Ascending queens Elizabeth (“The Crown”) and Victoria (“Victoria”) face off in the Emmy race for Series Original Dramatic Score, while old Hollywood (“Feud: Bette and Joan”) counters Russian classicism (“Fargo”) for Limited Series, Movie, or Special Dramatic Score.
Meanwhile, political (“House of Cards,” Taboo”) and survival overtones (“Planet Earth II” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events”) clash in the Series category, as well as war (“Five Came Back,” “The White Helmets,” “Suite Française”) and culture (“O.J.: Made in America”) in the other category.
Not surprisingly, the odds are with Rupert Gregson-Williams (“The Crown”) and last year’s “Mr. Robot” winner, Mac Quayle (“Feud”), for their respective retro scores. While Williams reached for orchestral nobility, Quayle went for more orchestral glam.
“The Crown” — “Hyde Park Corner” (Rupert Gregson-Williams)
The score for showrunner Peter Morgan’s drama about the rise of Elizabeth II (nominated Claire Foy) was all about restraint, given her sense of calm. That is, the use of a 60-piece Vienna orchestra was dramatic but never too forceful.
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“In the episode, ‘Hyde Park Corner,’ Elizabeth is free from regal responsibility and in love on her honeymoon, when her world changes forever,” said composer Gregson-Williams. “Her father [King George VI, Jared Harris], whom she adored, dies suddenly and she is thrust into her duties as a queen, as she mourns. The news of his death takes some time to reach her, and the direction from Stephen Daldry has a wonderful way of making you lean in and feel the news traveling through the Savannah to the young princess.
“We understand the gravity for the Empire, the government, the young daughter still enjoying life as Elizabeth. The musical cue that starts as the King dies builds through the episode’s first act as that news eventually lands with Elizabeth. This cue [“The King is Dead Long Live the Queen,” based on the earlier “Duck Shoot”] really sets the whole series up and is really the most important in the season.”
“Feud: Bette and Joan” — “The Pilot” (Mac Quayle)
Quayle took a deep dive into ’60s Hollywood movie scores (Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini) to evoke the anger and pain between Bette Davis (nominated Susan Sarandon) and Crawford (nominated Jessica Lange) during their competitive stint co-starring in the ghoulish “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?”
“It was both exciting and challenging to immerse myself in the retro orchestral sound of the 1960’s, ” said Quayle. “So much great music that I love came out of that era and so…once we had established a few themes and a basic instrument palette, the mission became about how to musically describe the relationship between Bette and Joan. Parts of their relationship were obvious, the drama, the tension, and the glamour, but [showrunner] Ryan Murphy wanted to tell the story of their sadness. A number of cues in the score spoke directly to the sad lives those iconic actresses lived.”
“Planet Earth II” — “Islands” (Jacob Shea, Jasha Klebe)
The great achievement of “Planet Earth II” was bringing us closer to the animals and witnessing their survival instincts in action. For composers Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe of Bleeding Fingers, their atmospheric score was a large part of that intimate and thrilling connection, highlighted by the iguana being chased by snakes.
The way the sequence was shot, it seemed almost prehistoric to the composers. “Everything on screen was so big that we thought we should take skin drums that harken back to old times and visceral, ear-piercing bowed cymbals,” said Shea. “The snakes were definitely painted as the bad guys, so I brought in a lot of weird, warped acoustic sounds that were bent with time to just put you on edge. When I had a draft, I brought Jasha in and got his input on how we could amplify the emotion.”
“Taboo” — “Episode 1” (Max Richter)
In terms of power struggle, the score for “Taboo” comes directly out of the hellish trajectory of Tom Hardy’s avenging angel in 19th-century London in his battles with the East India Company as well as his personal demons.
“The show plays as a kind of very dark fairy tale, populated and driven by Tom Hardy’s character,” said Richter. “These two aspects — the hallucinatory environment, and the irresistible force of Mr. Delaney — are embodied by the two main themes. The first theme is a haunted waltz, based like hundreds of works since the 17th century, on a falling chromatic line called a ‘lament bass.’ Widely used in opera to evoke tragedy, for ‘Taboo,’ I have made a deceptively sweet sounding version of it, so that we are lulled into a false sense of security.
“The second theme is that of our protagonist — Mr. Delaney. His inexorable progress is evoked by the perpetual motion ostinato figures in the orchestra, which pivot around a bass line that moves between the interval of a tritone — called Diabolus in musica by 17th century theoreticians, because of its destabilizing effect on harmony. Mr. Delany is certainly some sort of Diabolus himself.”
“Fargo” — “Aporia” (Jeff Russo)
Russo goes for his third nomination with Season 3 of the Coen brothers’-inspired anthology series about crime and power in the midwest. The decision to have a Russian influence was directly related to the character of Yuri (Goran Bogdan) and the whole “Russian contingent” in the story.
“I grew up listening to Russian classical music so it all seemed so familiar to me when I went back to remind myself of its sound and instrumentation,” said Russo. “Lots of horns and very dramatic flair. It was never as simple as one instrument for one character, although different characters were represented by different combinations of them [including high strings melodies and English horn for Carrie Coon’s cop, Gloria, and her theme].
“‘Aporia’ is my favorite episode. Not quite sure why, It just felt like the most realized in Gloria’s journey, especially, as she realizes that there isn’t anything wrong with her and that electronics and mechanical things do actually work for her. That moment, musically and not, might be my favorite moment of the series.”
“House of Cards” — Chapter 63 (Jeff Beal)
In another power struggle, Emmy winner Beal continued the jazzy arc of the treacherous First Couple: Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright). It’s sophisticated and seductive and musically part of the American fabric, as is Washington politics. Only this year it got more surreal with the rise of Donald Trump.
“For me, Season 5 was about the ascent of Claire Underwood and Frank’s secret self-immolation,” said Beal. “This episode was pivotal for both of these characters. I loved the way Claire becomes a fourth wall breaking character, and Frank seems increasingly paranoid — this sense of lying, and breakdown of trust amongst every one in the West Wing, which now in today’s climate doesn’t feel so atypical.”
“Victoria (Masterpiece)” — “Doll 123” (Martin Phipps, Ruth Barrett, Natalie Holt)
The primary narrative drive in the first episode of “Victoria” is the unrequited love affair between the teenage Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman) and Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell). The score slowly evolves to underscore her passion and temperament.
“The title theme (and the vocal element sung by The Medieval Babes) was meant to embody Victoria’s feisty and tenacious character,” Phipps said. “This worked well for her moments of triumph and celebration, such as her Coronation or her overcoming the political scandals of the time. But in addition to this we needed to find a personal musical idea for the love she had for Melbourne. This is a very simple two-note piano theme that develops gradually into a full blown and passionate melody by the end of the first episode.”
Music Composition For A Series (Original Dramatic Score)
Will Win: “The Crown”
Could Win: “Planet Earth II”
Should Win: “The Crown”
Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie, or Special (Original Dramatic Score)
Will Win: “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Could Win: “Fargo”
Should Win: “Feud: Bette and Joan”