The Composers Of Doctor Who: Trevor Duncan

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Chris Morley takes a look at the work of the man behind the stock music for Mission To The Unknown.


A giant leap into the unknown now as we look at the life & works of Trevor Duncan, the man behind the stock music for Mission To The Unknown!



The Londoner was lucky enough to be able to play piano by ear from the age of twelve, something of a child prodigy, but nevertheless spent a year studying at Trinity College of Music to add violin, harmony & counterpoint to his armoury. At eighteen he joined the BBC as a radio production assistant & also served in the RAF as a wireless operator before being discharged in 1947, turning down an opportunity to study at Cambridge in order to return to the Beeb as a sound & balance engineer.

Working on orchestral broadcasts gave him the chance to study the scoring process at first hand, & he soon had his first piece, Vision In Velvet, performed. It was never heard on the BBC, though, thanks to a policy under which employees were not allowed to have their own original music used on Corporation programming. Thus the man born Leonard Charles Trebilco took on a pseudonym & would focus on composition for other outlets under the name of Trevor Duncan!



Conductor Ray Martin, who had got him that first big break, would also rave over High Heels, which led to the decision to leave behind Television Centre & concentrate on full time musical commissions. October 1965 would find him contributing to the abovementioned Mission, perhaps the first recorded Doctor-lite episode of a still fledgling series, but then science fiction was not new to Duncan. He had contributed music to La Jetee but a few short years earlier , Chris Marker's film later serving as the basis for Twelve Monkeys.



As reviewer Simon Sellars wrote,
"La Jetée‘s lead actors (Hélène Chatelain and Davos Hanich) are beautiful and doomed, as is Trevor Duncan’s score; and the resonant, measured narration (from Jean Negroni) is poetic and fluorescent, infused with awe and mystery – even when subtitled into English.

However, like all time travel stories, La Jetée doesn’t make much sense; but then again, time and memory do not make ‘sense’, at least when articulated by a technology as arbitrary as language."
Time travel, you say? A perfect fit for the Doctor even at this early stage of the series' development, you could argue. A Naxos piece adds to his stature...
"By the 1960s Duncan was identified as a talented composer of symphonic stature in the English tradition. He developed an individual style that became instantly recognised by his admirers.

He emerged as a real composer of original material, unlike some of his contemporaries working in the mood music business who were really just arrangers.

Perhaps the greatest accolade is when a composer becomes an inspiration to others, and Duncan has certainly achieved that status."
His own inspiration came from Rimsky-Korsakov, the Russian composer & staunch nationalist as well as one of the leading members of a group of composers known simply as the Five alongside Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, Cesar Cui & Mily Balakirev.

Perhaps the most classically trained member of the Russian military, Rimsky-Korsakov would combine a career as an Imperial Navy officer with his musical sideline after completing basic training at St Petersburg's Naval Academy. His first symphony was written at sea on one of his many sorties, amazingly! And in 1865 it got its first public performance. Even more amazing perhaps when Classic FM considers that it was...
"...written when he was still largely ignorant of basic harmonic and contrapuntal principles. So great was the work's impact that although he still held only a tenuous grasp on compositional procedures he was appointed a full-time professor at the St Petersburg Conservatory."
In which capacity he taught the likes of Igor Stravinsky, who would recall of his old tutor following a performance of Debussy's La Mer that he had given some surprisingly bitchy advice.
"I asked Rimsky-Korsakov what he thought. He replied, "Better not listen to it; you risk getting used to it, and then you might even end up liking it"."
Old Claude would also feature much later on down Doctor Who's timeline. Remember the ice cream van parked on Leadworth's village green in The Eleventh Hour? His Clair de Lune is what should have been heard from its speakers before the Atraxi hijack proceedings to inform he & his customers that Earth will be incinerated....

AMY: No, no, no, come on. What? We're being staked out by an ice-cream van.
ATRAXI: Prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence or the human residence will be incinerated.
DOCTOR: What's that? Why are you playing that?
ICE CREAM MAN: It's supposed to be Claire De Lune.
ATRAXI: Prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence or the human residence will be incinerated. Repeat. Prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence or the human residence will be incinerated.
A world away from the man who alongside his companions had sat out Mission To The Unknown. As, it seems, had anyone with any connection to the music of Who - the phenomenon of stock music taking hold for selected stories from its early years. As is made clear in our look at it in more depth.
"Stock Music (also known as royalty free music) is a less expensive alternative to the use of popular or well known music in a production. It is less expensive because you don't have to obtain special permission or pay additional clearance fees for the use of a song that has instant recognition.

Stock Music, on the other hand, has been written especially for use in audio and audio visual productions like radio and television broadcasts, commercials and jingles, motion picture and video scores and soundtracks, corporate & training presentations, Web sites, computer games, software applications and multimedia.

It is generally used as background music, behind the dialogue or a voice over. As background music, it can set the mood, provide a backdrop for a message, promote the product, activity or event being featured, identify the location of the scene or highlight the plot’s action."
As well as saving a lot of money for the Beeb of the early Sixties!

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