The best scores for natural history programmes
The likes of David Attenborough have popularised documentaries on wildlife and nature on Netflix and the BBC, but who are the composers behind these programmes' iconic soundtracks?
It’s a little over 40 years since David Attenborough first brought us Life on Earth on BBC Two. That groundbreaking natural history series truly opened our eyes to the world and it started the ball rolling on a plethora of must-see TV series’, each one seemingly bigger and more imaginative than the last.
From its 1984 follow-up, The Living Planet, through to The Trials of Life (1990) and the blockbuster trilogy of The Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet (2001-11), the BBC’s Natural History Unit filmmakers have given us an all-access pass to the natural world and all its sights and sounds over the last four decades.
Music has played its part since day one and, like the programmes themselves, the original scores written to accompany the real-life drama have only grown in scope.
The recent sequels to Blue Planet and Planet Earth, for example, saw music by Hollywood music mogul Hans Zimmer (with Jacob Shea and David Fleming), while Netflix’s own take on the genre, Our Planet, features a score by Oscar-winning composer Steven Price.
Such blockbuster-style scores are nothing new, though; composer George Fenton penned broad orchestral accompaniments for the BBC’s original Planet trilogy – even conducting his music, with the visuals, in concert halls around the world. He saw to the big screen versions, too, with Deep Blue (based on The Blue Planet) receiving a revised Fenton score, performed by the Berlin Phil.
The BBC Concert Orchestra did the honours for Fenton on the original trilogy, as they have done for countless other series’ and composers over the years. They have just made a return to the genre with the BBC’s Serengeti, currently on screens. Will Gregory – of Goldfrapp fame – has composed the music for the series, which ‘dramatises’ the otherwise wild goings-on.
It’s a far cry from the likes of Life on Earth, which featured an innovative chamber-cum-electronic score by Edward Williams and The Living Planet, for which Elizabeth Parker created an esoteric electronic soundscape. One thing is certain, though, the very real drama on screen always proves fertile ground for composers. Check out the playlist below...
Our friends over at BBC Wildlife Magazine have rounded up some of the best nature documentaries available to stream online now.
Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.