BBC viewers blast Nico Muhly’s score

BBC viewers blast Nico Muhly’s score


norman lebrecht

November 14, 2017

The BBC is facing a wave of complaints about its new costume drama Howard’s End, with viewers saying the dialogue is made inaudible by a high level of background music.

The series has been scored by Nico Muhly, whose opera Marnie opens this week in London.

Sample complaints:



‘The sound was awful you couldn’t really hear the dialogue clearly because of the jarring background music.’

More here.


  • MWnyc says:

    Sounds like the BBC sound mixers’ problem, not Nico’s

  • Dan says:

    What you mean is ‘BBC viewers blast poor audio levels’.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      Of course he should. But your very correct header does not really clickbait make, does it?

    • David R Osborne says:

      Read the article and some of the tweets. It is by no means just the sound level that people find intrusive.

      • Dan says:

        I read it, thanks, but we know that Norman has a bias against this composer, so shouldn’t take his reporting as anything resembling impartiality. It’s clear the levels were the major problem, most of the complainants would not have bothered writing about the music if it weren’t for that problem.

  • Simon Funnell says:

    I didn’t even notice there was a soundtrack!

  • Jonathan Dunsby says:

    As the article says, the recent SS-GB on TV was incomprehensible because of the poorly mixed sound. There was even a spoof in Private Eye mag of it.

  • Ian Paton says:

    Some people are allergic to background music. I have seen criticisms of its use on Planet Earth II – but why change a winning formula? Having said this, I haven’t watched Howard’s End.

    • Nik says:

      The use of music in documentaries (nature or otherwise) has become excessive. It’s a relentless barrage of noise. Producers have become terrified of even the slightest hiatus, the briefest moment of stillness.
      David Attenborough’s Life on Earth from 1979 had a stunningly beautiful soundtrack by Edward Williams, but it was used sparingly and judiciously and was all the more effective for it.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    The “music” on the wonderful Planet 2 is dreadful plus to add insult to injury they have a chorus. Every time a fish appears a woman howls!!!
    Who are these people who infest every programme even the news.

  • Bill says:

    Since way back in the days of black and white films obtrusive music has been a feature. Check out some old Pathé Pictorial newsreels.
    It seems that programme producers assume that we are like little toddlers in terms of attention span and are incapable of watching without something to keep us interested. Either the music is unnecessary as in Blue Planet, but at least played on recognisable instruments for the most part, or we get the dreaded synthesiser score.
    I have a simple solution. Mute the sound and switch on the sub-titles. Peace reigns.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    a. I shouldn’t have to mute it and read.

    b. I want to listen to David Attenborough’s voice.

    • Bill says:

      That’s a perfectly good point. I tend to agree but I’m still torn between Mr Attenborough’s dulcet tones and the complete irritation of the soundtrack.
      There have been several attempts at publicity which might stir up public debate but it always seems to fall on deaf ears. (Sorry!)
      Memorably around 10 years ago there was a brief, experimental option with some documentatries on TV. You could press the yellow button on the remote and the music disappeared, leaving the spoken commentary. It was wonderful but didn’t catch on. Anyone know what happened?

      • Elizabeth Owen says:

        I miss many potentially interesting documentaries on BBC 4 becuae of racket. Since when is repeating six notes up to 30 music? Yes I know I’m obsessed/
        Bill a yellow button? Yes please.

  • NYMike says:

    This TV sound disease abounds here in the US, as well. In many TV drama series, music (mostly synthesized) never stops, drowning out dialogue and raising blood pressure. Even with a Bose system where speech can be enhanced by emphasizing its frequency range, I’ve had to stop watching series I’d like to have continued to see.

  • trolley80 says:

    Needless to say, rather than blame the beloved BBC for an obvious error of sound mixing and processing, our fearless blogger chooses to direct his anger at the American [gasp!] composer who has dared not only to score this show, but to write an opera for ENO