The Inspiring Composer Behind the “House of Cards” Theme

We’ve covered a few NPR All Things Considered music interviews in the past: eco-experimental classical composer John Luther Adams and indie rock producer du jour John Congleton (coincidentally both named John). Last week ATC featured another crucial musician, one Jeff Beal, composer of the eerie-yet-sophisticated House of Cards theme.

Beal, who has also composed music for shows such as Monk, The Newsroom, and Carnivale, as well as the heartbreaking SeaWorld documentary Blackfish, describes the “musical joke” of the main theme. The bass line plays an ostinato in A minor for the duration of the theme, but the melody often slips into A Major, causing fleeting dissonances that set the tone well for the sinister TV series.

One cool fact about Beal is that he has taken the writing, arranging, and even recording process entirely into his own hands. He has no assistance with the writing and arranging of his scores, and records a 17-piece string ensemble in his living room. He also plays the trumpet, piano and guitar parts, and his talented musical family helps out as well: his wife Joan has recorded vocals for the score and their son Henry contributed the main bass line, recording from his dorm room.

Composer Jeff Beal (center) conducts string musicians in his California home.

Another awesome revelation is that Beal has managed to take such a hands-on role, despite his diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. While this crippling nervous disease began to show symptoms eight years ago, Beal’s combination of “alternative treatments” and strongly focused brain activity (via his feverish composing and recording) have managed to reverse brain atrophy and keep the disease at bay.

Jeff Beal is truly inspiring, as well as one of the coolest composers in the game (David Fincher hired him for House of Cards before even shooting it), and you should all check out this feature.

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