Who composed the music for The Personal History of David Copperfield?

A guide to Christopher Willis's incredible score for Armando Iannucci's 2020 film adaptation of Charles Dickens's David Copperfield

Published: February 13, 2020 at 12:07 pm

British composer Christopher Willis teamed up with Armando Iannucci to create an original score for the 2020 film The Personal History of David Copperfield. The film is adapted from Charles Dickens’s novel David Copperfield and stars Dev Patel as the eponymous hero.


The pair have worked together before on The Death of Stalin, as well as on a handful of television shows.

The score has a neoclassical feel, with overlapping layers of solo instruments heard throughout. ‘The film is very bright and luminous, and absolutely full of generosity and joy,’ says Willis. ‘And the score is the same – not sepia-tinged. There’s a lot of energy, a lot of propulsion and a lot of optimism.’ Ianucci wanted the score to be wholly British, so Willis took inspiration from British composers throughout history, such as Elgar and Delius.

It has a magical quality, with what Willis describes as a sense of ‘yearning’ throughout, as Copperfield grows and develops as a character. ‘The climax of the music is actually where David starts to write’, says Willis. ‘We, and he, realise the extent to which he can now start to use his own experience.’

Willis described the soundworld of the score, which is kept fairly classic in style because the characters in the film are so eccentric as they are.

The score was performed and recorded by the Aurora Orchestra under its founder and principal conductor Nicholas Collon, an old friend of Christopher Willis. Aurora is a chamber orchestra and resident orchestra at Kings Place. It is thought to be one of the UK’s most adventurous orchestras, renowned for being the first professional orchestra to perform entire symphonies without sheet music.


Inside the Music of The Personal History of David Copperfield with Christopher Willis:


Freya ParrDigital Editor and Staff Writer, BBC Music Magazine

Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.

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