“Musically, there’s this sense of instability,” describes Nicholas Britell about his score for the ambitious third season of HBO’s “Succession.” In these latest episodes, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) and his father Logan (Brian Cox) are at war, so the composer wanted to address in his music questions including, “Where’s the center of power now?,” and “Who’s allied with whom?.” As a result, he wrote using predominantly “triple meter, triplets, and 3/4 time” to evoke “an off-kilter feeling.” For his work, the writer just earned his fourth Emmy nomination and third for the HBO series.
Now in his third season scoring “Succession,” Britell has had the opportunity to build upon and expand the sound that he established in earlier episodes. “As I go through it over the years, I keep learning more about the show, about the characters, about musically how things relate,” explains the composer. He credits series creator and writer Jesse Armstrong for involving him intimately in the creative process and for the “luxury of early conversations.” He describes the quintessential sound of “Succession” across all three seasons thus far as featuring “a darkness” and a “deep down sense of loss and melancholy.”
Britell earned his nomination this year for the penultimate episode “Chiantishire,” which is set in Italy and moves from Tuscany to Milan. While much of the score in the episode features “lyrical, romantic” moments as the characters luxuriate in the rural Tuscan hillside at a wedding, it turns “gothic dark” with a “biting sound” when the corporate characters head into Milan to work on the financing of a major merger. “When you’re seeing those cars driving through into the city, there’s a sense of we’re back in that corporate atmosphere, even though we’re still in Italy,” comments the composer about how he balances the unique setting with the show’s familiar business machinations in his promenade.
The episode boasts one of the most viral moments of the entire season, when Kieran Culkin’s Roman Roy accidentally sends an illicit picture to his father during a high-stakes, successful business meeting. “When I first saw that sequence, I literally had to run out of the room,” reports Britell with a chuckle. The composer believes the scene “encapsulates so much of ‘Succession,’ which is comedy and tragedy right on top of each other,” and to capture that tension he opted for a lively piece of music written in a minor key. “It almost has a bit of a dance to it. It’s got a lightness… the music is minor, but it has a dance to it,” explains the Emmy nominee. He brilliantly describes musical moments like this as “corporate chicanery,” “these corporate settings that have these bizarre tragicomic dance to them.”
Britell’s Emmy-nominated episode also concludes memorably, with an utterly despondent Kendall face down in a swimming pool. The composer appreciated the “scope” of the scene and the time Armstrong and the editors allowed for him to explore the emotion with music. He desired to allow “the music to perhaps seed this idea about what is happening here” and “letting the music add to the story,” as the audience is left to ponder whether Kendall has accidentally drowned. “The music actually becomes a character in a way,” he notes, praising Armstrong for their “great relationship and conversation” on this and “every moment” in each episode.
The season finale “All The Bells Say” also features a first for the “Succession” score, which occurs right after Shiv (Sarah Snook) learns of her husband Tom’s (Matthew Macfadyen) betrayal. For this jaw-dropping scene, Britell deliberated about how to do something “Succession” had not done before and opted to introduce a choir. The composer explains, “For me that word “Amen,” there’s a sense of conclusion… we also need to get you into Season 4. It has to summarize but also catapult a little bit.” The grand and epic composition certainly heightened the audience’s anticipation for new episodes, which are currently in production.
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