Who wrote the Planet Earth soundtrack – and where can you watch the latest episodes?

31 December 2018, 12:57 | Updated: 31 December 2018, 14:10

Planet Earth
Planet Earth. Picture: Getty

By Helena Asprou

From dark caves to the depths of the jungle, here’s everything you need to know about this captivating series and its original soundtrack

Planet Earth is a multi-award-winning TV documentary series exploring some of the world’s most fascinating habitats.

For the first time ever, audiences could watch some of the world's rarest animals in their native habitats, in high-definition.

The show was first broadcast in 2006, and ran for a series of 11, 50-minute episodes – and they’re all narrated by national treasure David Attenborough.

Who wrote the music for Planet Earth?

The Planet Earth soundtrack was written by George Fenton, an English composer well-known for writing beautiful music for the screen.

His soundtrack became so popular with TV audiences that it was swiftly released as an album in the same year the show was first broadcast.

Performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra, the album recording is more than 130 minutes long in total and follows the success of Fenton’s Blue Planet soundtrack – a documentary focussed on marine life, which found its fame five years earlier.

Tracks on the Planet Earth album include ‘Fresh Water’, ‘Mountains’ and ‘Deserts’ as well as ‘Great Plains’, ‘Jungles’ and ‘Seasonal Forests’.

In 2007, the score for the opening episode ‘From Pole to Pole’ won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series.

Speaking to Film Music Magazine, George explained why his nature scores can have a positive influence on an audience’s treatment of the environment: “I’m very proud to have written for those films and I think the films themselves have increased peoples’ appetite for the natural world and subsequently their awareness.

“I think what the music contributed was a more emotional connection with the footage. It seems that the music and the footage together allows people to engage with the stories in their own way and at their own pace.”

George Fenton
George Fenton. Picture: Getty

Musical highlights

In ‘Great Plains’, the opening of this piece is lightly scored, with the woodwind taking the melody as gazelles migrate across vast stretches of land – but when fire sparks panic among the herd, the music becomes much more dramatic.

Repeated figures in the strings are combined with powerful brass crescendos and crashing cymbals to reflect this sudden disturbance.

Later in the episode, the French horn’s heavy timbre introduces bulky wildebeest, while harp glissandos, rapid flute flourishes and a triangle represent the rebirth of flowers in the prairies of North America.

In ‘Jungles’, as the jaguar hunts down its prey booming bass drums and sustained notes build suspense.

The dolphin scene in ‘Ocean Deep’ is another musical highlight, with a rich orchestral sound, pizzicato detail and ascending scales in the woodwind creating a sense of movement as the animals swim closer to their target.

Planet Earth II and Hans Zimmer

Given the popularity of the first series, a six-part sequel was announced ten years later – Planet Earth II – and its main theme was written by none other than Hans Zimmer.

The German musician is one of the world's best-known film composers, having written the soundtracks for ‘The Lion King’, ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Gladiator’.

Standout scenes include ‘Racer Snakes vs Iguanas’, ‘Lions vs Giraffe’ and ‘Flight over Alps’.

Zimmer described his impressionistic approach to Billboard: “We are so used to terra firma, but as soon as we’re in the water we have these big arcs, these big waves, and within that there’s constant movement.

“The idea of taking an orchestra and saying to them, ‘Everything they taught you about how to become this one body – let’s just forget about this. I want to hear the individual players; I want to hear the ebb and flow.’ We called this new style, this way of playing, the Tidal Orchestra.”

The record for Planet Earth II also featured original music by Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe for Bleeding Fingers Music.

When asked which pieces stood out the most, Jasha told AXS: “I would say one of my favourite scenes is the Bird of Paradise in the 'Jungles' episode. Basically, they have this male bird who’s out in the jungle, trying to stand out and be seen. He’s removed all the leaves from the forest in that area, getting it all fixed up, [and] the goal is then for him to be the brightest thing in the forest.

“He waits weeks, months, for a mate to come along, and he shows off his fantastic green feathers, being the brightest leaf. I thought that the commentary was so clever in the way that Attenborough winks at the scene. It was just a real joy to score.”

Hans Zimmer
Hans Zimmer . Picture: Getty

Planet Earth Tracklist

Disc One

1 "Prelude", "From Pole to Pole"
2 "The Journey of the Sun", "From Pole to Pole"
3 "Hunting Dogs", "From Pole to Pole"
4 "Elephants in the Okavango", "From Pole to Pole"
5 "Diving into the Darkness", "Caves"
6 "Stalactite Gallery", "Caves"
7 "Bat Hunt", "Caves"
8 "Discovering Deer Cave", "Caves"
9 "Angel Falls", "Fresh Water"
10 "River Predation", "Fresh Water"
11 "Iguacu", "Fresh Water"
12 "The Snow Geese", "Fresh Water"
13 "The Geladas", "Mountains"
14 "The Snow Leopard", "Mountains"
15 "The Karakoram", "Mountains"
16 "The Earth's Highest Challenge", "Mountains"
17 "Desert Winds / The Locusts", "Deserts"
18 "Fly Catchers", "Deserts"
19 "Namibia — The Lions and the Oryx", "Deserts"

Disc Two

1 "Plains High and Low", "Great Plains"
2 "The Wolf and the Caribou", "Great Plains"
3 "Tibet (Reprise) / Close", "Great Plains"
4 "Surfing Dolphins", "Shallow Seas"
5 "Dangerous Landing", "Shallow Seas"
6 "Mother and Calf — The Great Journey", "Shallow Seas"
7 "The Canopy / Flying Lemur", "Jungles"
8 "Frog Ballet / Jungle Falls", "Jungles"
9 "The Cordyceps", "Jungles"
10 "Hunting Chimps", "Jungles"
11 "The Redwoods", "Seasonal Forests"
12 "Fledglings", "Seasonal Forests"
13 "Seasonal Change", "Seasonal Forests"
14 "Discovering Antarctica", "Ice Worlds"
15 "The Humpbacks' Bubblenet", "Ice Worlds"
16 "Everything Leaves but the Emperors", "Ice Worlds"
17 "The Disappearing Sea Ice", "Ice Worlds"
18 "Lost in the Storm", "Ice Worlds"
19 "A School of Five Hundred", "Ocean Deep"
20 "Giant Mantas", "Ocean Deep"
21 "Life Near the Surface", "Ocean Deep"
22 "The Choice is Ours", "Ocean Deep"

Listen to the soundtrack on Spotify.