‘House Of Cards’ Composer Deconstructs Show’s Tense Theme

Composer Jeff Beal has written scores for “House of Cards,” “Pollock,” and “Blackfish,” among many others.
Composer Jeff Beal has written scores for “House of Cards,” “Pollock,” and “Blackfish,” among many others.
Credit Jeff Beal

While you might not know Jeff Beal, you’ve definitely heard Jeff Beal.

He was in the Atlanta area about a week ago. He was the special guest at the Art Over Dinner series presented by Serenbe Film.

And Beal is the composer behind shows like “Monk” and “Rome,” and he wrote the zippy 12-second theme from “Ugly Betty.”

In his career, however, he’s probably best known for the theme song on “House of Cards.”

“I never expected this show to be as successful as it is,” said Beal.

“House of Cards” is a Netflix show – which allows viewers to watch a whole 13-episode season in one sitting if they so desire.

At the start of each episode, the theme plays, and Beal said he had some worries that viewers might fast-forward through his music. “That was my first fear … who is going to sit through this every time?” he said.

To keep the theme sustainable over many listens, he uses layers. That way, he said, “it doesn’t fatigue your attention.”

In creating the “House of Cards” theme, for instance, Beal used dissident musical combinations.

The grooving bass line in the theme is in A-minor, and the melody starts in A-minor as well. As the theme progresses, however, the melody plays a G over an E-major chord. All the while, the A-minor bass line continues to groove.

What that all means, really, is that the theme is quite a crunch.

“In musical theory, this is what they tell you not to do,” Beal explained. “This is wrong, this is a mistake, but I’m really into it.”

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