‘Succession’ Composer Nicholas Britell on Making Music for the One Percent

Variety | 8/23/2019 | Tim Greiving
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The Roys, the media empire family at the heart of HBO’s “Succession,” are ridiculously rich. They’re manipulative and cruel. They’re also a bit delusional and absurd.

When Nicholas Britell conceived the show’s score, he wanted to capture all of that.

Late-1700s - Zone - Britell - Oscar-nominated - Composer

“I wrote in this almost late-1700s, dark classical zone,” says Britell, the Oscar-nominated composer of “Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” “I was kind of imagining: what is the music that the Roy family would imagine for themselves? What’s the music that they think they sound like?”

But this “dark courtly” elegance is often also infused with fat hip-hop beats, an 808 drum machine, detuned piano — all piano is performed by Britell — and modern filters and samples. This is music for the delusions of Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), who has a predilection for rap, but intentionally exaggerated.

Seriousness - Absurdity - Show - Britell - Music

“There really needed to be this seriousness, but there’s also high-level absurdity in the show,” says Britell, who even sampled his own music from the early part of Season 1 to create hip-hop tracks in later episodes.

Britell comes at both musical strains honestly. After a rigorous upbringing as a classical pianist, he was in a hip-hop group called the Witness Protection Program while a student at Harvard, making beats every day.

Hip-hop - New - York - Native - Art

“Hip-hop really is so universal,” says the New York native. “I think it’s the most profound new art form in the past 50 years. That zone of musical experimentation is wide open, and has so many possibilities.”

“Succession” was created by Jesse Armstrong, the British wit behind “Four Lions” and “Peep Show,” and executive produced by Adam McKay. McKay, who also directed the pilot and has collaborated with Britell on “The Big Short” and “Vice,” says he wanted the score to feel “cinematic.”

Britell - Lush - Sound - Philosophy - Television

Britell brought his lush, big-screen sound and philosophy to television, but he also...
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