Da Vinci’s Demons: The Sins of Daedalus
August 5th, 2014
This summer has been a whirlwind, with so many exciting events occurring in succession that I can hardly keep track of them all. In the craziness, my final blog entry for Da Vinci’s Demons Season Two was put on the backburner and I let it sizzle there a bit too long. Though the episode aired months ago and a DVD release is likely months away, I’m still going to blog about it, to wrap up one of the most ambitious seasons of television I have yet scored. As you can tell from my previous blog entry, “The Enemies of Man” was a huge episode for music. By comparison, the season finale, “The Sins of Daedalus” introduces fewer new themes, but nevertheless, develops older themes in surprising ways.
SPOILERS AHEAD: The episode opens the moment the last one ended, with the death of Verrocchio, and Da Vinci’s pursuit of Carlo, his killer. Flashbacks to Da Vinci and Verrocchio are interwoven into Leonardo’s anguish as he fails to apprehend Carlo. I scored these sequences with lush orchestral variations of the chorale I wrote for the end of the last episode, the Verrocchio Death Theme:
For Leonardo’s horseback chase, I wrote a driving 9/8 string ostinato, punctuated by pulsing low percussion. Above this, the violins add urgency with a non-repeating, jittery rhythm, incorporating very fast 32nd-triplets.
This cue was a beast to lay down in the studio. Getting a large group of string players to play an ever-evolving, fast rhythmic pattern like this, and to do it in style with perfect accuracy is not easy. Thankfully, I have access to some of the best musicians in the world here in Los Angeles, and they nailed it after a few takes. I still ran this down a few extra times to fine tune it, and I think the extra studio time paid off. You can hear it on the soundtrack album, the track called “Bold and Fearless.”
At the end of this scene, I introduced in the score the only new character theme I wrote for this episode, a theme for Nico. The eighteenth episode seems a bit late in the game to introduce a theme for one of our primary characters, does it not? I had simply never found the need for it before now. In his every scene, Nico was always a supportive character, usually interacting with someone else to propel their character arc forward. So, his scenes were always scored from the perspective of that other person, typically Da Vinci or Riario.
In “The Sins of Daedalus,” his arc begins to change. He is no longer a passive character, supporting someone else’s arc. Here, he fully exerts himself as a force to be reckoned with, beginning by defiantly standing up to Clarice and introducing himself as Niccolò Machiavelli, son of the legal scholar Bernardo.
Here, the score introduces a pacing, minor ostinato in the string quartet, while a combination of recorders and dulcimers states the new Nico Theme:
The theme is odd, and intentionally a bit awkward. I deliberately set it in playful Renaissance instrumentation, that could sound comedic very easily, and wrote it in the key of C# minor, which is difficult for these instruments to hold in tune. The extra energy the players must exert to hold the melody in place, I feel, helps represent Nico’s resolve as he stands up to the most powerful woman in Florence. The mood of the theme, furthermore, is dour and pensive. There’s nothing comedic about it at all. The presence of his theme states that he has changed.
Nico’s theme recurs again later in the episode, when he uses his legal knowledge to forge Vanessa’s signature on a document giving her child the Medici name. I am hopeful there will be opportunity in the future to bring his theme back.
All the other primary character themes are where you would expect to find them. Riario’s Theme is pitted against the Labyrinth Theme in his interrogations. Clarice’s variation of the Medici Theme underscores her realization of Carlo’s true betrayal, and her decision to abandon the city. Themes for Pope Sixtus, The Prisoner, Alfonso, Lorenzo, Lucrezia, The Turk and, of course, Da Vinci, are all woven throughout their scenes.
The Ottoman Empire Theme appears in its most menacing variation yet, now accompanying expansive shots of the fleet, and representing Bayezid’s wrath. For these larger statements, I moved the theme away from the Middle Eastern woodwinds and stated it prominently in the orchestral strings for an undeniably effective “Lawrence of Arabia”-style sound. (Check out the end of “The Ottoman Empire” on the soundtrack!)
The theme to undergo the most extensive overhaul was Lucrezia’s. Bayezid used her as his emissary, to deliver his terms to the Italians. As she marches into the fort at Otranto, dressed in full Turkish attire, Middle Eastern percussion offers an exotic groove behind her. The Middle Eastern woodwind instrument, the ney, plays a melody that astute listeners will identify as the Lucrezia Theme. This time, however, the scale of her theme has been altered into the distinctly Persian-sounding scale of the instrument. The Lucrezia Theme is wearing the trappings of the Ottoman instrumentation, the musical representation of her character’s physical transformation.
The scene where Lucrezia offers the terms from the Ottoman Empire was probably the most complex I’ve had in a long while. Sure, it doesn’t look complicated, its just people standing around and talking. But, it pushed me to the limits of how quickly I could pivot between themes. In this single scene, I had Da Vinci, Lucrezia, Lorenzo, Sixtus and Alfonso, each of whom have their own themes. Narratively, the dialog was dealing with multiple story arcs: Lucrezia’s betrayal of Lorenzo, Da Vinci wanting to defend Lucrezia, Lucrezia revealing the truth about Sixtus and the Prisoner and finally, the reveal that the Ottoman Empire has larger numbers than anyone initially believed. Musically, I had to tap dance between all these various themes to follow the shape of the scene. It was a delicate balancing act, but I feel like I threaded the various themes in as needed, without shifting gears too often, in a way that would be distracting. (For a good listen, check out “The Ottoman Empire” on the soundtrack album.)
“The Sins of Daedalus” reunited Da Vinci and Lucrezia for the first time in many episodes, and as such, gave me a chance to develop the Lucrezia Theme once again. Their intimate dialog scene is scored with a cue on the album called “In This Waking Life,” featuring her theme played on a solo Irish Whistle. Bringing this theme back to the score in such a lush way made me nostalgic for their scenes throughout the first season, and I hope that same sense of longing was felt by the audience. It felt good to see these two together again, and I hope we get more of that feeling in the third season.
The episode and the season conclude with a montage, scored with a piece I called “The Fuse.” For this sequence, I introduced a new chord progression of Em-C-Gm-Eb, called The Fuse Theme:
This theme is actually woven throughout the second half of the episode, underscoring Da Vinci’s realization about the vulnerability of the fleet in the bay and the montage where Alfonso’s men build the cannon. My hope was that this simple chord progression would have already crawled into the audience’s minds by the time the final cue starts up, triggering the notion that something epic and important was coming.
The Ottoman fleet closes in as Da Vinci makes his final preparations for battle. We witness Riario joining the Labyrinth, Clarice fleeing Florence, Vanessa beoming the most powerful woman in the city, and the Pope finding his twin brother has escaped from the Castello. The intensity ratchets up until the final reveal, when Piero recognizes the Turkish Soothsayer as Da Vinci’s mother, seconds before the cannon is about to fire. Woven into the chaos of the intense orchestral music, a solitary viola da gamba states the Backwards Da Vinci Theme, the theme that has represented Da Vinci’s quest for his mother since the first episode:
A sequence like this is an absolute joy to score, because the music is required to add importance and energy, without having to comment on every single little event. Indeed, the greatest challenge in a scene like this is finding ways to maximize the adrenaline, without wearing out your welcome. So, I looked for places to bring the energy down a bit, to reset and build back up. The end result, I hope, ends the season on a thrilling note, and promises more adventure to come next season.
With that, my journey on the second season of Da Vinci’s Demons is complete. This was one of the most ambitious scores I have ever composed, with unique character themes and instrumentation woven together so intricately that I could barely keep it all in my brain. While I think the score’s defining characteristic this season will end up being the indigenous Peruvian vocals in the middle run of episodes, its legacy will likely be the introduction of the Turkish percussion and woodwinds for the Ottoman Empire that will clearly have a huge impact on the score next season. If you like what you’re hearing, Da Vinci’s Demons Season 2 Soundtrack is available digitally now, and an expanded two-CD set will be coming out later in the year, all from my label, Sparks & Shadows.
Da Vinci’s Demons Season Three debuts next year. In the meantime, be sure to check out my new series on STARZ, Outlander. The first episode is online already, and the show starts airing on Saturday!