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Max Richter creates clouds of viols on 'Mary Queen of Scots' / Variety

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Period films always pose a musical challenge: How authentic should a composer be?  For "Mary Queen of Scots" with Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I, composer Max Richter created a fairly modern score to sit alongside 16th-century music. Early-music expert William Lyons was called in to handle the historical material, leaving Richter free to tackle the dramatic score. "I wanted women's voices to be really important in the film," Richter says from London, "and I decided to try a cor anglais [English horn] for Mary's voice." Early experiments with the viol (a stringed instrument of the time) led to Richter processing the sound into "a sort of electronic cloud of viols for some of the more coloristic sequences with the voices. The instrumental music is based on a kind of geometry and a set of gestures which come from Renaissance music," Richter explains. "So it's a kind of wandering border between the contemporary and period authenticity."

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