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‘Succession’ Composer Explains How He Crafted ‘Raw Emotion’ Through Score for Heavy Final Season



Nicholas Britell knew very early on that Brian Cox’s Logan Roy was going to be killed off in the final season of HBO’s “Succession.” It was up to him to figure out what the passing of a titan of industry would sound like musically.

Britell, who won an Emmy for the show’s theme music in 2019, has been tasked with finding new ways to push the sound of obscene wealth each season. “I thought about Logan’s death and what that might feel like,” he says. “This is the death of a very complicated person. It’s going to leave a huge hole in everyone’s life, for better or worse. I was thinking about how that would impact the family.”

Showrunner Jesse Armstrong confided to him that the shocking death would occur
surprisingly early in the run, in Episode 3, setting aside all the dealmaking and double-crossing for the emotional episode. Logan dies while on a flight to Stockholm, separated from his children.

“I’m usually writing pieces that are fully defined in their way, and almost, at times, can speak for themselves as much as for the characters,” says Britell.

When Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) are on the phone with Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) as Logan is dying, the music cue in those scenes “was very psychological,” he adds. “I was trying to go with a point of view with the characters.”

The composer, who wrote the cue to picture, says it had to feel like audiences were inside Roman and Kendall’s emotional state. “It’s rough-hewn, almost an abrasive strings texture that I’m using there, but inside of that are the main chords of the show that are very slow and very drawn out, and I’ve added these strange dissonances to them. It was this idea of the raw feeling,” he explains.


During the crucial scene — Logan lies unresponsive — Britell and Armstrong worked together on the music. “We tried out a lot of different things. At one point, it got down to asking if the music [should]even go away so it feels like an altered state of reality,” he says.

Armstrong praises Britell as an “intuitive, thoughtful, and endlessly creative” collaborator: “He treats every season as a new challenge, every episode, every cue in every scene. Nothing is off-the-peg. He manages to hear my notes and thoughts and process them through his mega brain into musical solutions which answer questions I don’t even know how to accurately frame.”

Throughout the season, the musical landscape had to be even more complex. For Tom and Shiv’s ever-evolving and ever-painful relationship, Britell “wanted their music to be about how much pain [they] inflict on one another.”

Britell is particular about how he uses hip-hop, Kendall’s music genre of choice. “It’s driven by Kendall and his love of it,” he explains of the Episode 6 cue. “The beats I used with him are very meta. I’m not just scoring Kendall. I’m underscoring. It is very self-consciously knowing how Kendall thinks about hip-hop.

“There’s a certain sound of hip-hop that works for Kendall,” he notes. Britell stresses that “Succession” has its own musical signature. “There’s a subtle, classical nature to the music in it. But there’s also a sense of perhaps overconfidence and the beat has this sense of ‘Maybe you don’t know what you’re walking into, Kendall.’”

His largest orchestral symphonic sweep came at the end of that, after Kendall has nailed the Living+ presentation and immerses himself in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Kendall thinks maybe he can do this. As he’s walking onto that stage and he has that encounter with Karl, we are convinced this is going to be a total debacle,” says Britell. “The music on the beach says, ‘We are in one of those rare opposite moments, that perhaps this is a way forward.’ Given everything that’s happened in his life, perhaps he’s finally finding himself. He doesn’t know his future, and we don’t either —and for this moment, let’s embrace that.”


Overall, Britell says, “I think the music itself took one step even further, in its self-confidence or musical sense of itself. I wanted it to feel like this ever-evolving tapestry.”

As for the show’s final send-off in Episode 10, Britell wrote the cue before he had seen the actual ending. “I wrote this one piece mentally thinking that it might very well be the conclusion of the show. Jesse sat [on the couch]. He looked at me and said, ‘That’s the end of the show,’ ”Britell recalls.

“I think ‘Succession’ has provided this venue for us to feel things about the world today, perhaps collectively, about what’s going on in the world socioeconomically and with concentrations of power, but then also within families and how all families are complicated,” he says. “‘Succession’ is just a very complicated version of complicated.”

Britell could also be nominated for his work on Disney +’s “Andor,” the backstory of “Rogue One” hero Cassian Andor (Diego Luna).

Showrunner Tony Gilroy and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy wanted “a unique musical landscape” for the series, and he ended up using a traditional 80-piece orchestra, synthesizers, sampled sounds and advanced production techniques to explore the possibilities.

One of the first pieces he wrote was for the show’s epic funeral finale. “It was wonderful because it was about figuring out the sound of this culture, figuring out the sound of Ferrix and the traditions of these people,” says Britell. “‘Andor’ is defined by where it goes to.”

Source: Variety


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