Highgate composer Debbie Wiseman releases The Mythos Suite

PUBLISHED: 18:06 18 February 2020 | UPDATED: 18:06 18 February 2020

Stephen Fry and Debbie Wiseman OBE picture credit Marcus Maschwitz

Stephen Fry and Debbie Wiseman OBE picture credit Marcus Maschwitz

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The Bafta winning film score composer and author Stephen Fry have pooled their talents with a suite of music to accompany his vivid retelling of Greek myths and legends.

Bafta winning composer Debbie Wiseman first met Stephen Fry at a party for the film Wilde. The broadcaster and comedian had played Oscar Wilde in the 1997 film and Wiseman had penned the score.

They hit it off immediately and have since collaborated on several projects including writing music for Wilde's fairy stories.

Now they have pooled their talents with a suite of music to accompany Fry's Mythos - a vivid retelling of Greek myths and legends for modern audiences.

Published in 2017, the book has also been turned into a live show performed by Fry. last year.

"We connected at the party for Wilde and have stayed friends," says Wiseman. "We've worked together since, but this is without doubt the most memorable and thrilling collaboration - to bring these stories to life and entwine them with new music has been fresh and exciting."

It was at the book launch for Mythos that Fry made an off the cuff remark 'do you think there's any value in a suite of music alongside these stories?'

"I got home and I couldn't get the idea out of my head, I started re-reading them and thinking about them in a totally different way. Could music enhance these stories?" says Wiseman.

She invited Fry over to her Highgate home to hear what she had been "fidding around with."

"We sat around the piano, I had an idea for a couple of the stories and the audio book was a great help because I had the narration already."

Wiseman realised that the legends of Persephone, Rhea and Sisyphus needed a big orchestra.

"They are very dramatic stories and needed a big accompaniment; it starts with the story of creating the world out of chaos, I knew it wouldn't work on just a piano."

After editing them down to a manageable length, they ended up recording the five tracks with an 80 piece orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in St John's wood with Fry narrating live alongside.

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"Stephen was there so that everything would fit perfectly and feel completely seamless. Hopefully when you are listening you feel the music at every twist and turn bringing the stories alive." She adds: "It's been the most thrilling thing to be able to give these stories a musical identity, they were naturally suited to it, they have everything; magic and mystery, tension, love, romance, lots of darkness. I hope the music leads you into the stories in a way that's accessible and educational. Music can take repeated listening so people can listen over again and just immerse themselves."

Fry's aim in rewriting the stories was to spread their pleasure to those who didn't know them.

"Stephen is fascinated by them but he realised people know the names of these gods but only roughly their stories - they are timeless and of great relevance today with all sorts of modern parallels - he wanted to write them so they are accessible so people can delve deeper."

Fry says of their collaboration: "I have known and loved Debbie's music for most of my life. To collaborate with her again has been nothing short of rapture. Her music perfectly captures Greek mythology's juicy and joyous mixture of the elemental and the specific, the noble and the wicked, the ethereal and the earthy."

The process has not been all that different from writing for TV or film says Wiseman, who has a bag of awards and an OBE for the likes of Wolf Hall, The Whale, Father Brown and Tom and Viv.

"Whether it's narrated stories or scoring a film you have a framework, a picture or the story. You have to score the music alongside it so it fits seamlessly and they feel completely as one."

The only difference was that while she could slow Fry's narration to take time over a phrase, or pause it for a big crescendo, a film score is always tied to the director's cut.

"Once the director likes the cut that's what you are working with, there's no freedom, the visuals come first."

Although she occasionally goes on set, often Wiseman only meets the actors at the final preview screening. So does she sometimes feel the composer's work goes unsung?

"The best scores are ones that fit so seamlessly with the picture that they feel part of the whole - it's the same as costume design and direction, you don't want to be aware of them, just of the story and characters so you are driven into that world."

But she adds: "Just because the music's purpose is to be part of that whole, it doesn't mean it can't live on afterwards as a concert.

"Music for films has to have a logic, a life of its own, it has a shape, a structure a beginning a middle and an end - that's what we love about music, being able to follow a musical line that we can grab and hear and understand. Music tells a story that you can follow closely."

To show students in her workshop the importance of music in films, Wiseman often shows a project she's working on before the music is overlaid.

"Most people never see a film without music and it's amazing the difference it makes, everything feels so slow and dry and unemotional. Music helps speed things up, adds an extra dimension, it goes straight to your heart so you feel the emotion of these characters and are drawn into the story, music elevates it from the page, brings it to life. We get that from the power of music."

The Mythos Suite is released on February 21 by Decca inspired by Mythos (published by Michael Joseph) and recorded by the National Symphony Orchestra.

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