Da Vinci’s Demons: The Hierophant

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“Da Vinci’s Demons” returns after a week-long hiatus, and what a big week it is. I’m thrilled to say that my original score has been released digitally by Sparks & Shadows!  This marks the first time in my career that a television album has been released while the episodes are still airing. This has always been one of my dreams and I’m very excited that everyone at S&S pulled it off.

The “Da Vinci’s Demons” album contains over 90 minutes of music, across 26 tracks.  It is available digitally from iTunes, Amazon and other digital retailers. We’re working on a physical CD set for later this year. Interestingly, this is the first television album I’ve ever released where the cues are presented in chronological order.  I normally put the cues in an aesthetically pleasing order.  However, the development of the themes on this series is so crucial that no other order would have made sense.

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Tonight’s episode, “The Hierophant,” is well-represented on the album, and for good reason.  The episode is packed with revelations and big payoffs, and contains the most emotionally charged episode-closing scene yet.  Producer David S. Goyer and I asked for the resources to produce the score on a larger scale.  We brought in a female choir and an additional string orchestra to augment the intimate Calder Quartet cues.

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HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD: The first cue in the episode plays over an Ash Wednesday mass in Florence.  The score transitions into source music as the angelic female choir enters singing  “Misereris Omnium” (track 16 on the soundtrack).  The melody and lyrics are both accurate to what church-goers would have heard on Ash Wednesday during this time period.

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Music historian Adam Knight Gilbert found an entire Ash Wednesday service for me, and we went through it carefully to find the sections most likely to be used during communion.  I was drawn to the text “Miserere” (“have mercy”) because it creates a dramatic irony.  The music is calming, but there’s tension in the air.  As Clarice says “I pray for those who persecute me,” the strings sneak in behind the choir to underscore the subtle menace as we cut to the Pazzis.

In Rome, Leonardo smokes opium while trying to figure out a way to sneak into the Vatican Secret Archives.  Here, the strings quote a variation of the backward swelling chords that have always represented Da Vinci’s writer’s block, while a solo violone plays the backwards Da Vinci Theme, which usually represnts his haunted past:

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Previously, when Leonardo drifts into the inner reaches of his mind, we would see flashbacks of his youth or his mother.  In this dream, however, he suddenly finds himself sitting in his workshop back in Florence, standing before Lucrezia.

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For this dream sequence (“Visions of Lucrezia,” track 17 on the soundtrack), David S. Goyer and I wanted the scene to start off dreamy and intimate but to quickly escalate into tension.  The strings and synths create a quietly unsettling ambience, as Leonardo first notices Lucrezia humming her theme:

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As with previous episodes, I worked closely with actress Laura Haddock to record her humming her character’s theme for these sequences.  In this week’s video blog, “Lunch With The Cast,” Laura discusses working with me on these intimate and moving sequences:

Once their conversation begins, the female choir enters, humming her melody, creating a ghostly echo of Laura’s humming.  The result is wonderfully moody.  We’ve now heard Laura hum this tune several times throughout the season, and the haunting female choir adds new dimension to it. Behind the female choir, the strings slowly break apart from their harmonies and devolve into increasingly dissonant textures, like a painting dripping in the hot sun. The cue takes on a horrific quality, underlining Da Vinci’s internal conflict.

Leonardo awakens suddenly, haunted by the vision but nevertheless inspired.  He dunks his head in a bucket of water and we cut to one of the most stylish and beautiful sequences in the entire series (first half of track 16 on the soundtrack).

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The angelic female choir enters with beautiful, stacked chords while the string orchestra plays glassy harmonics.  The orchestration builds intensity, as a piccolo and harp offer an uplifting variation of the Forwards Da Vinci Theme:

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His plan is to build his theoretical dive suit and infiltrate the secret archives from underwater. As he displays his designs to Nico and Zo, the string quartet and small percussion sneak in with a rolling 6/8 pattern that will become the backbone for the next 20 minutes of the episode.

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Though the dive sequence is intercut with Giuliano and Riario subplots, I thought of this entire sequence as a montage.  So, I kept the rolling 6/8 tempo as consistent as possible throughout.  Small clicks played on the side of the bodhrán keep the percussive energy alive.  I was inspired by the successful cues I wrote for the horseback riding scenes in Episode 04 “The Magician.”  The small ticking percussion adds excitement and energy, without being overbearing.  (I thought of it as a Renaissance version of “Ocean’s 11” or “Mission Impossible.”)

During this extended sequence, the relationship between Giuliano and Vanessa is developed with a charming scene that evolves quickly into a steamy love scene.  For this moment, I had the Calder Quartet reprise the Giuliano / Vanessa Love Theme from last week’s episode:

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This sex scene is sweaty and energetic.  Normally, I wouldn’t have had any music there at all.  However, for reasons that will eventually become obvious, I wanted to use this moment to underscore their deeper, romantic connection, even though we’re really only seeing the physical connection at the moment.

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Sadly, it seems Giuliano is not ‘up’ for it at the moment.  Vanessa opts to give him some… well, oral encouragement.  From there, we cut back to the dive sequence for a tense scene where Da Vinci nearly suffocates because Nico and Zo stop the air pump to hide from guards.

The fact that these two scenes were connected by one musical cue actually created a moment of hilarity on the scoring stage.  After I conducted the first take of this cue, I distinctly remember everyone in the booth laughing.  I eventually figured out that it was the name of the cue that had everyone in stitches. Because most of the cue covered the suffocation sequence, I only thought about that scene when I named the cue: “The Pump Stops.” When watching the video playback, everyone in the booth assumed, understandably, that the title was actually a reference to Giuliano needing some, ahem, assistance. I cracked up when I realized how hilariously appropriate the cue name was, completely by accident.

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Later in the same sequence, we meet the entire group of conspirators that Pazzi has assembled.  Throughout this chilling scene, we realize the depths of the Pazzi hatred for the Medici, accompanied by icy lutes or ominous violone playing the Pazzi Theme:

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Back at the Vatican, the dive sequence finally culminates in a badass scene where Da Vinci rises out of the steam in the Pope’s bath.  The scene looks like something out of a Batman movie, and I scored it as such.  The female choir soars with a Gothic statement of the Forward Da Vinci Theme, while the strings play tremolo arpeggios, cascading downwards, emulating the water falling off his body as he rises.

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Under threat of his life, Sixtus leads Da Vinci into the Vatican Secret Archive.  This entire sequence is underscored with a lush and haunting choral and orchestra passage, one of the most interesting cues for the entire series (“Treasures of the Vatican,” Track 18 on the album).

I wanted the text for these scenes to be profound and mystical, without being overtly Catholic. Even though Sixtus is the head of the Catholic Church, we glimpse in this scene that he hoards knowledge even broader than Christian mythology.  So, I felt that using liturgical music here simply wouldn’t be exciting enough.

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Adam Gilbert found a perfect text for me: the Latin text for Hermes Trismegistus’ Emerald Tablet.  This text is frequently considered the source of the misguided alchemy tradition in the Renaissance, and was eventually translated for the Medici in 1541 by Marisilio Ficino (a few years after this story, but I still think the text would have likely been there, hidden in the archives).

The work is a treatise on the sun and the moon, and how all things in the heavens are like on earth.  I used almost the entirety of the text, but I rearranged the lines as needed in order to put provocative texts over certain images. For example, when Da Vinci first enters the secret archives, the choir angelically proclaims in Latin:

“The father of the whole world is here.”

At first, Da Vinci won’t be seduced.  An ominous viola da gamba reminds us that Leonardo still sees Sixtus as a villain, by stating the Rome Theme:

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Da Vinci states his purpose in infiltrating the Archive, telling Sixtus he seeks the second key to open the Vault of Heaven.  Here, the strings offer a heroic statement of the Sons of Mithras Theme:

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In an unexpected move, Sixtus approaches Da Vinci suddenly with kindness.  He offers him the whole of the Secret Archive, in exchange for his loyalty.  Here, the angelic choir offers another line from the Emerald Tablet:

“You will separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the dense, sweetly, with great skill.”

Da Vinci is hooked, overwhelmed with curiosity about what secrets the archive holds and he follows the Pope to the throne, which is revealed to be a fantastic corkscrew elevator.  Here, the orchestra kicks into overdrive and the female choir soars above, singing the text:

“Its power is whole if it has been turned into earth.”

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At the heart of the Secret Archives, Sixtus makes good on his offer and reveals to Da Vinci astonishing secrets and artifacts.  (Is that the Arc of the Covenant over there? The Sword in the Stone? And is that… Kryptonite?!)

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For this scene I composed what I think is one of the most thematically sophisticated cues I’ve ever written. As Leonardo enters, the string orchestra enters with a haunting ostinato:

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The pattern sounds elegant and mysterious, but is in fact built from the intervals of the Rome Theme.  Emulating the Pope’s offer, there is a layer of menace directly beneath the gently lulling surface. The choir enters with rich chords, singing further text from the Emerald Tablet:

“Thus you will have the Glory of the whole world. Therefore will all obscurity flee from you.”

Their melody is long and lyrical.  The angelic voices disguise the true nature of the melody: The Rome Theme.  In this arrangement, the theme sounds beautiful and exotic, underlining Leonardo’s genuine temptation.

Undaunted, Da Vinci asks once again after the Book of Leaves, and the Pope scoffs, telling him that The Turk is deceiving him.  Naturally the score quotes the Sons of Mithras theme once more, but here it is presented in a twisted light.  Dark harmonies lay underneath an English horn’s piercing solo.  The melody is distended, perverted. The upward leaps that used to signify hope, reach increasingly further upward, beyond notes that fit the key and into dissonant pitches.

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This moment is a classic example of musical role reversal.  For six episodes, the Rome Theme has sounded evil and the Mithras Theme has been hopeful.  Here, I scored the scene from the Pope’s perspective.  After all, he doesn’t think he’s the bad guy. Instead, the Rome Theme is angelic and uplifting.  The Mithras Theme is sinister and twisted.  This helps underline Da Vinci’s internal conflict.  For a moment, we must believe that Leonardo might actually be ready to give up everything and everyone he’s fought for in exchange for the knowledge the Pope offers him.

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Sixtus saves his best card for last, when he says that he can reunite Da Vinci with his mother.  At this mention, the strings quote an evocative statement of the theme that represents her, the Backwards Da Vinci Theme.

Ultimately, Da Vinci resists Sixtus’ offer and runs to escape the oncoming guards.  In a funny moment of misdirection, we cut from there to a figure emerging from the water in the dive suit who we assume is Leonardo.  Here, the score quotes a warm and resolved version of the Da Vinci theme.  The only reason its there is just to momentarily divert the audience from thinking “Wait a minute.  How’d he get back there so fast?”  Ideally, the cue helps you relax for just long enough to enjoy the sting when the dive helmet is removed, revealing Riario.

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Meanwhile, in the Vatican, Da Vinci confronts a huge Vatican knight.  I really enjoyed this scene because it plays just like those scenes in the classic Indiana Jones movies where he confronts a huge boss villain (usually played by Pat Roach).  The score is adventurous and fun, with a bouncing hurdy gurdy solo set against charging strings and percussion.  (This passage can be heard in the last minute of Track 18 “Treasures of the Vatican” on the album.)

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After defeating the knight, Da Vinci ascends to the top of a tower where we have the scene that is, for me, the defining one of the episode.  Leonardo is about to make his escape out the window when he hears a man humming a familiar tune: Lucrezia’s Lullaby.  He stops.  The high strings enter with a suspenseful tone as we flash back to Lucrezia humming it while shaving him in Episode 05.  In the score, Lucrezia’s humming enters in unison with The Prisoner’s.

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This sequence was the result of many months’ of labor.  Even when I scored the first episode, I knew Lucrezia’s Theme would eventually be used in this way.  So, I worked carefully with actress Laura Haddock to make sure she hummed it correctly in Episodes 04 and 05, so it would clearly identifiable.  That also added extra creative pressure on me when I wrote her theme, because her melody had to be so memorable that the audience would also remember it, in order for this payoff to truly work.

There really is a complicated narrative point to sell here, and it took some planning.  First, Leonardo hears The Prisoner humming the melody in the room.  We know this because he stops what he’s doing and turns around.  Then, he remembers Lucrezia humming the same tune.  We know this because we cut to a flashback of her humming.  But, obviously, Lucrezia isn’t in the room physically.  She’s a memory.  So, while the humming of The Prisoner is very dry, with minimal reverb, Lucrezia’s vocals are soaked in dreamy echoes.  The result works beautifully.  We immediately understand what is in the room and what is in his mind.

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My sessions with these actors were really fun.  Due to logistics, we couldn’t record them at the same time.  So, I first recorded The Prisoner vocals and then we added Laura’s humming on top of them.  It was a fantastic experience to bond with both actors and interact with them, an experience that’s fairly rare for a composer.

Leonardo is drawn to the cell and begins to speak with the Prisoner, who we learn is the composer of the melody (Wait a minute… does that mean I’m actually the Prisoner!!??).  As they speak, a solo viola da gamba offers a lonely statement of the Prisoner Theme, last referenced in Episode 03:

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As Da Vinci pieces together that the mysterious Prisoner is, in fact, Lucrezia’s father, the score modulates and the female choir enters with a luscious arrangement of her primary theme.  As we finally get long-sought details behind Lucrezia’s motivations, the choir gently continues with Lucrezia’s Theme, even singing the more rarely heard secondary theme:

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Da Vinci slowly puts the pieces together in his mind, and the score gradually provokes him.  Rolling developments of the Lucrezia Theme pile up on one another as he moves step by step towards deducing that she is actually a spy for Rome.  At last, as he figures it out, the small brush percussion that signifies his mental gears turning kick in.  The pieces fall together and the orchestra strains with conflict, while the choir returns with ominous statements of the Lucrezia Theme.  Though the revelation for Da Vinci is huge, the score here is restrained and creepy.  Instead of playing a huge reveal, the music pities him for not being able to figure this out sooner.

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The score kicks into high gear as guards bash at the door, and the Prisoner refuses to leave the cell with him.  For these alternating cuts, the score jumps back and forth between the Rome Theme (for the guards) and the Prisoner Theme, performed with the signature Japanese bansuri double that was introduced in Episode 03.

The following morning, Da Vinci finds, to his surprise, that Nico and Zo have captured Riario and claimed the second key. The score at this crucial moment minimal and simple. After the bombastic and revelatory Vatican sequences, I wanted to have a moment to calm down, and get into the characters’ heads a little more.  The string quartet plays creepy statements of the Rome Theme in high harmonics as Riario seethes.  The ethnic duduk offers a solitary statement of the Mithras Theme as Da Vinci takes the key.

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The episode’s final scene begins on figure wearing a mask appropriate for a leper.  Here, I played a bizarre hurdy gurdy solo.  The unique sound was achieved by playing the melody on the string intended solely for drones.  With no fret board or wooden keys to press against, I simply pinched the string between two fingers as it was being vibrated by the turning wheel.  This created all sorts of bizarre harmonics, and I was able to bend the pitch simply by moving my wrist slightly.  It took forever to get a few takes that worked, but the sound is undeniably alien.

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Riders from Rome engage the figure in pursuit and an energetic percussion groove kicks in (the beginning of Track 20 “Red in the River” on the soundtrack).  The groove is layered from bodhrán and small brushes, but the real star of the track is an African instrument made from a clay jar, called an udu.

The figure is revealed to be Lucrezia and she seems doomed until Giuliano and Bertino intervene, introduced by a deep statement of the Medici Theme:

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Alas, during the conflict, Lucrezia is revealed to be the spy in Lorenzo’s ranks and a fight breaks out.  The udu-driven percussion track returns, this time augmented by chugging strings and slamming toms.  After the battle, all have fallen except Lucrezia and a badly wounded Giuliano who confronts her about betraying their family.

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Here, the score is dramatic and tense, the string orchestra modulating with every revelation and insult hurled at Lucrezia.  The texture builds intensity and finally breaks when Lucrezia stabs Giuliano in the stomach.

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The final moments of the episode lurch to elegant slow motion and the female choir enters with a new theme, the Giuliano Death Theme:

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At first, I was conflicted about writing a new theme for this moment.  I tried many variations of previously established Medici Themes.  But nothing worked.  This heartbreaking chorale is all about the emotion.  I didn’t want to cloud the scene with references to the Medici Theme, or the Giuliano / Vanessa Theme. This scene had to remain pure.  Simple choral chords are separated by moments of silence before the strings return once more, carrying us into black as Giuliano’s body floats downstream.  (Notice that the sound design is virtually nonexistent.  David Goyer encouraged the sound design to be minimal here, so we can focus on the emotion in the music.)

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Goyer also pointed out in early spotting sessions that it would be almost comically distracting to transition immediately from Giuliano’s corpse in the river to the bouncing and adventurous Da Vinci End Credits Theme.  So, instead, I wrote a final statement of the Giuliano Death Theme for choir only that carries us through the credits.  This is one of the joys of working on Starz, because I can actually use the end credits music to help finish the story without fear of them being smashed to the side while an inappropriate promo bashes us in the face (** cough! cough! ** unlike almost every other network on television! ** cough! **).

This cue, “Red in the River,” underscores a tragic and unexpected end to a character who I’d surprisingly grown to love.  What about you guys?  Were you sad to see him go?

Speaking of sad, there is only one remaining episode of “Da Vinci’s Demons” and thusly only one more blog entry to go. Thank you all for following along my musical journey with this remarkable series.  See you next week for the big finale!

-Bear