's. I stopped watching it as an adult because it just wasn't that good anymore. Just this past Sunday, my sister told me to watch Downton Abbey; so I did and I love it and I've been catching up this week with Season 1.

Don't over think it, just watch it. It's a wonderful way to escape, if just for a little while. The acting is wonderful, the music is beautiful and the costumes and scenery are a feast for the eyes. Jump on in!

Jan. 19 2012 02:37 PM
Naomi from Brooklyn

Downton Abbey is one of the best shows I have seen in a long time. Commit!

Jan. 19 2012 02:35 PM
Wendy from PaamusNJ

Haven't quite gotten hooked on Downton Abbey, but loved Zen!!!!

Jan. 19 2012 02:34 PM
BK from Brooklyn

I discovered the show on Netflix on couple of weeks ago, and devoured the first season in a few nights. Hungry for more, I downloaded the second season and Christmas special from BitTorrent. Less than a week after beginning the first season, I had finished the entire series to date. I'm of Indian origin and was fascinated by the parallels in servant culture between Edwardian England and the present day new middle class in India. However, the show quickly deteriorated into sappy soap opera melodrama.

Jan. 19 2012 02:33 PM
Steve from NYC

Yes, John, watch. It's very good, I watch it religiously, but will admit on rare occasions there are scenes/dialogue that I have trouble believing to be true to the period. But watch, indeed watch.

Jan. 19 2012 02:31 PM
twebeck from nyc

I agree with your caller re: it has turned into a soap opera. First season great. Second season moving at a quick clip to get all the little soapy scenes into play and resolve before the hour is up.

Jan. 19 2012 02:30 PM

HOW ARE YOU NOT HOOKED ALREADY?? After the first episode there was no hope for me.

Jan. 19 2012 02:30 PM
ted in atlanta

The music is really mesmerizing. And the series is amazing... Season 1 was captivating, I thought.

Jan. 19 2012 02:28 PM
Vanessa from Redding CT

Wonderful show with perfect and witty dialogue. Great acting beautiful scenery and camerawork and glorious music

Jan. 19 2012 02:28 PM
Michael M from New Jersey

According to his Wikipedia page John Lunn has composed
several operas. Can he talk about them?
Especially "Mathematics of a Kiss" is that about the
kissing number problem in math?

Jan. 19 2012 02:26 PM
brt from bk

what about Man Jumping?

Jan. 19 2012 02:26 PM
Gary from Port Washington

The important part of Downton Abbey is that you see it from the beginning to understand the dynamics going on from the relationship between the daughters, parents, servants and changing times. It looks at the world at changing time in history where the Edwardian era is moving into the modern era. The role of women is changing, technology of the car and phone is changing things; rural life is shift to city life; (as highlighted in War Horse), women are getting the right to vote and changing their roles, the class system is breaking down, new jobs are opening as office work is becoming an option. Like Broadwalk Empire, you have to understand the characters to appreciate the series otherwise it seems like a soap opera without the context. If you miss it you can go to Shop PBS and purchase the series which is discounted. Worth seeing; I tuned in after it got so much attention and finally was drawn in when I could appreciate the nuisance of the themes and characters. Well worth the time as was The Forsyte Saga.

Jan. 19 2012 02:26 PM
Fran White from Basking Ridge, New Jersey

The music from Downtown Abbey is so evocative of the
family and the war, it reminds me of the music from
the series in the 80's or 90's, entitled, Winds of War, a series about World War II.

For me, the wonderful music from Downtown will remind me of the brilliant story. Thank you for this magnificent emotional score!

Jan. 19 2012 02:24 PM
Margaret from New Jersey

Mr. Lunn, your beautiful score perfectly captures the turbulence of the time the drama is set in and the passion of the relationships between the characters. The opening notes of your score told me immediately that this series would be worth watching, and I haven't been disappointed. Thank you for such a masterwork.

Jan. 19 2012 02:23 PM
Janine from NYC

oh and apologies... the music is beautiful as well, very romantic.

Jan. 19 2012 02:23 PM
Robert from Brooklyn

I'm a composer myself, and I'm wondering are the sounds we're hearing in the score an actual ensemble playing, or is it sequenced with a very high quality sample library?

Jan. 19 2012 02:21 PM
Amy from manhattan

John - commit! I had heard about the show for months but hadn't tuned in. After the golden globes on sunday I watched episode 1 season 1 online. I've seen all 9 episodes in the 4 days since. Captivating drama, and the music is gripping and you can feel how it adds to the plot.

Jan. 19 2012 02:21 PM
Joe from nearby

The theme has an urgency to it, but it's retrained, like so many situations in the plot. 'Keep calm & carry on' fits D.A. well. These characters are only being to perceive the enormous social changes that will change their way of life forever. Very compelling. We love it.

Jan. 19 2012 02:20 PM
Judy from NYC

Don't know your taste, but I love the show. Great characters, great drama and there's always the historical context besides. Music is perfect. Just right.

Jan. 19 2012 02:19 PM
Tina from Queens, NY

I was so hooked on Downton Abbey, that I couldn't resist and I went on a British site and bought all second season episodes. I saw them already !
That how addictied I am!

Jan. 19 2012 02:19 PM
Jay from new york

is there a leitmotif for each of the main characters?
Someone commented that when Matthew enters there is always speciic music.
Also for Mary, or other characters?

Jan. 19 2012 02:19 PM

I love the show and love the music. I'm very impressed with how carefully polished all the show's elements are, with one exception. I've noticed that often the music will swell as a scene crescendos, but then there will be a cut to another scene and the music is abruptly cutoff, mid-phrase. This has more to do with editing than composing, but I wondered what John thought.

Jan. 19 2012 02:19 PM
Kathryn from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

_Downton Abbey_ is the Edwardian _Mad Men_. The creator, Julian Fellowes does a wonderful job of illustrating a time of great social change through the characters. For example, the housemaid Gwen, who wants to become a secretary, is just like Peggy Olsen in _Mad Men_.

Jan. 19 2012 02:19 PM
Janine from NYC

Yes, John! you should certainly commit. Wonderfully produced, complex characters, great distinct plots, beautiful settings...

You loss if you don't.

Jan. 19 2012 02:18 PM
BarbaraG from Brooklyn

Is there a romantic 'love theme' for Bates & Anna? Seems there is...

Jan. 19 2012 02:18 PM
MP from Brooklyn

Great series. Great music. Definitely worth committing to. Best things: Maggie Smith (but of course!) and Julian Fellowes' overall sensibility (which made Gosford Park so wonderful). Oh, and the hats.

Jan. 19 2012 02:18 PM
Maria from Mnhattan

Even if I'd never seen Downton Abbey, I would have swooned over this piece. Please tell the composer I LOVE it!

And John, the show is worth the investment for Dame Maggie Smith's performance alone and her lines!

Jan. 19 2012 02:17 PM
Karen from NJ

The title music reflects the grandeur of Edwardian England (if you are an aristocrat that is...), but there is also a foreboding in the music, like everything is about to change...which it is...



Jan. 19 2012 02:16 PM
Colleen from NJ

My name is Colleen and I am a Downton Abbey addict, as I have just realized upon hearing the opening score for the show on the show today. My heart rate noticeably increases. Was this effect intended? Its like Pavlov's dogs.

Jan. 19 2012 02:06 PM
Eric GG from Brooklyn

Am I wrong, or is the performance of the main theme over the closing credits played more "urgently" than over the opening? I often have the sense that it plays a role in setting the hook of leaving the viewer hungry for the next episode (like any last minute revelations or, even better, suggestions of a revelation to come).

Jan. 19 2012 02:05 PM

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