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Double Emmy Nominee Composer Abel Korzeniowski On “Penny Dreadful”

Composer Abel Korzeniowski brings new style to a classical score.

Composer Abel Korzeniowski has had some amazing experiences. Just look at the last five years: after receiving a Golden Globe nomination for his emotional score to Tom Ford’s critically acclaimed feature “A Single Man”, Madonna invited Korzeniowski to score “W.E.” His work for Madonna’s film not only resulted in Korzenioski’s second Golden Globe nomination, but inspired the pop diva to feature selections from his score in her live show. Whenever Madonna performed “Like a Virgin” on the 2012 MDNA World Tour, Korzeniowski’s “Evgeli’s Waltz” from “W.E.” was mixed into the singer’s performance.

“Madonna has an amazing (way) to cross many barriers,” said Korzeniowski. “She made classical accessible. It had an immediate and deep effect on people who don’t necessarily listen to classical. The clash of cultures opens many possibilities in the creative mind.”

Earlier this summer, Korzeniowski discovered he received two Emmy nominations for his work on Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful”- for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music and Outstanding Music Composition for a Series. The nominations come on the heels of Korzeniowski’s BAFTA win for “Penny Dreadful.” Korzeniowski hadn’t been focused on the nominations at all – it wasn’t until he received a call from his agent that he learned the news. Completely honored and humbled, he’s trying not to let the excitement over-shadow his remaining vacation before he begins work on the third season of the series this fall.

Korzeniowski hadn’t composed music for the horror genre prior to “Penny Dreadful.”  After a discussion with director Juan Antonio Bayona, he was excited to create music for  the supernatural content that need not be specific to the genre. After reading a script, he was hooked on the concept, and excited to jump on board.

“It turned out to be very different. The writing was so poetic and sophisticated, like painting with words,” said Korzeniowski. “It was like Shakespeare, only with more accessible language.”

Before Korzeniowski began conceptualizing the score, he went through a process of “discovering dark beauty.” Set in Victorian England, “Penny Dreadful” presents a world where the evil monsters from classic literature, such as Dracula and Frankenstein, are real. He explored the themes of the cultures of evil and the effect their holds can have when introduced to a beautiful setting. His goal was to blend dark nature with positive emotions and warm feelings. To enhance the mood, Korzeniowski chose to use very few instruments; a choice directly reflecting the show’s use of small, confined spaces, particularly chambers and tiny rooms indicative of the Victorian local.

String instruments are used at the core of the compositions. Piano accompaniments are introduced to highlight intimacy. Korzeniowski does pepper the score with electronic instruments, but embeds them in ways that are organic to the ear, highlighting key plot points and beats.

“I avoid references that are too modern,” said Korzeniowski. “The inspiration for my choices comes mostly from the actors themselves.”

Korzeniowski looks for instrumentation that matches the story arc for each character. He’s worked to ensure the sound doesn’t feel processed or out-of-place. While avoiding a heavy electronic back beat, he is not concerned with maintaining historical accuracy in overall presentation of the music or instruments chosen. The theme that represents the character of Jean Clare – a creature prominently featured in the series – Korzeniowski used a modern minimalistic acoustic guitar.

“It is like an Indie rock song,” said Korzeniowski.

As the series progresses, Korzeniowski has enjoyed building a relationship with the editors and directors. Collaboratively, they have found ways to emphasize the music and to use it to help usher the story and dialogue.

“Music is inherent to the sequence. The editors and directors see how music can affect the language of the show, or a six-minute passage, where music affects the space,” said Korzeniowski. “More and more there is a collaborative feeling.”

“Penny Dreadful” is Korzeniowski’ s first experience with a TV series. Recognizing film and television are two different mediums with their own unique benefits, he’s enjoyed perceiving their “different visual language.” One of the most enjoyable aspects of working on the series Korzeniowski enjoys is doubling up themes.

“In a ninety minute film there isn’t as much space, but now, I can take a theme from season one to season tow,” said Korzeniowski. “It’s a second chance to take a look at it, and push it in a different direction.”

As Korzeniowski continues to enjoy his down time before “Penny Dreadful” begins ramping up for a new season, he’s keeping his options open for more film work.

“I’m very careful about writing music that engages and inspires,” said Korzeniowski.


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