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6 July 2021, 17:23 | Updated: 7 July 2021, 13:45
The brilliant dystopian Margaret Atwood drama is back on our screens – what instrumental and classical music are we hearing in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?
The Handmaid’s Tale is back on our screens, and Elisabeth Moss continues to stun with the rest of the cast in Margaret Atwood’s brilliant dystopian drama.
The TV series, now in its fourth season, is created by Bruce Miller and based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood of the same name.
The plot tells of life in Gilead, a dystopian society ruled by a fundamentalist religious regime that recognises women as property of the state. There is a fertility crisis, never quite explained, which sees women captured and enslaved for the hope of a future generation for Gilead.
In the dark drama, we follow lead character June – named by Gilead’s powers-that-be after the man she’s currently ‘the property’ of – as she navigates confinement, tragedy, rebellion, and just enough hope to keep us hopelessly addicted.
But let’s talk about the music.
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The Handmaids Tale’s soundtrack features original music composed by Adam Taylor. The score is as dark, brooding and tense as the action unfolding on screen.
Taylor, a self-taught musician and film composer also known for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Before I Fall, has previously described the score as reflecting the “dark yet hopeful” action on screen.
He told Behind the Audio, “I recalled a conversation with series creator Bruce Miller where he describes a world which is dark, but hopeful. That description shaped how I approached the creation of a theme that would emotionally connect the audience to the various systems at play in the series.
“The systems are the antagonist of the series, a relentless and indifferent force that is slowly disfiguring society and the inhabitants of Gilead. I thought about it like waves of sound, waves that slowly grew in volume and dissonance until it overcame the senses. This led to what we landed on as the opening theme, and also how we approached the dynamics and shaping of the orchestral elements of the score.”
Taylor’s theme music is minimalist, and begins with a guitar playing a two-note ostinato figure and a moving arrangement for the strings. Tension builds quickly with eerie-sounding digital samples, an ominous bass drum and crashing cymbals.
Taylor’s score is accompanied by several well-known contemporary rock, pop and trip hop songs, as well as some familiar classical music.
Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2 crops up in the third episode of Season 4, and contemporary composer Max Richter’s aching On The Nature of Daylight can be heard at a moving, climactic point in the Season 4 finale (no spoilers here).
Earlier in the series, in Season 1, music by award-winning film composer Hildur Guðnadóttir can be heard, including during a rare birth scene in Episode 2.
And a mashup of minimalist composer Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto with Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’, also appears on the Season 1 soundtrack.
Read more: What is minimalism?
Adam Taylor is a self-taught TV and film composer based in Long Beach, California, who has become popular with music fans for his contemporary scores.
His interest in music began at an early age, picking up the guitar at 15 and performing in bands during his school years, as well as writing music for prayer meetings at his church.
However, Taylor’s career as a composer really got started after his music was heard by film director Eliot Rausch, who invited him to collaborate on a number of short films, including the soundtrack for John Wells’ August: Osage County.
Taylor wrote his first full film soundtrack for the 2015 American drama, Meadowland, before penning the main theme and music for The Handmaid’s Tale, released by Lakeshore Records in 2017. He also composed the main theme and music for Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018).
To hear Adam Taylor’s main theme and other music from the show’s soundtrack, head to Spotify: