“: A Bridgerton Story” has one of the most complicated, and yet stylistically unified, scores of any series this year — ‘ original score, the 18th-century period music, and a surprising number of string-quartet covers of 21st-century hits.
The Netflix series, a prequel to the 2021 hit “Bridgerton,” imagines a Black bride for England’s King George III in 1761, chronicling their initially rocky marriage and her gradual understanding of the monarch’s mental illness; flash-forwards to 1817 feature an older and wiser queen.
Bowers, who earned two Emmy nominations for his work, returned for the prequel but took a different approach. “This show needed a level of intimacy that the score for ‘Bridgerton’ doesn’t necessarily have,” he says. “My initial instinct was to write for a smaller ensemble, and to mic and mix the music in a way that was more intimate and tactile, a sense of closeness to the instruments.”
He played the 18th-century fortepiano for the younger Charlotte — “it’s a very bright sound, with a very different feel,” Bowers says — as part of his chamber ensemble: string quintet (two violins, viola, cello, bass), sometimes adding a second cello. “The older Charlotte is more of that ‘Bridgerton’ sound,” he adds, “a bigger orchestra, grand piano, a more refined sound versus the grittier sound of young Charlotte.”
In a surprising connection with another Bowers project, he was inspired by the music of French-Caribbean musician Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, just weeks before he got the job of scoring “Chevalier” (the film released earlier this year). He penned a song with Tayla Parks, “A Feeling I’ve Never Been,” for the royal wedding, along with other moments “where my reference point was trying to emulate Chevalier in different ways.”
According to “Queen Charlotte” music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, executive producers Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers and Tom Verica “had srong ideas about how score and source (music) could enhance the storytelling, and we started the conversation well before production.”
Similar to the much talked-about covers of contemporary songs in “Bridgerton,” “Queen Charlotte” contained versions of songs “written, performed, or turned into cultural juggernauts by women of color,” Patsavas says, including “Halo,” “If I Ain’t Got You,” “Deja Vu,” “Run the World,” “Nobody Gets Me” and “I Will Always Love You.”
“Shonda Rhimes thought these iconic female artists of color — Beyonce, SZA, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys — were perfect to tell Charlotte’s story through music,” Patsavas added.
The Vitamin String Quartet performed Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” for Lady Danbury’s ball in the third episode. Then after the series was finished, a music video of that song featuring 70 women of color, dressed in period costumes, was shot while they performed an orchestral version at London’s Abbey Road. Bowers produced it.
Patsavas also found approximately 30 classical pieces of the era — “Georgian icons such as Handel, Mozart, Purcell, to make sure songs and sounds of the era were introduced and heard.”