National Geographic jumped into the scripted series world this year with its anthology series Genius. Executive produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, Genius‘s first season looks at the life of Albert Einstein through two critical phases of his life. Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer provides the main title theme, but composer Lorne Balfe provides the full series composition. To develop the series score, Balfe worked with Howard to determine what sounds evoke a genius at work.
“I met with Ron to talk about the show. We’d spent a long time discussing the concept of what is that sound when somebody gets an idea,” Balfe explained. “What is that sound when somebody figures out a theory. It’s different for every single person. If you look at movies, it’s often a very frenetic sound. Musically, we wanted something that doesn’t go down the path of the ‘eureka’ moment.”
Because Einstein himself was an accomplished violinist, Balfe sought to include the instrument into his compositions. As a result, Balfe added cues from what Einstein would have actually performed in the era. It provided interesting dynamic for the overall score.
Genius jumps back and forth between young Einstein (Johnny Flynn) and older Einstein (Geoffrey Rush) to explore critical moments in his life. Despite the different eras, Balfe wanted the score to remain consistent. That choice reflected the shooting style of the series itself.
“There are similar themes because it’s shot the same. It’s just a different period of time. We’re not really that far apart in terms of the era. We wanted to make sure that everything blended. Most importantly, we’re treating a TV show very much like a film where you have long arcs rather than shorter cues. We always wanted to make sure that everything blended musically.”
Another compelling and unexpected dynamic of Genius was the exploration of Einstein’s dramatic love life. The man held a voracious appetite for many things outside of his revolutionary theories. His love of women nearly rivaled his love of science.
Balfe needed to reflect the importance of love within Einstein’s life but just not with any specific woman.
“One of the biggest challenges with the show is that you can’t specifically do a love theme between Einstein and his wife because he falls in love quite regularly,” Balfe said. “So, I thought, especially over 10 episodes, instead of doing every love interest we’d just have a love theme.”
Genius Season 1 will end the exploration of Albert Einstein’s story. Future seasons cover other geniuses throughout history. National Geographic will reveal next season’s subject during the Season 1 finale, but what would Lorne Balfe like to see as the next subject?
“I think Tesla would be fascinating. The interesting thing is you kind of look at the role of the genius, and you only thing of the role they contributed but not necessarily who they were. I knew the formulas Einstein came up with, but I didn’t necessarily know the whole backstory. It’s the same with J.D. Salinger. I did a documentary a few years ago about him, but I didn’t know his amazing backstory. There’s hidden backstories on these amazing creators, scientists, and explorers that we didn’t know. Someone like Tesla could be interesting but also someone as modern as Elon Musk. We know what they achieved, but we don’t necessarily know what they haven’t.”
Balfe’s list of musical geniuses is a long one indeed. Still, he’s not sure he’d like to see a musician profiled on the series.
“There’s a long list, but then maybe I don’t want to know their backstory,” Balfe explained. “If I look at some of my idols, the majority of them have very troubled lives. Sometimes, what’s behind the curtain is best kept there.”
National Geographic’s Genius wraps Tuesday, June 20.