‘Ripley’ Composer Says Tom Ripley’s ‘Sinister’ Emotions Inspired Series’ Sound



Music for drama can take on various styles and colors, as demonstrated by three of this year’s most talked-about miniseries.

Jeff Russo spent two and a half years thinking about, and composing, the score for “Ripley,” Steven Zaillian’s eight-part thriller about a sociopath (Andrew Scott) who finds the high life in 1960s Italy worth killing for.

“Every piece of music I wrote was related to Tom Ripley,” Russo (an Emmy winner for “Fargo”) says of the Netflix series. “It all had to do with Tom’s state of mind. We’re either in Tom’s head — the tension that he feels, the off-kilter feeling that he feels, or the sinister aspect of what he’s feeling.”

Zaillian gave Russo the key: Don’t start with episode 1, start with episode 7 (as the Italian police are closing in). “He wanted me to write the almost-end [of the story] and then deconstruct all that material to score episodes 1, 2 and 3, and he was exactly right.”

Russo also wrote, and plays (on guitar and variations on the mandolin called the mandola and mandicello) the colorful Sicilian-flavored music in the series. A 32-piece orchestra performed the score.

Courtesy of Apple TV+

For the Apple TV+ “Lessons in Chemistry,” Carlos Rafael Rivera experimented with various musical approaches, some of them quite unconventional, but eventually turned back to a straightforward orchestral score, but with themes specific to the characters at the center of the story.

Elizabeth (Brie Larson) starts out as a brilliant chemist, becomes a single mom and then a TV cooking-show star. “She’s a woman of our time, one who belongs to today. I started thinking, what if the melody reflects her life story, her unexpected journey? It goes to unexpected places. It doesn’t do what a standard melody does. That was the goal.”

Rivera, a two-time Emmy winner (“Godless,” “The Queen’s Gambit”), also wrote themes for her lover Calvin (Lewis Pullman)—”he grounds her, brings the humanity, the empathy”—and their daughter Mad. “There are scenes where all three themes are playing one after another in the same cue, and it really feels like a tapestry,” he says.

The series featured jazz singer Mildred Bailey’s 1940 recording “Wham (Re Bop Boom Bam)” under the main-title visuals for seven episodes, but Rivera’s Elizabeth theme replaced it for the eighth and final episode.

Palm Royale composer Jeff Toyne opted for an orchestral score.
Courtesy of Apple

For “Palm Royale” composer Jeff Toyne, the mandate was simple: Score the comedy-drama, set in Florida in the late 1960s, as if the film was being made then. “No samplers or synthesizers. Very orchestral and really thematic.”

In preparation, Toyne immersed himself in the music of the period (everything from Yma Sumac and the Swingle Singers to the orchestras of Henry Mancini, Pete Rugolo and Hal Mooney).

There are “a dozen or more” character themes, Toyne says, including ones for Maxine (Kristen Wiig), Douglas (Josh Lucas) and Norma (Carol Burnett). He remembers getting in the mood by watching “Valley of the Dolls,” drinking a grasshopper and realizing that the ice in his shaker, and pills in a bottle, would make great percussive noises in the score.

Toyne convinced creator-showrunner Abe Sylvia that the ’60s-style jazz needed to be recorded in L.A. to achieve an authentic period sound. He worked for five months on the 10-part Apple TV+ series.


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