STARZ has two flagship original series that are set in the 18th Century — the pirate drama Black Sails (1715) and the Scotland-set Outlander (starts 1743). I love them both, for a multitude of reasons — but a significant one is the music of Bear McCreary.
It’s no easy trick to compose a score that is evocative of a time 250-300 years gone and yet feels fresh and immediate. If you’re too precious about “authenticity” you end up with something quaint and if you are too contemporary, well, you’re too contemporary. And, of course, everything you do must serve the story. McCreary nails it every single time. Truly. I listen to both soundtracks obsessively.
Here are a couple of Youtube videos that delve into the use of period instrumentation and sounds to create mood. The score features a lot of hurdy-gurdy, which is all kinds of awesome, and yet McCreary is not afraid to pair that up with roaring, screaming electric guitars. Great sounds for hoisting the Jolly Roger and getting about slitting throats.
As wonderful as the Black Sails soundtrack is, the Outlander soundtrack is the work McCreary was destined to do. He’s been unconsciously preparing for this role all his life, as he notes in his wonderful music blog:
Towards the end of high school, I began researching songs of the Jacobite Uprising and the century that followed. I was awestruck by the ability of these songs to communicate hidden meaning, tales of tragedy and triumph, with deceptively simple melodic lines and evocative harmonic progressions. At the later end of that spectrum, the texts of Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson in particular struck me. I realized how the evolutionary threads of American folk music, Appalachian and bluegrass in particular, traced back to Scottish heritage. Shortly after high school, I picked up an accordion and began playing folk tunes, transcribing my own arrangements and composing new harmonic progressions for classic melodies.
I love this, not least because in my own way I was geeking out on similar historical stuff when I was in high school. Trust me NOBODY related to that. I feel like McCreary is a kindred spirit.
The soundtrack creates and evokes many moods, from wistful to melancholy to mystical to rousing. Probably my favorite track is “Charge of the Highland Cattle.” If that don’t get your blood pumping, whether you are a Celt or no, you need to reevaluate your life. I’m telling ye, it’ll drive ye straight into the guns!
I stand very much in awe of Bear McCreary — and salute him for his mighty music.