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Tuned In EXCLUSIVE: The Music of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful + An Interview with Composer Abel Korzeniowski 


Showtime’s Penny Dreadful surprised me, in a really good way. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but I was so intrigued when it turned out to be so much more than your standard horror fare. Not only was I impressed with the cast and the creatures, but the story kept going in unexpected directions. And where would a great horror series be without the right music? TV Goodness has an exclusive music clip from the soundtrack as well as a Q&A with the show’s composer Abel Korzeniowski.


TV GOODNESS: How did you hear about Penny Dreadful and what made you want to be involved in the project?

Abel Korzeniowski: “Showtime specifically asked for my music, so I was really pleased to learn I have many supporters in the crew — [creator] John Logan, [director] Juan Antonio Bayona, Eva Green. All of them really enjoyed my music.”

TV GOODNESS: Tell me about your process for finding the sound of this show.

Abel: “It was very unexpected because on the surface this show has a very strong horror element. It was a big question how to approach this, how much of a classical horror genre should be in there. But John Logan and Juan Antonio wanted something much more complex and deeper. For example, for the main title sequence the only note I got from John was that he wanted it to be really emotional, so not something you would expect from this kind of show. Things are all very inspiring because the characters had multiple layers underlying their basic features. For example, you have the creature, Dr. Frankenstein’s first-born and he does all [these] atrocious deeds, and yet he has this very fragile side. He speaks in beautiful, literal English. He’s just looking for acceptance for his identity. So, all of the characters are never cartoonish. In a sense, you would have a villain, you would have a protagonist, which is good. We’re not really sure if Vanessa is a good person. She’s not really a victim. So it was a really interesting challenge to find this identity.”

Photo Credit: Pat Redmond/SHOWTIME
Photo Credit: Pat Redmond/SHOWTIME

TV GOODNESS: Speaking of character, when you were putting together their themes, were there any instruments you were gravitating towards or staying away from when you thought about them?

Abel: “Well, I naturally gravitate towards string instruments. This is just what I like, but also the very intimate interior scenes of the characters you see in the show propelled me to pursue this very intimate atmosphere. This means that I tried to avoid doing something very heavy that would overpower the theme — so, the lighter instruments, the piano, sometimes the lyrical solo violin and the flute, but not much brass.”

TV GOODNESS: Can you talk about a few of your favorite musical cues from the first season?

Abel: “Yes. The first that comes to my mind is a transgression theme. This is the one where we see Vanessa betraying her best friend, the sex scene with her friend’s fiance. This is menacing, this is dark and really demonic. I just loved continuing this theme for her love scenes and when she has encounters with the demonic incarnations through Ethan and Sir Malcolm. This was something very new to me because I haven’t had a chance to create an emotion like this in earlier [projects.] The appeal of finding beauty in darkness is something really interesting. There’s an old Italian term called terribilita, which was used to describe a beauty in nature that could be terrifying. For example, you have a really dangerous storm and this is a very different kind of beauty that can kill you. This is the thing that I really love. There’s a series of themes around Dr. Frankenstein’s creatures [that] have a more modern tonality in color and [are] lighter, more universal, not following the traditional horror stereotypes.”

Photo Credit: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME
Photo Credit: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME

TV GOODNESS: Were there any surprises or challenges you encountered during season one and if you do hit a roadblock, how do you work through that?

Abel: “The biggest challenge is always finding the right language. Overcoming any type of writer’s block is just believing that it will come at some point and that the right notes will follow. I think that the biggest challenge was time pressure, probably because we spent some time on testing different things at the beginning and trying to find the right language, the right tonality for the season. Eventually we had to work really, really fast at the end so this was definitely a challenge.”

TV GOODNESS: You’ve already starting working on season 2, right?

Abel: “I will start in December, right before Christmas.”

TV GOODNESS: Have you talked to John Logan or any of the producers about what’s coming up for the characters so you can start thinking about what you want to do or do you wait until you see a script or a rough cut?

Abel: “Well, I signed an NDA. [Laughs] So, no comment. It’s really top secret.”

Edited for space and content.

Season 2 of Penny Dreadful returns in 2015.


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