Da Vinci’s Demons: The Blood of Man

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Season two of Da Vinci’s Demons has launched on Starz. Hear exclusive score clips from the new season in my new video blog, which also features a conversation with series star Tom Riley!

During the first season of Da Vinci’s Demons, I introduced about a dozen character themes, set in a soundscape built from both Renaissance and contemporary instrumentation. Leonardo had his main theme, constructed as a palindrome, inspired by Da Vinci’s ability to write forwards and backwards. The Medici Theme was based on a true historical melody composed by the Medici court composer Heinrich Isaac in the late fifteenth century. The score was rounded out by the ominous Rome Theme, the delicate Lucrezia Theme as well as themes for the Pazzi Family, The Turk, The Sons of Mithras, Vlad the Impaler, Giuliano de Medici, Vanessa, Cosimo de Medici, The Pope’s Twin Brother and many sub-themes built for characters within larger factions, such as Clarice, Mercuri and Riario. For each episode, I introduced new themes and concisely developed the previously-existing ones as needed.  Season one was ambitious, but manageable.

Season two… was merciless.

‘Relentless’ is perhaps a better word, for the audience who gets to watch it. The narrative moves forward at a rapid pace, with each scene progressing the story quickly. For me, however, the word is ‘merciless.’  There was no easing in to the music this time around. From the opening instant of the score, I was thrust back into the heat of the season one cliffhanger.  I had to juggle all the themes as we catch up with all the characters.  It was a dive into the deep end of a frigid pool after sitting in a hot tub.

Juggling all the themes from the first season alone would be a tremendous challenge.  At the same time, however, I had to compose and balance new themes as new characters and story arcs were introduced.  This season you will hear themes representing a host of characters from Naples, Peru and the Ottoman Empire.

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The extreme geographic disparity here also required an obvious expansion of the instrumental palette. I researched the period music associated with Naples for the themes for King Ferrante and his arrogant son Alfonso. We arranged for indigenous singers to come down from the mountains in Peru to a recording studio in Lima to record vocal chants historically accurate to the pre-Columbian world that Da Vinci and his cohorts will venture into. Middle Eastern percussion and new woodwinds will work their way into the score as we introduce new characters from the Middle East.

These new elements could generate enough musical material to justify an entire score by themselves.  My ultimate challenge this season was to combine the new material with the substantial body of themes from the first season. Nothing I created in season one could be tossed – it all had to be expanded upon in the second season, while I simultaneously introduced and developed the new instruments, themes and players.

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Honestly, looking back at the season now, having completed the final episode, I am amazed at how far the score has evolved.  If I had realized how big this score would get as I set out to score the season premiere, “The Blood of Man,” I would probably have frozen in my tracks. Fortunately, I didn’t think about it. I just dove in, picking up the musical notes where I had last left them. The resultant score, in my opinion, is the most narratively ambitious and thematically layered music I have ever written.

In the past, I’ve written blog entries for each episode that walk through a show scene-by-scene to explain which themes are used in each moment.  To attempt something like this for Da Vinci’s Demons season two would be pure madness. There are simply far too many musical quotations to reference.  Virtually every scene is comprised of thematic variations for the characters within that scene. For me, this traditionally operatic approach was taken to new extremes this season.

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For example, after the extended prologue set in Peru, Pazzi and Riario charge into the chapel looking for Da Vinci and Lorenzo. The score accompanies their frantic search with a driving ostinato in the quartet and percussion. A viola da gamba quotes the Rome Theme, representing Riario, while the lutes quote the Pazzi Theme.  The themes bounce back and forth along with the dialog between the two characters.

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Or another example. Later in the episode, Leonardo has a vision of Lucrezia set mysteriously in what appears to be a Peruvian temple. As she speaks to him, a choir quotes a gentle version of the Lucrezia Theme. As soon as she makes her case, and Da Vinci replies, the score modulates and quotes the Da Vinci Theme. They hear a sound, and turn to see mysterious figures walk in to the chamber. These figures reveal themselves to be Lorenzo, Vanessa, Nico, Zo and Riario. As their faces quickly crossfade from one to the next, the score smashes quotations of all their various themes on top of one another. In the span of a single minute, the score quotes virtually every primary character theme in the series.

Or here’s a better one, yet! Towards the end of the episode, Riario captures Zo and Nico aboard the Basilisk. The scene is scored initially as one would expect – Riario walks into the frame and the score announces him, quoting an ominous version of the Riario Theme (itself, a variation of the Rome Theme). He takes items from Zo, and for each item, a new score quotation enters the music.

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Riario finds a map of South America: a South American wind instrument called a quena sneaks in, an instrument that will come to represent a character we will meet there. He finds the skin of the Abyssinian: the score quotes the dissonant clusters from the tragic final cue of the episode “The Devil,” when Leonardo discovers the map on the Abyssinian’s flesh. Riario finds the astrolabe: the score quotes the wailing Cosimo de Medici Theme that was last heard during the scene when Da Vinci first found the astrolabe in the season one finale.

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Then, Riario brings Lucrezia into the room as his prisoner and the orchestral strings combine with her signature Celtic harp to quote a diminished version of her theme, representing the trouble she’s in.  As Riario pronounces that he will execute Zo and Lucrezia, the orchestral strings return to tremolo statements of the Riario Theme.  The scene ends and cuts to the mysterious prisoner observing a shimmering light through his cell window and the score quotes his theme, first introduced in the episode “The Prisoner,” played on his signature viola da gamba combined with a Japanese bansuri.

See what I mean?  That cue I just described is three minutes long.  Three minutes… out of forty (the typical length of the music in each hour-long episode of season two).  That level of thematic detail is always there, present in virtually every scene.

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Rather than reading through each and every scene in my blogs, I think it will be more fun for you, the musically-minded audience, to discover the thematic variations as they come. With my blogs this season, I will leave the details of the thematic detective work to you. If you ever have questions about particular scenes, the comments on these blog entries is a great place to leave them.  My goal this season is to point out the major musical changes, highlight new themes, and to reminisce on my experience scoring each episode.

With all that as my preamble to the season, let’s get into Episode 201, “The Blood of Man.”

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After a prologue that takes place in Peru (in the future), we are dropped back into the season one finale. Musically, I took my cue from this move and wrote an epic, thirteen-minute action cue that picks up right where the epic thirteen-minute “Easter Massacre” track from season one left off. The first fifteen minutes of this episode are intense enough to be a season finale, and in some ways, that’s exactly what they are, as this episode wraps up the narrative threads of the first season while introducing the story arcs that will become the bulk of the new season.

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Thematically, this epic cue reintroduces all the primary character themes. As Da Vinci drags Lorenzo through the sewers, and has the idea to shoot out the keystone in the arch above them, you will hear a full quotation of The Da Vinci Theme:

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His pursuers, hot on his heels, also have their themes woven throughout these scenes.

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The Riario Theme:

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And the Pazzi Theme:

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The Pazzi Theme is also used during the riots in the streets of Florence as the odious Jacopo Pazzi leads his followers to chants of “Death to the Medici!”

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During Lorenzo’s absence, Clarice struggles to establish herself as the leader of the family.  These scenes are all underscored with the signature English Horn variation of the Medici Theme that represents her character:

The riotous first twenty minutes of “The Blood of Man” provided an excellent opportunity for me to feature vocals in the score.  Above the pounding percussion, driving strings and Renaissance instruments, I set Latin text for an ethereal female choir, and featured boy soprano Sam Bindschadler. (You can hear excerpts from this piece in my new video blog.)

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The liturgical text provided a direct connection to the final cue from the first season. The most striking use of vocals comes in the disarmingly ethereal choral music when the youngest Medici daughter is caught in the battle and is about to trampled to death by horses. Somehow, the latin text sung by the female choir and boy soprano made her even more vulnerable, and gave the scene a new layer of terror.

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I also featured a choir on what turned out to be my favorite cue in the episode, the blood transfusion scene.  The scene begins with the Calder Quartet playing a simple chord progression in a bouncing 9/8 pattern. As Da Vinci’s frantic enthusiasm grows, the Celtic harp and orchestral strings are introduced. Finally, as we fly into his revelatory visions of the heart and the circulatory system, the choir and boy soprano burst into the soundtrack in a glorious crescendo. This piece turned out beautifully, and remains one of my favorite moments in the entire season. (This moment can also be heard in the video blog.)

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Sam Bindschadler’s haunting vocals return singing a haunting rendition of Leonardo’s Theme over the episode’s end credits. This establishes a new rule for the series: you will never hear the same end credit music twice! Each episode’s credits will feature a continuation of the cue from the last scene in the episode. This is a trend I started with the last two episodes of season one, and for season two executive producer David S. Goyer and I decided to make it law.  Because, you know… I never like to make things easy for myself.

“The Blood of Man” also introduces three new themes that will become increasingly important as the series progresses.

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As Riario prepares to leave for Pisa, his slave girl Zita begs him to bring her. In a rare sign of compassion, he is swayed and allows her to come. This scene is scored with an exotic chord progression that echoes the faraway land of Zita’s birth. This progression gets especially crunchy when the D drone is set against an Eb major chord, putting the major seventh in the bass of the chord. This sound will come to function as The Zita Theme:

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The Pope visits his imprisoned twin brother toward the end of the episode.  As their dialog bounces back and forth, the score volleys their two competing themes, The Rome Theme and the Prisoner Theme. Towards the end of the scene, the Prisoner suggests an alliance with King Ferrante of Naples.  Here, the lutes pluck out a short statement of the Naples Theme:

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This short quotation will expand in later episodes as we get to know Ferrante and his violent son, Alfonso.  This melody is derived from a medieval song called “L’homme armé” (“The Armed Man”) which historically relates to Naples. I will delve into further detail about this tune in next week’s blog.

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The most important new theme introduced in “The Blood of Man” is for the enemies of the Sons of Mithras, who also quest for the Book of Leaves. Al-Rahim warns Da Vinci of an enemy more ancient and vicious than the Vatican, the “enemies of man,” who attack Da Vinci in his visions in the form of the Horned God.  This scene is scored with creepy female vocals and a solo duduk stating the Horned God Theme:

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David S. Goyer described this group as “The Sith to the Mithras’ Jedi.” They stand against the Sons of Mithras in every way possible. I was intrigued by this idea and used it to create their theme. The Horned God Theme is an inversion of the Sons of Mithras Theme – it is the same melody but it has been turned upside down! When inverted, the harmonic relationships get all screwed up, and the elegant harmonies of the Mithras Theme become bizarre and distorted. My favorite part of the theme is when the C minor tonic chord modulates up to C# minor. At this point, the E natural in the melody just sticks out like a sore thumb, because it would have been a clashing major third in the original C minor chord. It is delightfully creepy.

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The Horned God also has a textural thematic component. I was struck by the minotaur imagery of the Horned God, and wanted to give this faction a musical reference to ancient Greece, especially because Al-Rahim implies they hail from a time pre-dating the Christian church. I used clusters of Greek bouzoukis sustaining tremolo chords, fading in and out of the sinister score. The bouzouki is a stringed instrument heard frequently in Greek dance music, but in this context it provides a subtle, creepy texture that will become a signature sound for these terrifying characters.

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“The Blood of Man” is an action-packed, ambitious episode, the perfect start to what will be a remarkable season. As you can tell, my timing with these blog entries will be a little delayed. I want to give fans a chance to catch up with the series on their DVRs before diving into all the musical details here. My blog entry for the second episode will be up soon.

As always, thank you for reading… and for listening!

-Bear