This year’s Emmy nominees for Best Music Composition for a Series (Original Dramatic Score) include a mix of period and contemporary shows, and even a nature docuseries. The nominees are Netflix’s “The Crown,” “House of Cards” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” FX’s “Taboo,” PBS’s “Victoria” and BBC America’s “Planet Earth II.”
The Best Music Composition category is equivalent to the Best Original Score category at the Oscars, honoring composers who create the instrumental score that enhance each scene with greater emotion. The history of this category at the Emmys shows a preference for Best Series nominees, like “Downton Abbey,” “Lost,” “Mr. Robot” and “24,” though there has also been a fair share of less-rewarded winners, like “Enterprise” and “Legend of the Seeker.”
Two of this year’s nominees have a track record in this category, with “House of Cards” winning in 2015 and the original “Planet Earth” winning a decade ago in 2007. The other four nominees are new shows. There is also a wide variety of nomination totals for these six programs, with “The Crown” leading at 13, then “Planet Earth II” at 10, “House of Cards” at seven, “Taboo” and “Victoria” at two apiece, and “A Series of Unfortunate Events” with just the one. Which TV show will take the gold this year? Let’s break down each of the nominated scores from their submitted episodes:
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” — Episode: “The Bad Beginning” — James Newton Howard
Composer James Newton Howard strikes a balance between horror and comedy with his score for “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” In “The Bad Beginning,” the first installment of the show, the music is creepy and gothic with hints of wry humor, helping set the show’s tone. It is a score that would fit right in with Tim Burton and Danny Elfman’s various collaborations. The use of the accordion is also reminiscent of another dark comedy series, “Pushing Daisies,” which won this Emmy in 2008.
“The Crown” — Episode: “Hyde Park Corner” — Rupert Gregson-Williams
The score for “The Crown,” written by Rupert Gregson-Williams, is as grand and sweeping as you’d expect for a show about Queen Elizabeth II. A full orchestra populates the score, as heard throughout “Hyde Park Corner,” with the strings adding extra dramatic effect and steadily building to a crescendo in many pieces. It is a score at once refined and epic, not unlike “Downton Abbey,” which won this category twice.
“House of Cards” — Episode: “Chapter 63” — Jeff Beal
The “House of Cards” Season 5 score features similar themes from the first four seasons, with Jeff Beal returning to add new flourishes the show’s musical palate. “Chapter 63” features both subtle, piano-driven tracks that simmer with tension and full orchestra pieces that sound like the Underwoods are preparing for a bloody war. Beal won in 2015 on his fourth nomination for “House of Cards,” and he has an additional three wins for his work on other series.
“Planet Earth II” — Episode: “Islands” — Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe
“Planet Earth II” composers Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe accurately tailor each track to fit the various animals seen. In “Islands” we hear a quirky melodic tune for a scene featuring sloths, a soaring, free-flowing track for the albatross, and a huge orchestra going full horror and action in a scene where snakes chase an iguana. While the first “Planet Earth” did win this category in 2007, this is Shea and Klebe’s first nominations.
“Taboo” — Episode: “Episode 1” — Max Richter
Fans of “The Leftovers” were hoping composer Max Richter would get an Emmy nomination for his haunting score on that show, but his work on “Taboo” is pretty impressive, too. The score for “Taboo” in the first episode is very tense, with an orchestra of horns and strings providing a dark, brooding atmosphere as James Delaney (Tom Hardy) fights his opponents to protect his family’s land.
“Victoria” — Episode: “Doll 123” — Martin Phipps, Ruth Barrett, and Natalie Holt
The “Victoria” score is quite similar to “The Crown,” with a classical-inspired sound that is reflective of its subject matter. Echoes of the show’s triumphant theme song are heard throughout “Doll 123,” while other tracks have a quiet darkness that fits with Queen Victoria’s (Jenna Coleman) tumultuous start to her reign.
So which show will win the Emmy for Best Music Composition for a Series? Series nominees tend to do well here, which bodes well for “The Crown,” “House of Cards,” and “Planet Earth II.” All three shows have varying themes that show off a wide range, from quiet moments to pulse-pounding climaxes. Yet, Howard and Richter are both established names in the composer world and Phipps has four previous nominations, so no show is completely out of the race.
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