Music is the page-turning pause in 'Succession'

A brilliant neo-modern score provides much-needed respite and connects the series’s many gripping scenes, writes Ritwik Kaikini
Last Updated 21 May 2022, 07:52 IST

Western music listeners often associate movements in classical music with periods in history. The
movements also define the social atmosphere and visual architecture of the period.

In the highly acclaimed HBO series, Succession (2018-), created by Jesse Armstrong, the complexity of relationships in a wealthy businessman’s family is explored with provocative, raw storytelling. Packed with robust performances, this show is about a family-run corporate conglomerate and the interpersonal relationships that drive its fate.

The ‘neo-modern’ form of Western classical music by Nicholas Brittel encourages genre-blending and fresh instrumental arrangements. The title theme, composed in C minor, sets the tone for the show. It blends elements of classical music, acoustic drums and hip-hop with a climactic piano line. The sonic texture is a direct metaphorical manifestation of the Logan Roy family, cloistered within its ego battles. The show resembles an elaborate Shakespearean production but showcases the values of a millennial generation.  

Every character is an embodiment of ambiguous morals. Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) is the transparent sibling, with glimmers of a healthy conscience, but he loses his way because of his substance-abuse problem. Siobhan Roy (Sarah Snook), is the opaque sibling with a solid conscience confusing her emotions with her desire for power. Roman Roy (Keiran Culkin) is the youngest murky sibling with a confused sense of purpose. Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is the power-hungry father who often enjoys playing mind games with his puppet children. Tom (Matthew Mcfayden) and Greg (Nicholas Braun) form the comically clueless duo who land themselves important positions in this rich family through love and luck. 

Since the show can get exhausting with its words, the cinematography and music play an important role in keeping us engrossed. Different perspectives on the same scene, with an impulsive editing style, help us place ourselves amidst the characters. The camera mimics the movement of the eyes and the editing mimics the blink, often making the next shot unpredictable and exciting.

Many of the pieces of music in the series, like ‘Intermezzo in C Minor’, are slices of the main title theme being explored in different forms, arrangements and tempos. ‘Larghetto’ and ‘Rondo in F Minor for Solo Piano’ in Season 2, are engaging melodic pieces bringing gravitas to Kendall’s need to resolve his past trauma. Cellos and elaborate string sections can amplify sadness, guilt and ruthlessness. As in the track ‘Cello Quintet in C Minor -‘Tern Haven’, they can also drive the thirst for power. Violins can also initiate a cunning yet clever dialogue with listeners. The shrill violins and harp plucking in the piece ‘Moderato Con Brio’ present the guile of businessmen in the middle of acquisitions.

New York City is a passive observer throughout the show and shortcuts of the urbanscape act like set changes in a theatre production. A unique contemporary time displacement occurs when the visual modernity of today’s New York is overlaid with classical music. Brittel’s music helps manoeuvre confrontations, negotiations, reckless acts and shocking revelations. When engrossed in a good novel, the act of turning the page gives us a breather in the narrative. Similarly, when we traverse with dense personas in this show, the music becomes a page-turning pause.

(Published 20 May 2022, 18:13 IST)

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