‘The Green Knight’ Composer Daniel Hart On Using Ancient Instruments And Taking A “Crash Course In Middle English Poetry”

‘The Green Knight’ Composer Daniel Hart On Using Ancient Instruments And Taking A “Crash Course In Middle English Poetry”

Coming from a choral background, composer Daniel Hart was well prepared to score The Green Knight, but the real challenge was creating an ancient sound. With a basis in ancient England during the time of King Arthur, it was important for the choral elements to use the language of the time. Hart researched a lot of Middle English poetry to understand how things were pronounced differently during that time.

The Green Knight, based on the 14th-century poem, tells the story of Sir Gawain, a nephew of King Arthur who accepts a challenge from the Green Knight. Gawain then goes on a quest to prove his bravery and honor.

The score for The Green Knight has been shortlisted in the Best Score category for this year’s Oscar race.

What were your initial thoughts on what the score should be?

We had an initial conversation probably the end of 2018 and talked about instrumentation, which is usually how we start. I said to him that I wanted to try having recorder quartets, like a baroque recorder quartet, as one of the main instruments. And then I had been obsessed with this Swedish Naval string instrument called a “nyckelharpa.”

Were you familiar with the legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight beforehand?

I’d never read it before but part of my research when I started working on the music for the film was like a crash course in Middle English poetry because the film called for at least a couple of scenes where people would be singing on camera and I thought they should be singing in Middle English. So, I started reading and listening to a bunch of Middle English poetry so I could get my mind around the sounds of the words and the way that they’re different from how we pronounce things now. There’s a track on the score called “O Nyghtegale,” for example, and just the word ‘nightingale’ sounds like a completely different word. There’s a big Scandinavian influence in Middle English that’s essentially gone from the English we speak now.”

How do you use instruments, like the nyckelharpa, to accent the choral elements?

I think that the choir and the recorders were often doing some of the same things, like in the first piece of music that shows up in the film, they go back and forth, the recorder quartet and our seven-person choir. I wanted them to be a calm response to each other in that piece of music. The nyckelharpa is kind of like a viola cello, in that it’s a bowed string instrument. So, most of the time I was using it was for melody, and I used the recorders and the choir more in creating atmosphere.