When It Comes to Shakespeare, Composer Patrick Doyle Knows the Score
Scottish composer Patrick Doyle, at the premiere of “Cinderella,” swaps the big screen for the stage for a production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”
Los Angeles Times, 27 November 2015
When it comes to writing music for the plays of William Shakespeare, few living composers can claim as much experience as Patrick Doyle, the two-time Academy Award nominee who has collaborated with Kenneth Branagh on screen adaptations including "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Hamlet."
Doyle has written music for more than 40 movies, most recently Disney's live action "Cinderella," which was released earlier this year. His latest effort represents a return to his roots on the stage: He has scored the new London production of "The Winter's Tale," co-directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford, which will be simulcast to cinemas in the U.S. on Monday.
The Scottish composer said that writing music for Shakespeare wasn't any more intimidating than scoring other movies or stage productions.
"The music shouldn't try to emulate the great master himself," he said during a recent trip to Los Angeles. It's a "vehicle for helping the audience into the strange, unorthodox language. It's a conduit. I think when you approach it from that point of view, it's not as daunting."
For "The Winter's Tale," which co-stars Branagh and Judi Dench, Doyle has composed songs and dances as well as thematic music. He said he usually takes his inspiration from the actors' delivery of Shakespeare's verse.
"A good actor with good technique picks up the beautiful rhythm in the words. Once the rhythm is established, it becomes a musical world of its own and one that I pick up on," he said, adding that he treats Shakespearean soliloquies as operatic arias.
In person, Doyle, 62, is friendly and animated. He speaks at an allegro gallop, with a thick Scottish accent that itself is often musical in its tonal variations. Growing up, he studied piano, singing and the tuba, and he graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music.
Early in his career, he worked as a music director and actor in the British theater and joined Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company in 1987. Their first collaboration was a stage production of "Twelfth Night."
"It was clear that I was part of this team instantly," Doyle recalled. "I could read his mind. I got him. There's a kind of telepathy between us."
"The Winter's Tale" is part of Branagh's new company at London's Garrick Theatre. Doyle is scoring the entire season, which includes Terence Rattigan's "Harlequinade," currently in repertory, and an upcoming staging of "Romeo and Juliet."
Working with Branagh, Doyle is often on set with the director and is sometimes required to come up with music on short notice. For "Cinderella," he received a call the day before a big ballroom scene was shot asking for a waltz to be performed on playback as cast members entered the room. "It was finished by 10 p.m. that night because it had to be ready for the sound department the next morning," recalled Doyle.
For "The Winter's Tale," he had to write most of the score in the first week of rehearsals. "It's like writing a musical in three or four days," he said.
The Branagh-Doyle partnership is similar in some ways to the close collaboration between Laurence Olivier and composer William Walton, said Peter Holland, a Shakespeare specialist at the University of Notre Dame.
Walton worked with Olivier over three decades and wrote music for his film adaptations of "Henry V," "Hamlet" and "Richard III."
"Both have tended to work with one particular director, so they build up a kind of relationship with a shorthand and set of expectations," Holland said. He cited a soliloquy in Olivier's "Hamlet" — "O, that this too too solid flesh" — as an example of the score finding the right balance with Shakespeare's words. "It's the voice harmonizing into the music," he said.
Doyle said he adheres to Branagh's mission to make Shakespeare more accessible: The music is "another means for the audience to understand this wonderful language." When he wrote the music for the rousing St. Crispin's Day speech in "Henry V," Doyle said he followed the rise and fall of Branagh's voice, leading up to the words "to the ending of the world."
"He sort of swings that line up. I felt the orchestra could do the same thing, like an orchestral burst," the composer said.
When writing the opening music for "Much Ado About Nothing," which is heard over Beatrice's line, "Sigh no more, ladies," Doyle said he adapted an unused melody from his score for Branagh's 1991 thriller "Dead Again." The reworked tune became a recurring theme throughout the movie.
"You learn by experience," said Doyle."You come up with a strong theme. That's part of your technique as a dramatic writer. That's the joy of it."