We all know it. Accompanied by spasmodic strings and the occasional contrasting legato from a violin, a minimalistic tune made of just a few notes on the piano conjures up a nostalgic atmosphere. It’s the theme of ITV’s Downton Abbey.
Written by Scottish composer John Lunn, this simple melody appears in all six seasons of the acclaimed series and also sets the tone in screenwriter Julian Fellowes’s full feature film. Alongside the original theme, Lunn incorporates elements of popular 1920s styles like upbeat jazz arrangements and contrasting waltz motifs, fitting the film’s setting in autumn 1927.
When asked about his musical plans for the film, Lunn commented, ‘At first it was like discovering a long-lost friend, but gradually I realised that we’d never really been apart; by the end it was just such a joy to revisit this material and have the opportunity to take it to a whole new level.’
The original music for the series earned Lunn two Primetime Emmy Awards (in 2012 and 2013) and an Emmy nomination in 2014, and two BAFTA nominations (2012 and 2016).
In 2015, an album entitled ‘Downton Abbey – the ultimate collection’ was released, with the Chamber Orchestra of London playing Lunn’s score.
Born in 1956, Lunn started his musical career as a member of the 80s systems music band Man Jumping. The seven-man band toured Britain and experienced relative success until splitting three years after its formation.
Lunn has since encountered more long-lasting success in the business of film and TV composition. Besides working as a music consultant for the 1994 cult romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral, he scored BBC One’s murder mystery Shetland as well as The Last Kingdom.
The composer has been particularly prolific in the field of period drama, with the music of the BBC’s reworks of Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2013), Little Dorrit (2008), nominated both for the BAFTA and the Emmy awards, and Bleak House (2006) all under his name.