Composer Jeff Beal Receives Fourth Consecutive Emmy Nom For “House Of Cards”
Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey, right) relationship with Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen, left) gave composer Jeff Beal opportunities to create unique scores.
This year, composer Jeff Beal received his fourteen Primetime Emmy nomination. His first, in 2003, resulted in his first win for “Monk”. He subsequently won two additional Primetime Emmys, for “Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King” and “The Company.” This year’s nomination is his fourth consecutive nomination for his work on “House of Cards.” While he feels incredibly honored for any recognition he receives, he’s most thankful to have been granted the opportunity to work with the show in the first place.
“Streaming brought a new model of creativity. This music (from “House of Cards”) has given me more visibility than anything in my career, and it’s all from a streaming show,” notes Beal, reflecting on many industry skeptics that questioned the value of the survival of a drama on Netflix when the series premiered in February 2013. “It’s a thrill for me to see so many nominations for the actors and their amazing performances. It’s all very amazing!”
While Beal marvels at the thrill he’s experienced being involved in the evolution of a streaming platform, he’s equally thrilled to be working on a series with so many dramatic character shifts and explorations. Reflecting back to the series that presented his first Emmy winning score,” Monk” , Beal’s score supported a character who, by the nature of his obsessive-compulsive disorder, went through very little dramatic change during the eight season fun of the series. The music focused on the infinite variations happening in the world around him. Beal sees the music in “House of Cards” as a touch stone for the growth and change the major characters undertake, as performed by Emmy nominated actors Robin Wright (Claire Underwood) who struggles to accept the morality of her actions and her personal feelings of commitment, Michael Kelly (Doug Stamper) who experiences inherent human emotions related to being physically, and mentally, “broken” and Kevin Spacey (Frank Underwood) who’s adapting to his new level of power.
“In the first two seasons Frank Underwood experienced Machiavellian transformations as he chased after his brass ring,” said Beal. “Now that he is in office, everyone is looking at him to see what they should be doing. As he lays out his ‘America Works‘ plan, he speaks like a Roosevelt; like a parent. It’s inspirational and energizing.”
Throughout season three, Beal focused in on the emotional beats that come and go throughout each episode. Using the full palette of instruments (a mixture of real and computer generated), he defined many emotional beats with classical chamber music. Viola and cellos reoccur to increase tension. Beal also introduced indigenous instruments inspired by the global stage introduced in this season’s story line, particularly Russia. Recognizing the style of Victor Petrov is modeled after classic “old style” Russian leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Beal incorporated qualities of classic Russian composers, as well as traditional instruments from regions including Palestine and Israel. While he incorporated an international flare to the score, the goal of the instrumentation was to blend organically with the story, to add a hint of location without making the sounds obvious.
“It’s tricky because it is not a travelogue. It has to be organic and help to influence the story but you want to avoid doing anything campy,” said Beal. “The music isn’t about Russia; it’s about Petrov’s personality. It all goes back to the actors and the performances.”
Crediting the vision of show runner Beau Willimon, an accomplished painter prior turned writer/producer, the music in “House of Cards” plays an important role in establishing tone and blending with the action of a scene. However Beal stresses if the music ever overtakes a scene, he’s not done his job. He’s more complimented by a person stating they know there was music but they’ve forgotten exactly what they heard. Despite its well-disguised cloak, selections of the “House of Cards” score will soon be singled out. Beal is working on a touring production that will bring selections of the series score to symphony orchestras around the world.
“I’m really excited, it’s reinvigorating to be sharing in the literature of a symphony orchestra,” said Beal.
Not to be overlooked: Beal received a second Emmy nomination this year for “Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music for the two-part mini-series “The Dovekeepers.” The mini series explores the events that toke place in the ancient city of Masada through the eyes of four empowered women. While the ancient setting and Middle Eastern local informed his instrument choices, he found creative ways to introduce an unique instrument to capture the strong female qualities.
“I used a strong soprano voice. This is something I did for Claire as well (in specific episodes of ‘House of Cards”), ” said Beal. “It’s fun to use the voice as an instrument. Its exciting and primal.”