Written by Kara Talve

When I learned I’d be writing the score for The Tattooist of Auschwitz alongside Hans Zimmer, my initial reaction was a mix of astonishment and out and out fear of the overwhelming task before me, and I remember being extremely flattered and thinking to myself: There’s no way I can do this. The subject matter is incredibly important, complex, time relevant, and I think I speak for the whole music team when I say that we took the responsibility of doing the story justice as a personal crusade especially when me, Hans and Russell Emanuel (score producer) all have family connections directly to the Holocaust.

My Grandma Matty was nine years old when the Nazi’s invaded Paris. The officer’s knocked on the door of her family apartment with a list of names, intending to arrest everyone who resided there. Miraculously, my Grandma’s name was not on the list—it was a total fluke, and the officers pointed at her in question. Her mother pushed her out of the way, saying something along the lines of “She’s not on your list, so you have no business with her”.

My young Grandma escaped through the fire escape, running to her piano teacher, André Levallois, who was working with the French Resistance at the time. She hid Grandma and several other Jews for the duration of the war. When the war was over, Grandma’s piano came overseas with her from Paris to Brooklyn, and when she passed away just a few years ago, I inherited that very piano which lives in my studio. I always wanted to use her piano to write music for a greater cause, and The Tattooist of Auschwitz seemed like the perfect series for that.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz | Official Trailer | Peacock Originalwww.youtube.com

The piano itself retains its original condition and tuning, and it is exactly this imperfection that transports you back to the 1940s and is the sonic DNA of the score. The piano can sound incredibly intimate and human, while the lower keys sound very dark and disturbing. In this series, all of the above exist. While the series focuses on Lali and Gita’s love story, it isn’t a simple or traditional love story in any way… It’s love in the darkest place. When we were finding the initial tone for the score, Hans said something very impactful that really resonated with me. “If we are sentimental, we will fail”, and this stuck with me through the whole score. We had to be deeply emotional without being sentimental, or over the top with the music. I learned so much from Hans; as we all know, he is a profound composer, but he is equally a masterful storyteller.

Throughout the series, there is a distinctive way of marking death. When another innocent life is lost, there is a moving portrait of their face. It forces the viewer to really look into the eyes of the person who died, rather than looking at the deaths as statistics; it’s also a reminder that murder was constantly happening at Auschwitz, it was “normal” practice within this factory of death. These portraits were very inspiring imagery to us. The musical cue that plays over each portrait became one with the picture, as director Tali Shalom-Ezer said. The sound was made by creating a massive impact by hitting a cluster of keys in the low end of Grandma’s piano. It made this interesting, bell-like tone, it almost sounded like a train whistle, and the railroad network played such a crucial role in transporting people to Auschwitz, and other horrific camps. It's very haunting to hear his sound over the portraits.

'The Tattooist of Auschwitz'Peacock

I have to mention that there are incredible musicians playing on this score; without them, telling the story wouldn’t be possible. String instruments can convey so much emotion, especially when you have masterful players like Leah Zeger, Molly Rogers, and Louisa Byron on violin. We had the privilege of working with cellist Tina Guo; her gorgeous interpretation of the love theme appears all throughout the series, as well as the dark, brooding string effects she played for the darker moments in the series.

We also had the incredible Luanne Homzy and Alyssa Park play the violin duet over the Gypsy evacuation scene in episode 4, which was so heartbreakingly beautiful. That was a difficult scene to score, but again, being mindful to not be epic or excessive over the harrowing images, the duet seemed like a respectful way to underpin the emotion in the scene.

The collaboration we had with director Tali Shalom-Ezer, and producer Claire Mundell was like none other. We all formed a very quick bond, which I think is so important on a project like this one. From the very beginning we all talked about having a score that was abstract and emotional, and never illustrative. They were always reminding us that the actors need to lead the scene, never the music. The images in this show really speak for themselves, and the story itself is a powerful truth on its own, so we had to keep in mind that the music should subtly support, and never be too epic. It didn’t need to be.

I know I speak for the whole music team when I say we really admire Tali and Claire and the teams at Sky and Synchronicity. They took on a nearly impossible task, and everyone within every department of production put their heart and soul into this project. Our collaboration with Russell, our score producer, was truly special. He is our extra pair of (very great!) ears, on every single piece of music in this series, and he always brings fresh ideas to the score. He is always there to make sure we are fulfilling the vision of the client while still encouraging creative experimentation.

Without him, none of it would be possible!

Kara Talve

A true highlight of this project was collaborating with the one and only Barbra Streisand. She sings “Love Will Survive”, over the end credits of episode 6. The song is written by Hans, Walter Afanasieff, and myself, with lyrics by Charlie Midnight. It is executive produced by Russell Emanuel and Jay Landers, and arranged by William Ross. The song’s melody is derived from Lali and Gita’s love theme. Hearing the London Symphony Orchestra play the song, along with Barbra’s gorgeous, iconic vocals, was a moment that only comes once in a lifetime. I still can’t listen to her sing it without crying!

Working on this series was an incredible challenge and once in a lifetime opportunity that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It’s our responsibility as artists and storytellers to keep telling stories like The Tattooist of Auschwitz. This series is about one of the most horrendous events in history, and it doesn’t shy away from these horrors because we must never forget them. However, it's also a beautiful story, of love, hope, and survival—an important reminder to humanity that love is the only thing that can overcome evil.