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‘Downton Abbey’ composer John Lunn on the new movie: ‘It’ll make you laugh. It’ll make you cry.’

John Lunn, the composer for “Downton Abbey” and “Downton Abbey: The Movie.”
John Lunn

“Downton Abbey: The Movie” opens in theaters Sept. 20. In addition to seeing their favorite characters again, fans are also likely to feel a sense of nostalgia when hearing the movie’s soundtrack. And for that, they have composer John Lunn to thank.

Lunn composed the music for the entirety of the series, and has been lauded for creating one of television’s most powerful music themes. His background is eclectic. Growing up, Lunn’s saxophone-playing father got him hooked on jazz, while his mother’s classical leanings gave him a refined edge. In college, he simultaneously pursued expertise in pop and classical music.

“I guess I was taking it all in, as to this day my favorite composers are Miles Davis and Bach,” Lunn said in a recent interview with the blog From the Desk of Kurt Manwaring.

Lunn previously worked with executive producer Gareth Neame on shows like “Bleak House” and “Little Dorrit,” and was the only composer considered for “Downton Abbey.” His “Downton Abbey” theme is so addictive, Rolling Stone magazine said it makes fans “drool like Pavlov’s dogs.”

According to Lunn, the immersive theme took three weeks — and three tries — to compose.

“It’s always the most nerve-wracking period of any project,” Lunn said. “The blank sheet of paper still scares me.”

Lunn said his theme was born from the show’s first scene. Originally, he explained, there wasn’t an actual title sequence — just a train traveling through the English countryside, which then cut to a shot of character John Bates looking forlornly out of a carriage window. Lunn picked a piano theme revolving around a lonely single note. From there, he had to musically transition from the countryside train to a telegram explaining that the heir to Downton Abbey died on the Titanic.

To make the transition work, Lunn built a more rising and emotional string theme. As the camera frames a shot of the abbey, the music’s harmony “broadens out in magnificent splendor,” he explained.

The scene’s final portion shows the Downton Abbey servants busily working. Lunn realized the same music fit well here, too.

“The house was like the train, a well-oiled machine,” he said.

A scene from “Downton Abbey: The Movie.”
Carnival Films

From there, he composed a 30-second version of that particular piece for the opening title sequence. Lunn is pleased to see such an approving response to the music, but says he took the same approach to “Downton Abbey” as he does for all his work.

“I always compose to the picture and always listen to the dialogue,” Lunn said, “so I’m just trying to give people an honest representation of the range of emotions they are about to witness.

“I think that tune does it pretty well,” he added.

In “Downton Abbey: The Movie,” Lunn also makes his way in front of the camera for two scenes. The first finds Lunn playing piano in a small jazz band, but the second scene actually has him playing two different people. As for how that second scene works exactly, Lunn said it’ll make more sense once viewers see it.

“It has everything a fan would expect,” Lunn said of the new film, “except it’s bigger, better, grander! It’ll make you laugh. It’ll make you cry.

“Plus,” he added, “it’s the best way to hear my music in its full glory.”