US Gets Whiggy With ‘Victoria’

Phipps and Barrett score a hit

Victoria at the piano in an off-the-shoulder taffeta dress.

Actress Jenna Coleman learned how to convincingly “play Beethoven” for her role as Queen Victoria. (Photo: Justin Slee / ITV)

Nineteenth century England — it’s not just for prigs! From hipster TV critics to 87-year-old aunties, Americans are recovering from their Downtown Abbeyance with Victoria. The latest period extravaganza from PBS Masterpiece Theatre premiered on the UK’s ITV network in August, triggering a media tempest around the romance of stars Jenna Coleman in the title role and Tom Hughes as Prince Albert.

But the vivacious Dr. Who alumn and her smoldering consort, late of Burberry ads, aren’t the only ones making beautiful music. The original score by composers Martin Phipps and Ruth Barrett is a high point in a series so overarchingly stellar as to make individual distinction quite a feat.

Victoria — The Original Soundtrack, through Dubois Records, in cooperation with production company Mammoth Screen and distributor Masterpiece, was released digitally on all music streaming platforms the weekend of the show’s US premiere, January 15.

It was Phipps who came up with the soaring theme, featuring the period vocal ensemble Mediaeval Baebes, and established the mood with episode one. His prior credits include the BBC gangster drama Peaky Blinders (which aired here on Netflix), BBC One’s War and Peace and, with Hans Zimmer, the score for the 2015 drama of misappropriated WWII art, Woman In Gold. 

Composer Martin Phipps

Composer Martin Phipps

“The idea was to give Victoria a dynamic voice, an explosive theme through which we could rejoice in her strength and courage,” Phipps says. “The Mediaeval Baebes were the perfect sound for this. With one foot in the classical world and one in the commercial, they gave Victoria the mixture of refinement and attitude I was after.”

Barrett began as the composer of record with episode two, “weaving in some of Phipps’ original themes and creating new ones to track Victoria settling into her life as a young queen, her relationship with Albert, and the changing face of Victorian England.”

The two had previously worked together co-composing the 2009 Michael Caine film Harry Brown, and Barrett contributed additional score to Phipps’ Endgame (2009) and Brighton Rock (2010).  She made her mark with the 2009 PBS miniseries Wuthering Heights, starring Tom Hardy,  and more recently scored Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2013 film The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet.

Toward the end of season one, “The music gets epic for the birth of the railway and the first royal heir,” Barrett says. Phipps’ beautiful theme, with its refrain of chorale alleluias and glorianas, recurs in variations throughout. Its the main underscore for the big coronation scene in episode two, but Barrett manages to tease it up in subtle and unexpected places — a masterful feat.

Phipps’ musical lineage is illustrious — he is the godson of one of the central figures of 20th century British classical music, composer and conductor Benjamin Britten. When presented with the Victoria project, he reportedly leapt at the chance to write a theme for a character as vivid as the young queen, who took the throne in 1837 at the age of 18.

Composer Ruth Barrett

Composer Ruth Barrett

“Martin loved the character. Particularly her tenacity, her humanity and youth,” series executive producer Dan McCulloch of Mammoth Screen told “He wanted to score something that literally came from the heart,” and the score evokes a heartbeat at points throughout.

In her essay Music and the Victorians, Christina Bashford writes that it is “almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of music in the lives of the Victorians,” from royals to rabble. And since the means of listening to pre-recorded music at home was limited to music boxes (the phonograph not entering wide use until the twentieth century) “hearing live music performed was a precious thing, to be cherished forever.”

The original compositions amplify the importance of music in life at court, and with eight episodes of season one, and season two on order, one hopes more of it will be made available in the form of an original soundtrack sequel (and collected source music of Beethoven, Schubert, et al, would be nice too).

Listen to Victoria — The Original Soundtrack on Spotify.

1. Victoria – The Suite
2. The King Is Dead
3. Coronation
4. Lord M
5. Locomotives
6. Mirrors
7. The Wedding
8. The Royal Birth
9. Privy Council
10. A Royal Affair
11. Victoria Titles



One Response to "US Gets Whiggy With ‘Victoria’"

  1. Pingback: Emmys in Tune with ‘Victoria,’ ‘Stranger,’ GoT Shut-Out | MaxTheTrax

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