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  • Composed by Edmund Butt
  • Silva Screen / 2016 / 59m

A stunning three-part BBC documentary series from 2009, Yellowstone follows a year in the life of the national park.  One of the great tv series of its kind, it is endlessly fascinating and entertaining, showing an array of both geological and animal splendour.  It won numerous awards and was very successful around the world, with its elk and eagles and geysers and grizzly bears.

George Fenton had not long set a new standard for scoring this type of show with Planet Earth, and that style of classically-informed symphonic music has gone on to dominate the genre; of everything that has come since, Edmund Butt’s Yellowstone may just be the best by someone other than Fenton himself.  I loved it in the show from when I first watched and kept watching out for a soundtrack album but once the home video release had been and gone I thought hope had gone; but now, seven years after it was aired, from nowhere the music has finally seen the light of day thanks to Silva Screen.  Those who have watched the show will need no convincing to go out and buy it without delay.

The music is essentially everything you might want a score like this to be: it’s big and rousing, rich and beautiful, highly melodic of course and very entertaining.  All of that is pretty much encapsulated within the opening cue “Winter in Yellowstone”, with the rousing Planet Earth-style main theme soaring away quite majestically.  “Footprints in the Snow” is much calmer, classically romantic and again with that George Fenton sense of grace to it; then “Otters Playing” is the first of the delicious, more light-hearted cues, a Russian tinge to the solo cello with piano and pizzicato violins.  Such a lovely piece.  “The Firehole River” is a little more sombre at first, but the piano figure that emerges as the piece progresses is just heavenly.

The whole album continues this, alternating between those styles and moods presented in those opening cues.  The main theme does crop up now and again but generally Butt keeps things fresh with plenty of original melodic content being introduced throughout.  The softer moments are delightfully gentle, at times timidly moving along like a youngster taking first steps, at others fluttering playfully (check out “Humming Birds in Flight”); the grander ones (and there are plenty of those – grandest of all probably being the gigantic “New Spring”) are just exactly that.  Then there are the moments of great drama – “action” I guess – like the rambunctious western-style rhythms of part of “Pronghorn Migration”, the ominous growling of “Frozen Bison”, the James Bond-style menace that opens “Super Volcano” and is then reprised in the outstanding “Old Faithful”.  The album ends with the soaring “Flying Over Yellowstone”, which is everything you’d expect it to be.

Yellowstone is just joyous music.  Anyone who loves Fenton’s Planet Earth and Frozen Planet will most certainly love this; and in general, the only people who don’t love Planet Earth and Frozen Planet are those who haven’t heard them.  It would be remiss not to mention its debt to some great classical works, but equally it’s hard to see that as a particular negative.  Edmund Butt’s an excellent composer and I’m surprised (not to mention disappointed) that he hasn’t scored another of these shows; at least this one is finally available to all to hear and enjoy.  Needless to say it’s very highly recommended.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. Momo SkySky (Reply) on Friday 12 February, 2016 at 05:14

    A fine documentary, but unfortunately I haven’t seen all of it because my ears won’t tolerate the narration >.< No offense to Mr. Peter Firth, but in my opinion it was the worst form of documentary narration, where the speaker seems to inject sibilance simply for the sake of drama (Galapagos, South Pacific and Wild China also suffered from this, as do basically 85% of all non-Attenborough documentaries imo). It's great to hear this music got an official release though, because it is truly a standout score.