Are We Really Leaving Scotland Behind? But Wait! What About the Penny Whistle?

Written by: Denise Stewart

As we were entering into season two of Outlander, so many articles and interviews were cataloged over how the new season would be vastly different from season one.  The second season mostly takes place in Paris, and more specifically, in the presence of King Louis XV’s court.  With the inclusion of the French aristocracy, the story line is more complex as it now centers on Jamie and Claire fighting for the political, as well as nationalistic, future of Scotland.  Even the sets and costumes are more elaborate--bright silks and embroidery replace the heavy wools with muted colors and elaborate interiors/ formal gardens are now the main set pieces.

But we hadn’t heard too much about the music of this new season.  

And as I thought about it more, I began to get a little anxious. If everything else has changed tone, so must the music, right? So, what about that Scottish sound that has become so synonymous with Outlander? How can I live without the penny whistle or the bodhrán?

Enter Bear McCreary to answer all of my doubts and ease my mind.

In case you have never read Bear McCreary’s blog page before, might I suggest that you take a turn from our own outstanding blog and peruse his here.  I just love reading about his viewpoint on this page! He is a true mastermind. Never have I been so enthralled with the score of a television show before. I attribute it all to him and his love for the time period. Reading his blog allows someone like me to live inside of the music. It adds more to my experience as I am watching the show.   

McCreary writes on the intricacies of everything from how he decided on a piece, to the instrumentation that he used in those pieces. He has a passion for his music and is quick to open all the doors which allow us, the viewers, into his thought process to experience the soundtrack from a much more enlightened standpoint.

Bear turned out blogs for every episode in season one (some pages were dedicated to just one episode, while others combined a few episodes together).  And he was ready for season two with a post about the premiere.  Let me share some of that with you along with my take on season two. 

The Skye Boat Song

When I first started to really think about what the differences might be, the first thing that came to my mind was the main theme,  “The Skye Boat Song.”  I was devastated.  

All my thoughts kept going to how can he make it more like the new setting and still hold true to the roots of the story in Scotland?  Come on, honestly?  To hear Raya Yarbrough sing this tune so eloquently with the snare and bagpipes behind her just stirs my soul into the setting of Scotland. But we’re going to Paris!  What is going to happen to the bagpipes, and the bodhrán, and the penny whistle? I shudder!  

Raya Yarbrough and Bear

According to Bear this seemed to be the biggest challenge going into the new season. He even admitted that, “Altering a series main title is a risky move.  The entire point of a main title is to be consistent from episode to episode, building a relationship with the audience.”  But still he admits that he stripped the entire song down and rewrote it in the French Baroque style using the viola da gamba, harpsichord, and chamber strings.

French Scottish? Nothing? I’m crying here. Please stop the anguish, the heartbreak….

They had experts come in and rewrite all of the lyrics in French, and Raya learned those lyrics. But the STARZ execs were not on board with that! They didn’t like that the familiarity of season one was gone. Oh DEAR GOD someone is thinking here!!  And they worried what would happen in future seasons? (WAIT!!! Future seasons?? Woohoo!! We’re getting new seasons?? Hold on....I digress.)  Back to the music.

Bear then constructed a beautiful mix in which Raya starts off singing the lyrics in English but to the accompaniment of the viola da gamba. If you watch the opening theme you will see that while this part is being sung, the visuals are all of season one, Scotland! Then Raya transitions to singing in French and the sound of the bagpipes and snares are her background! During this music, the scenes take us to France!

Talk about getting the chills.

I have watched this several times already (don’t judge me), and I just feel it take my breath away! Well, done, Mr. McCreary.  Well done.  Best said in his own words, we “accomplished our goal of representing Paris in the main title theme without feeling like a completely different show.  This hybrid approach is the ideal version for broadcast, yet I’m hopeful fans will have an opportunity to hear the fully French version”  Hello??  Did I hear someone say season two soundtrack?!?!

It’s Frank’s Time

By now you all know that we spend a large amount of time not in France this episode, but in Scotland, in the 20th century!  During the first season Bear had created a short piece, and he titled  it “Frank’s Theme.”  Because Frank was from the 1940’s, this theme is mostly played on a clarinet, an instrument not commonly known to 18th Century Scotland.   Bear seems to love the fact that he was able to revisit this theme and build it into so much more than what we heard before, that he actually refers to this expanded theme more as the “Frank Symphony.”  Now I’m not typically a Team Frank girl, but between the awesomely fantastic acting coming from Tobias Menzies, and the music by Bear, to say I am being swooned would be a very accurate call…..but don’t push it!  

Ready To Move Forward

The “symphony” story starts off simple and with restraint echoed in the solitary clarinet line.  As Frank learns of Claire’s story, the same theme becomes more dark to match his rage and disbelief.  By the end of the exchange it is a full “epic finale” that plays as they go to Boston.  Bear stays away from the Scottish instruments that we have come to know and love so well to give the viewer the sense that we are moving along in the story. After all, Claire is leaving Jamie behind and so must the score.  This makes me sad, anxious…I want some penny whistle!!

BUT he does sneak in those hauntingly familiar sounds to help evoke Claire's emotions as she is remembering Jamie.  Thank goodness all is not lost! Yet we MUST move forward, because that is where the story is taking us.  

Bear says that the most striking visual image in this story to him is when Frank is burning Claire’s clothes as she is looking out the window.  All at once we are feeling her anguish, her loss, her suffering. But we are watching Frank and his joy, his victory, his relief.  And me? I’m in total despair. I’m torn because  I hear the sounds of Scotland fading away, yet the most beautiful music is making such a crescendo I can’t deny that it’s stirring so much emotion. A full string orchestral moment when all seems to be looking up. It filled my heart and made me feel so optimistic and sad at the same time. Maybe Claire will be able to move on and if she does, so shall I .....hesitantly, but I will go where the story, and Bear, takes me. 
Then we arrive in New York City.  

The music trails off.

Frank reaches for Claire’s hand; Claire reaches for Frank’s hand and then….BAM!! Jamie!

It was a wonderful transition, but made even more beautiful by the revival of the Jamie and Claire theme with full orchestra with a hint of penny whistle and fiddle.  There it is, another Mrs. Fitz fist pumping moment for me…Hurrah!!!

Bear noted that at the world premiere screening in New York, he and Raya had the opportunity to perform live.  And says “I must say this moment with the audience was unforgettable: the packed theater absolutely erupted into elated cheers and applause” when the Jamie and Claire theme transpired. Is it any wonder? It is such a beautiful piece of music no matter how or on what instruments it is played.  But to KNOW that it is Jamie and Claire sends it right over the top! I’m sure I giggled when I heard it the first time through.  They’re back.  They are in France, but they are together. And hopefully some of the music that I have come to love will follow.  

Moving on Up!!

Although we are now in France, we are at the docks and not present in the King’s Court just yet.  Because of this, Bear felt he still had some time to play with the instruments native to Jamie and his homeland. And to this I say, “Bring It On!!”  I’m not ready to leave it behind!

The Comte St. Germain

So, McCreary continued to hold onto the familiarity of the Scottish sounds while Jamie and Claire adapted to life in Le Havre.   But those times are short lived and the final tone awards us a glimpse into what is the future they will be experiencing with the newest theme…..the theme of Comte Saint Germain.  And in case you missed it, Kendra wrote a fabulous piece about the Comte with some fascinating video links.  Check it out!

The Comte is an actual historical figure who was present in the Courts of King Louis XV. In the story, Claire becomes his foe almost immediately upon setting foot in France.  He is portrayed as “a corrupt merchant and courtier who stands out from the gritty sailors and merchants in the warehouse where he makes his memorable entrance.” In real life he was a man who appreciated the arts and was somewhat of a composer himself.  So Bear was able to adapt a piece of the Comte’s original composition called “Se mai riviene” and use it as the theme for the aristocrat.  Talk about hitting the composer lottery!!  Bear uses the viola da gamba and the harpsichord to introduce this theme - and THIS is our first true look at what’s to come in the next episodes.  

As the episode comes to a close,  we continue to hear this same wonderful theme.  It starts off simply and moves to a more elegant piece of music.  Bear says that the End Credits are the most baroque sounds that we have heard for the show but just the beginning of this wonderful, opulent world.  And that this first episode is one of the most “crushingly beautiful” stories he has written for.

I say this, I was really worried --no, REALLY worried--- when I realized that we would not be hearing the familiar tunes of the Scottish people in this season.  I love the sounds and the fullness of the Highland music. It’s gritty and beautiful all at the same time.  It stirs such emotion in me.
But after seeing, and hearing,  this first episode; reading Bear’s blog page; and especially playing the main theme over and over again, I’m hooked!! I cannot wait to see what this musical genius has in store for all of us. We can be sure that we will continue to hear some of our favorite, familiar tunes only with a different sound.

But that’s OK!!  

Because….we’re not in Scotland anymore!

Wait? OR ARE WE?! I was almost finished with this piece when I saw some trailers for the next episode. I still hear the bodhrán and bagpipes. Maybe it won’t be all harpsichords and violins! Guess we'll have to stay tuned to find out!

What do you think about the music of Season 2? Are YOU ready to move forward? Do you think we will still hear echoes of the past?


  1. Thanks for highlighting the score...such an integral part of the emotional content of the series. It is hard to believe that the actors never hear the music in their scenes until the final episode is in the can. In a way, It feels like they are responding to the music. I guess you have knocked the cover off the ball when the acting and the score become inseparable. Waiting for the CD!!

  2. That is amazing and all thanks to the composer and his team! They get to see ALL of it before we ever think about it....well, maybe we are thinking about it, but that's a whole other blog!


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