Early-music specialist Joel Cohen was watching the latest Netflix episode of the Royal exiles in California, when soething about the background music pricked his memory. Joel writes:
Harry and Meghan and Hans and Henry – and The Crown’s Cold Music
Episode Four of the Harry and Meghan series on Netflix has some appropriately grim and growly soundtrack music as the prince and his American wife come into contact with the strains and strictures of Buckingham Palace practice and protocol. The sounds hear in the background are aptly sinister as the schism grows between the young couple and the Palace. But hmm, something in there sounds familiar….where have I heard such relentless, repeated chords, and such an ominous bass line, before?
Well, you indeed heard something very similar to those foreboding musical passages before, and possibly many times before. The soundtrack of Harry and Meghan references the theme music before each episode of The Crown.
We understand that Netflix went an extra mile to separate its Crown megaseries from the Harry and Meghan documentary. Many news sources reported that Netflix delayed the latter show by several months, so as not to bump into/overlap with the former. And according to at least one online source (livemint.com) Prince Harry was utterly dismissive of the earlier production: “The Duke of Sussex claims that it is complete fantasy and that his only wish is that [The Crown] comes to end before it gets to him. He assured [his interlocutor] that it was undoubtedly fiction.”
Why then, the unacknowledged musical evocation, for a show presented as truthful, from an earlier series characterized as fiction? Via these similar musical motifs, the two productions are clearly and openly linked. It certainly makes for some emotional cohension, and perhaps for good marketing as well. But is it entirely cricket? Should erstwhile life so brazenly evoke semi-fiction? And will some royalties be changing hands?
Perhaps, in the end, it’s all a tribute to England’s greatest baroque musician, Henry Purcell (1659-1695). The composer for The Crown (Hans Zimmer, according to my online source) cribbed the pitches from a magnificent scena in Purcell’s semi-opera, King Arthur. In that passage (Christopher Purves – Cold Genius Aria “What power art thou” – King Arthur – Henry Purcell – YouTube) , the Cold Genius, trapped in ice, sings of his rigid, frozen status, to the chords heard at the Netflix series’ opening. Then the concept was cribbed again, for this newer series. Listening once again to that astonishing Purcell music, one is reminded of the Latin proverb Ars longa, vita brevis. The royals’ contemporary quarrels appear to be of such little import compared to the enduring genius of the seventeenth century master.
(c) 2022 Joel Cohen