BBC Count of Monte Cristo Project: A Pair of Briefs… – Part 1

BBC Background
A client within a client… We were asked by our publisher (Audio Network) to work on a Radio Drama for the BBC. The BBC had approached them wanting music for their forthcoming Radio 4 drama series A Count of Monte Cristo. Audio Network asked us to work exactly to the BBC’s brief but also in the knowledge that the music would later be on general release for use by other production companies.

Jeremy Mortimer, Head of Radio 4 drama, explained that each piece would be character based. We did a fair amount of joint listening to make sure we totally understood and agreed upon the mood and style required for each piece. A large part of our job involves really understanding the requirements of a client and finding mutual accessible language to describe it, as many clients don’t have the musical vocabulary to articulate what they are looking for but they know EXACTLY what it should sound like.
It was agreed we’d use a mixture of live instruments and MIDI. We suggested we’d get the most flexibility from scoring for a string quartet and a couple of live solo instruments. The strings could then be integrated with MIDI and we’d blur the edges a little.

Writing Style
Some composers like to have as much freedom as possible, but sometimes it helps to have a really specific brief, so we understand exactly what is required. Our goal was to chip away at the brief until I was left with clearly defined boundaries for each piece.

Musical Inspiration
The period nature of this piece and its geographical setting were two of the factors that defined what we listened to for inspiration – a necessity for me. Early 19th century French waltzes and seafaring themes made up just some of my listening, but we also took inspiration from an old Catalan folk tune, Sephardic Jewish melodies and even a work from the George Fenton score of the 1993 movie – The Crucible. Once I’ve listened to these however, I don’t revisit them so as to not bury any themes in my subconscious.

The live recordings took place over two days at the Royal College of Music, South Kensington. Jeff wasn’t able to fly over for these, so I took on producing the string quartet and solo string and oboe sessions. My focus was to make sure all the musicians understood emotionally what each piece’s function was – the key to a successful recording.

Editing & Completion
Editing can be the most arduous part of the process, but sometimes the most compelling. It’s the first real chance to hear what we will end up with and sometimes there are hidden gems within works which become usable nuggets of their own. Each work will be cut into multiple versions for the catalogue, and there’s no point in pouring love and attention into the writing and recording unless we intend to do the same when we cut it all together. It’s time for some VERY strong coffee!!

To listen to the finished album created for the series, click here.