Creating the Theme for “The Hidden Shrine”

When I was commissioned to compose the music for this short TV film, I was told that it was a Victorian ghost story. How could I resist?! As I was sent snippets of the film as it was assembled, it became clear that this was a film about love and loss. At it’s heart, it is the story of a mother’s love, reaching out from beyond the grave to bring her wayward son back into the fold. So the theme needed to reflect that, as well as creating an eerie and unsettling tone.

So I think unconsciously, what I was actually working on was a lullaby of sorts. This is a piece which would work well being sung, wordless, by an almost unaccompanied female voice. I think it’s gentle classical language places it very much in the Victorian age (or at least as we tend to view it from our 21st century perspective). It’s Romantic in it’s harmonies and melodic leaps. Yet at the same time there are more modern nods to the language of contemporary thrillers and horror films. By placing a layer of string harmonics in it’s upper register, we experience a strange unease and the piece becomes ethereal, otherworldly. The piano ostinato anchors the melody down in a much-needed counterpart to this, yet at the same time gives it an inexorable feeling of fate, even of dread.

And then there is the melody. The shape is downward in the first half, and almost entirely upward in the second half. The effect of this is to first lull and then to energise. But then the very last two notes fall back down to the lower pitches, as if to crush hope once and for all. In addition, the first half is quite angular, with unusual interval falls. the second half, as the melody rises, is much more sinuous, much more flowing. That is, until the end of the melody, when the falling interval becomes angular yet again. Angular melodies can be quite unsettling, where graceful melodies floating upward might be said to represent positivity and hope. The message yet again seems to be – we are supposed to be unsettled, and though we may try to hope, in the end we will fall back down.

The theme tries to transform itself as it progresses. A fuller iteration in the orchestra, complete with a yearning line for the French horn (How I love that instrument!) however is not enough to quite dispel the unease, and the piece ends with a final bass note like a knell.

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