Written by Segun Akinola

I’ve always loved period dramas and period drama scores (thank you, John Lunn). Plus, I’ve been watching Columbo since I was about 9 years old (I now own the complete box set), and consider murder mysteries essential family viewing.

So when the chance to work on the BritBox adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy came along, and it was being produced by Mammoth Screen (who have made many of my period drama favs), I jumped at it. Add in the fact that the lead character, Luke Fitzwilliam, is Nigerian (I’m British-Nigerian), and it seemed like the perfect fit.

The original idea for the score referenced 1950s Hollywood music which influenced the first couple of themes I wrote whilst the series was being shot. Once the director saw some assemblies with music, however, this changed to incorporate more modern elements, and these two steers were my brief, one I had complete freedom to interpret and express.

My initial approach was to write themes for Fitzwilliam, his blossoming relationship with Bridget and a death theme. The melody of Fitzwilliam’s theme is used with orchestra a number of times at the start of the series to establish his character and on the flute in a few key mysterious moments, but there’s also a shorter motif that’s used whenever he is investigating the murders or making a discovery.

All the while, an internal battle is raging in Fitzwilliam about whether he should be in England or back home in Nigeria. To reflect this, I used the Igbo (the Nigerian tribe Fitzwilliam is from) percussive instrument Udu as part of his theme. One of many uses elsewhere in the score is alongside experimental orchestral and flute techniques when he’s having, or recounting, his forest nightmare. A nightmare through which his motherland almost calls to him.

Fitzwilliam and Bridget’s theme is first introduced after an inquest, which might sound very serious, but my direction was to underline their flirtatiousness, so I decided to use percussion instruments and rhythms associated with Latin music to achieve this. This was certainly one of those ‘love it or hate it’ moments, but thankfully the response was very positive from all involved. It’s a small moment but one I’m really pleased with because it’s not necessarily what you might expect. Experimenting with ideas and sounds is a really important part of my process, so this isn’t the only piece of music that resulted from my experiments.

Early on in the process, whilst trying out ideas, I had a feeling that ambient electronic soundscapes would work well in moments of suspense and help to differentiate the series. The director and executive producers responded positively to my initial sketches so this forms another important part of the score. For example, when Fitzwilliam and Bridget are investigating at Ashe Manor, the suspenseful soundscape accompanying them is a version of their theme, which I have manipulated and processed; as Reverend Humbleby becomes more irate at dinner and collapses, the ambient electronic soundscape increases the suspense and is felt more than heard, again helping to both underscore the drama and make this series distinctive.

Finally, we arrive at the death theme (dun-dun-duuuuun). Not only is the death theme used every time someone dies in Wychwood, but elements of the theme have been taken and used in many places to underscore the latent threat of murder throughout. In the opening titles, the melody is the same one from this death theme, and it forms the basis of the bass line, too; additionally, a combination of this melody and Fitzwilliam’s investigative motif is used as a sub-theme whenever Fitzwilliam thinks he’s closing in on the killer.

These are just two examples, but there are so many more, as every single piece of music in the score for this series is based upon one of these three themes. Sometimes in obvious ways and other times not, but always with the aim of creating a cohesive score that supports the storytelling.

I thoroughly enjoyed working on Murder Is Easy. Not just because of the great script, performances and filmmakers but also because it allowed me to combine my love of period dramas and murder mysteries with my dedication to authentically representing the music of other cultures and experimenting with ambient electronic music. All those hours watching Columbo were well worth it!