Written by: Anne Gavin
Ah, #Droughtlander. You sap my strength every day when there is not some new tidbit or piece of Outlander news to sink my teeth into. I search for Outlander joy in the little things like Sam Heughan giving sweet love to Outlander fans on the BAFTA Red Carpet and Caitriona Balfe’s BAFTA Scotland win (read all about Naomi’s experience from the red carpet!). Or the recent Critics Choice Awards nominations for both Sam and Cait. Even a Barbour video featuring Sam can carry me through multiple days but just as surely, I fall into despair soon again. I get some satisfaction cheating on Outlander with Poldark every Sunday night, but as with most affairs, the momentary high inevitably leads to guilt and deep feelings of regret. It’s daunting to think about how far we may actually be from the Season 3 premiere. Four episodes filmed but still 9 more to go and Scottish winter is nigh.
But, when I am feeling shades of Outlander blue, I now have a sure-fire remedy. Thank God for Bear McCreary and the Season 2 Outlander Soundtrack! Bear does it again with a compilation of hauntingly melodic tunes that take us on a glamorous journey from the palaces and salons of Parisian aristocrats back to the blood, mud and dreary moors and mountains of Scotland and our doomed Highlanders. McCreary’s talent shines to a high gloss in this latest release of the music of Outlander – as integral to the production as the actors themselves. The mark of a good composer is that the music enhances the storytelling but doesn’t distract from it. McCreary is a master of this. The music of Outlander Season 2 punctuates many scenes and provides for highs and lows that add to the glorious emotions we witness as Jamie and Claire navigate their final year together before the tragedy at Culloden force them to part.
So, working my way up from #10 to my #1 favorite, I give you the Top Ten Musical Moments of Outlander Season 2…
A small part of me wanted to rush through the first half of the album just so I could get to the Scottish bits. Maybe not dissimilar to how some felt about watching Season 2? But, I forced myself to start at the beginning and listen. Really listen. McCreary’s baroque stylings were borne from his usual meticulous research. It was not a time period he was overly familiar with so he needed to become an expert on French baroque music – and fast! I expect nothing less from this man, who knew at a young age that musical composition was his calling. Track #5, “Into Paris,” is one such composition. The origins of “Into Paris” come from composer Jean-Baptiste Lully’s well known opera “Armide” and its “Passacaille” movement. Lully was Italian born but worked in the court of Louis XIV of France and ultimately became a French citizen. He was considered a Chief Master of the French baroque style. Bear McCreary has said that Lully served as a major reference point for the French pieces he composed for the first half of Outlander Season 2.
Again, Bear McCreary’s meticulous attention to detail provided a surprising “easter egg” for Track #3, known as “Wrath of the Comte.” As Bear tells it, his music historian partner, Adam Knight Gilbert, and he discovered that there was a real-life Comte St. Germain in history. The real St. Germain was a European adventurer with an interest in science and the arts and was prominent among European high society in the 1700s. Seems as if someone else (Diana Gabaldon) did their research! In addition to dabbling in the arts and sciences, St. Germain was a philosopher and sometime composer. Composer, you say? It was a coincidence just too good to pass up. After searching music libraries, Bear and Adam Gilbert came upon a composition from the archives called “Se Mai Riviene,” an Italian Aria which roughly translates to “If he ever comes back.” McCreary decided to use this as the melody that would become The Comte’s Theme, therefore leading to the actual Comte of history composing his own theme for the 20th century depiction of his life in Outlander. Brava!
The Comte makes his first appearance in Season 2 in Episode 2.01, “Through a Glass, Darkly,” at the dock warehouse in Le Havre where he learns that Claire Fraser has declared that his ship full of valuable wine has been contaminated by “le petit variole” – the smallpox. As the diseased ship burns in the harbor, we hear the delicate yet ominous sounds of the viola da gamba before then moving to a counter-melody of dancing gamba. McCreary takes the theme to new highs and into its full baroque glory during the end credits of Episode 2.01 with an aggressive arrangement of full orchestral violins taking over the tune. Just for fun, you can hear a vocal operatic rendition of the actual “Se Mai Riviene” Aria on YouTube.
There was much anticipation in the fandom about how Season 2 would open. Would we open in 1968 like in Gabaldon’s second novel, Dragonfly in Amber, or would it, in fact, open as Jamie and Claire arrive in France in 1744 – a continuation from where we left them in the finale of Season 1? Turns out, Outlander Executive Producer and writer of Episode 2.01, “Through a Glass, Darkly,” Ron Moore, had something else in mind. We spend nearly 40 minutes at the beginning of Episode 2.01 in with Claire Randall Fraser and her beleaguered husband, Frank Randall, in 1948. Claire had just returned through the stones at Craigh na Dun, after two years in the past. Heartbroken but sworn to protect the life of her and Jamie’s unborn child, Claire shoulders the burden of knowing that her beloved, Jamie, had likely died on Culloden Moor shortly after they had parted. She also knows that some 200 years later in 1948 he most definitely lay dead “moldering in the ground.” McCreary uses a familiar theme from Season 1 to underscore most of those 40 minutes – “Frank’s Theme.”
Distinctive in tone and tenor, the composition is devoid of any of the 18th century Scottish influence in so much of Bear’s Outlander work. McCreary calls it the “harmonic language” of the piece that is distinctly 20th century. Bear describes that nearly 40 minutes of Episode 2.01 as a three-act play – almost serving as a short film within the episode. However, what he does with Frank’s Theme in 2.01 goes way beyond – becoming as McCreary said himself – a “Frank Symphony.” Track #2 “Leave the Past Behind” starts simply with some ethereal sounding harmonies. It’s initially restrained like Frank was with Claire upon her return. But, as Claire begins to tell her unbelievable “fairy tale”, the theme grows darker and more tempestuous. The arc of that part of the episode begins to build until we see Frank burning the last remnants of Claire’s past and Claire realizing she needs to leave that past behind for the sake of her child and her future with Frank. The music moves forward slowly, but with intent until the swell of the orchestra and lilting harp strings reminds us that Claire’s life with Jamie is over (beginning at the 2:55 mark). There is tragedy and sadness mixed with hope, and a promise that Claire and Frank share that is reflected deeply in this piece of music. Life will begin again for both as Claire cradles the life within that will forever link her to the past.
I truly cannot watch those 40 minutes of Episode 2.01 without a lump stuck squarely in my throat. It’s a magnificent orchestration suited perfectly to the story being told. A man and a woman set asunder yet brought back together through tragedy but with the promise of new life. Dammit, Bear! How do you make me feel all these THINGS? It’s why Track #2 “Leave the Past Behind” is #8 on my Top Ten list.
Bear has said that he didn’t feel that the Season Finale, Episode 2.13, was the proper place to insert a new theme for Brianna and Roger, as he has done for several other characters. As a new character, Brianna was still yet exploring who she was and where she came from and Bear felt it premature. That said, there is a mesmerizing tune – Track #19 “Tales of Brianna” – that perhaps could serve as the basis for a theme in the future. Again, the piece has a more modern feel as we first hear it when Claire is visiting Culloden Battlefield in the 20th century. There is a lot of orchestra and strings plus one of my favorite adds – the hypnotic Gaelic chorus, which we heard earlier in the episode in some of the music underscoring Claire’s re-exploration of the Wakefield home. These beautiful, ethereal and heavenly voices make us think of the profound loss Claire is feeling and how those feelings come pouring back to her as she once again begins to chase Jamie’s ghost – first at the Wakefield home and then later on the battlefield.
We also hear the chorus to spectacular effect in Track #18 “White Roses of Scotland.” However, it was that pivotal moment for Claire as she knelt at the Fraser stone on Culloden Moor and told her tales of Brianna to Jamie that gave the song so much meaning. It felt like a release – a catharsis – for her as she had pushed so many of the memories of her past life and intensely held love for Jamie deep inside. It was almost as if, at that moment, she became Claire Fraser again – no longer Claire Randall. The piece transitions into the next scene – that of Brianna and Roger searching the attic at the Wakefield home for more ghosts. Almost at the moment that Claire is remembering who she was, Brianna is discovering her own past.
It’s a seamless and meaningful shift between mother and daughter underscored by hints of the “Jamie and Claire Theme”. A beautiful and poignant composition matched perfectly to a critical moment for Claire and for the adventure she unwittingly is about to embark on. It’s why “Tales of Brianna” comes in solid at #7 on the Top Ten.
Bear has said the melodies and pulsing tones of Track #16 almost feel like they could have come from the television show, The Walking Dead. As most may know, Bear McCreary also scores for that program. He’s right. You can feel the terror escalating with each percussive beat. It was a terrific score for one of the most amazing episodes of Season 2.
The scene absolutely riveted me as the accompanying score – Track #13 “125 Yards” – amplified the tension, while Dougal defiantly advanced towards the enemy line looking straight down the barrels of the English muskets. Dougal survives by the skin of his teeth (or the crook of his bonnet!) and rides triumphantly back to the cheering Highlanders and the Bonnie Prince having learned all he needed to know on the daring reconnaissance. The tune reaches a stirring climax with use of McCreary’s adaptation of “Moch Sa Mhadhainn,” a Scottish folk tune from the Jacobite era. We’ll explore the fascinating story behind this song a bit later.
I was on the edge of my seat watching this series of scenes in Episode 2.10. It was a thrilling ride for Dougal and an important milestone in the evolution of his character. As a viewer, we walked every inch of that muddy moor with Dougal and felt every moment aided by Bear’s spine-tingling arrangement that is Track #13 “125 Yards.”
The Faith Theme was performed with a solo piano and a symphonic flute – sounds we have rarely heard on any of Bear’s Outlander compositions to date. The solo piano is analogous to the utter isolation that Claire felt both over the loss of her child and the loss of Jamie and her faith in him. The long segment of Claire’s return to the Fraser apartment in Episode 2.07 is accentuated by the Faith Theme. As Claire unsteadily makes her way past her servants – oddly now her only “family”, save young Fergus – we feel each note, each step of Claire’s painful return to her life alone without her baby or her husband. So much emotion in so simple a melody.
And, again, at the end of this episode, we hear the Faith Theme as Jamie and Claire reunite to pay respects at their baby daughter’s grave. The solo piano notes of the tune sound almost childlike themselves as we feel every frame of this scene and every slow movement of Jamie and Claire as they struggle to accept their tragic loss and seek to forgive and find a way back together. So much resonance here between the visual and the auditory senses. It’s an unforgettable piece and lands firmly in the #4 spot on my Top Ten list.
The “moment” these two tracks collectively create is a powerful one. And, what’s interesting, is that they span two time periods in Episode 2.13, “Dragonfly in Amber.” “Destiny on Culloden Moor” is used as Jamie takes Claire to the Stones for yet a second time prior to the start of the Battle of Culloden. Like the first time when she refused to go, Jamie was trying to protect Claire. This time Jamie believed death was near for him. His destiny lay on Culloden Moor. A widow alone with child and in the aftermath of a brutal defeat of the Highland culture would not be a fate he would wish for the woman he loved.
We all waited to see how that farewell scene would play out. Not exactly like the books, but definitely not bad – in great part due to the music. As Claire and Jamie shared their final words and moments together, the full orchestra and the beautiful and haunting return of the Gaelic chorus made us feel every single second of that hasty goodbye. In particular, we feel the couple’s agony, as the scene climaxes when Jamie guides Claire tenderly through the veil of time. This time she is forever lost to him.
The final scenes of Episode 2.06, “Best Laid Schemes,” remains for me some of the most thrilling performed in Season 2. This is the brilliant build-up to the ultimate clash between good and evil. Track #9 “The Duel” begins as Claire sets off to try and stop Jamie and Black Jack from their fight to the death. As the carriage careens through the streets of Paris and into the Bois du Bologne, Claire struggles with what we learn later is the beginnings of her premature labor. We know from earlier scenes that Claire may be experiencing complications, and as the scene escalates alongside the music, there is a feeling of foreboding. Bear describes it best:
The first time I saw this scene, I hyperventilated. For real. The music only amplifies the feelings one gets when watching the climactic conclusion to a very pivotal moment in Jamie and Claire’s story in Paris. It deserves its spot as the #2 Top Musical Moment of Season 2.
#1 – Moch Sa Mhadainn
And, we certainly did get that from Bear McCreary. However, what was added was an emphasis on military percussion and bagpipes signifying the nearness of war and battle. Bear and his Scottish music historian, John Purser, were meticulous in their research, once again, as they sought examples of songs accurate to the time period. So many of the surviving Jacobite tunes were written after the rising and, therefore, reflected the defeat of the Scots. Bear needed something that was written during the time of the uprising that instead would suggest a feeling of hope and optimism for a promise of victory.
What he found was a song composed by a poet from the Jacobite era – Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair. The tune is called, “Moch Sa Mhadainn.” The rough Gaelic translation of the title is “I Arose Early in the Morning.” McCreary wove this tune into many of the tracks we hear during the second half of the season including Track #12 “Je Suis Prest,” Track #13 “125 Yards,” Track #15 “The Uprising Begins” and during the end credits for Episode 2.09, “The Fox’s Lair.” However, the full vocal rendition in Track #17 is the standout for me. Bear’s research revealed that Alasdair had composed the tune upon learning that Bonnie Prince Charlie had made the trip from France and landed at Glenfinnian ready to lead the Scots to victory. It was full of optimism and belief that with the Bonnie Prince’s leadership, the possibility of victory was achievable.
Great is my joy and hearty laughter
Since I’ve heard of the Prince’s coming
To the land of Clanranald
In addition to Grioigair, Bear added some vocals from a male Gaelic chorus to suggest the groups of Highland men who likely would have joined in as the song was sung during their battle marches. The emotional impact of this tune infuses the second half of the season through all its various iterations. It embodies, for me, everything I love about the story of Outlander and Jamie and Claire’s struggles in Season 1 and Season 2. All of the variations of this original and historically accurate folk song are used to brilliant effect throughout Season 2. Without hesitation, therefore, I choose the use and adaptation of “Moch Sa Mhadainn” throughout the second half of Season 2 as my #1 Top Musical Moment.