Music (Original Score)
Supernatural has two score composers. Christopher Lennertz and Jay Gruska, brought in by executive producers Eric Kripke and Robert Singer respectively, who typically share the composing responsibility by alternating episodes throughout a season. While both have worked hard in creating, retaining, and evolving a unified sound for the show over the years, they still nonetheless have their revealed their own distinct style.
Christopher Lennertz received an Emmy nomination for his work on the series' first season in 2006. A promotional CD was produced for this but not released commercially.
In a Variety special feature published on April 15th 2010, to celebrate Supernatural's 100th episode, Lennertz spoke about the series' scoring.
Despite the ongoing presence of angels and demons, what you won't hear in "Supernatural" are the religioso musical cliches from horror films, such as choirs chanting in Latin. "Eric wanted it to be spiritual without ever feeling traditionally Roman Catholic," says Lennertz. The occasional comedic moments provide a little respite from the darker, more dissonant sounds, and those are done "in a very tongue-in-cheek style," adds Lennertz. "We tip the hat to the classic rock that Dean loves so much, with a little distorted guitar, old rock organ, things like that."
An original soundtrack CD was released September 7th, 2010, featuring 18 score cues from the past five seasons of Supernatural! See Supernatural: Original Television Soundtrack for details.
Score identification and analysis by zimshan
The score style of Supernatural was originally conceived through discussions between Eric Kripke and Christopher Lennertz for the Pilot 1.01. This sound became the original template for the show, and evolved throughout the season.
Lennertz Style Scoring
The scoring style of Lennertz's cues in Season One implied a preference for both the Bernard Herrmann sound, (based on the irrational by consisting of small dissonant repetitive pieces that rest on "unfulfilled" endings) and pure Jerry Goldsmith-stamped clangor. From the first moment of the series, he proved to be quite adept at crafting these moments. If you ever found yourself on the edge of your seat in anticipation or just scared absolutely shitless during this season, his scoring was probably the reason. He typically used strings more for the unsettling, scary action while turning to the piano keys for the creepy tension. His method includes working with a series of extended notes and swells along with a diverse set of percussion. While simple melodic violin-and-piano cues could also be found in his episodes, especially during the Winchester family's more emotional moments, generally speaking, his approach is very anti-melodic. His trademark pieces are perfect for the visuals that accompany it, and its effect is incredibly embedded in the subconscious but they are very indistinct and therefore harder to recognize.
Lennertz has discussed scoring for the series in numerous interviews over the years. He received an Emmy nomination for his scoring of the Pilot 1.01 in Summer 2006.
NEWS, ARTICLES, AND INTERVIEWS
- February 2008 - TrackSounds 2008 Interview with Lennertz
- July 2007 - Winchester Journal Interview with Lennertz
- May 2007 - Sequential Tart's Interview with Lennertz
- Summer 2006: Christopher Lennertz's scoring from Supernatural received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Original Dramatic Score) on the Pilot (1.01)
- July 26, 2006: TrackSounds interviews Lennertz
- August 17, 2006: Scifi.com article on Lennertz's score and Emmy nod
- September 29, 2006: Ain't It Cool News interviews Lennertz
On August 25, 2006, a compilation entitled 'Supernatural Official Soundtrack' was leaked on the Internet, which consisted of a number of Lennertz's cues used throughout Season One. Most of this compilation is heavily skewed toward his earlier work in the season, and features more of his trademark anti-melodic pieces, but some of his more melodic string-and-piano cues show up as well ("Dean Comforts Sam", "Dad Is Alive").
This promotional CD showcases the following tracks:
- And So It Begins - 1.01 - Heard in the opener as Mary gets out of bed to check on baby Sam. The beginning strains are heard again in 114 as Max tells Sam his mother died in his nursery. (Can be considered The Demon's Theme.))
- Let‘s Go Hunting - 1.01 - Heard as Dean opens up the trunk and tells Sam what John was hunting
- On the Bridge - 1.01 - Heard as Dean and Sam spot the Woman in White who falls from the bridge
- Sam Understands - 1.03 - Heard as the father sits on the deck through the son talking to the boys
- A Father‘s Despair - 1.03 - Heard after the boys first meet Lucas as the Sheriff tells them what he’s been through
- He Can‘t Speak - 1.03 - Heard as Dean colors with the kid in the park
- Not The Lake - 1.03 - Heard as the boys find the father in the boat on the lake through the attack
- A Lonely Picture - 1.03 - Heard as Dean talks to the kid the second time, realizing he’s scared and telling Lucas that his father would want him to be brave
- The Water Attacks - 1.03 - Heard as Andrea gets attacked in the tub
- Evil Awaits - 1.03 - Heard as the old lady tells Dean and Sam about her boy’s disappearance through the father sitting on the dock.
- The Hidden Terror - 1.03 - Heard throughout the climactic scene, starting as Andrea says “Tell me you didn’t kill anybody” and all the way through to Dean saving Lucas
- The Morgue - 1.05 - Heard as the boys examine the body in the morgue. Theme throughout the episode
- Dean Comforts Sam - 1.05 - Heard when Dean pulls over the car to tell Sam Jess’s death wasn’t his fault
- Searching History - 1.07 - Heard as Dean and Sam first get the boxes to go through papers at the library
- The Library - 1.07 - Heard as Sam and Dean return to the books after the pastor gets attacked
- No One Believes Me - 1.07 - Heard at the end as Laurie and Sam talks while Dean watches in the mirror
- Fighting the Beast - 1.09 - Heard as the boys fight the poltergeist in the house through Mary appearing
- Nightmare - 1.14 - Heard when the brothers are at the wake at the house, starting as Dean asks the mother about the house, through Sam talking to Max
- Into The Loft - 1.16 - Heard as Sam follows Meg through the streets and into the warehouse
- Dad Is Alive - 1.16 - Heard throughout the reunion of John and the boys
- Hell House - 1.17 - Heard as the police are drawn away from the cabin by the "Laughing Fisherman" the boys set off in the woods. (I think, confirmation anyone?)
- Boys Break In - 1.19 - Heard as the boys break in the auction house to destroy the painting
- Sam Can Love Again - 1.19 - Heard as Dean confronts Sam about moving on after Jess
- Sam Opens Up - 1.19 - Heard as Sam tells Sara about Jess
- Penance/Murder - 1.21 - Heard from the moment the episode begins (the beginning vocals were taken out of the real ep track) through Meg’s arrival and subsequent attack on Pastor Jim
In addition to these trademark Lennertz pieces appearing on the compilation, there are a few other more melodically memorable cues written by Lennertz in Season One, including:
- Home Sweet Home - 1.09 - The full opening sequence in Lawrence, Kansas
- Go Back Home - 1.09 - Sam tells Dean where they need to go next
- What Happened That Night - 1.09 - Sam and Dean discuss what they know
- Dean Calls Dad - 1.09 - Self-explanatory, don't ya think?
- Goodbye - 1.09 - Towards the end as Sam and Dean leave
- Ending - 1.10 - Sam and Dean sees the kids off, and Sam apologizes
- Let Sam Go His Own Way - 1.16 - Through Dean's confession that he wants them to be a family again
- Let Dad Go - 1.16 - As Sam and Dean let John go, and watch him drive away
- Jim Murphy's Dead - 1.21 - As the trunk and Impala drive down the road through John stopping and explaining what happened to Pastor Jim
- Finding The House - 1.21 - After Sam has the first vision, as he goes looking for the house
- Happy Family - 1.21 - As Sam leaves Monica and Rosie, and watches the family from afar
- Holy Water - 1.21 - Throughout John saying his prayer and dropping the rosary in the water
- The Brothers' Confrontation - 1.21 - Throughout Sam's lamenting at Dean not letting him go back in.
These scores can be downloaded HERE.
Gruska, in comparison, played a much more melodic hand in Season One. He typically was the one that helped fuel the show's big beating heart. While this season generally saw Lennertz more focused on the scare, Gruska was more willing to play the sentiment. He still followed in line with the original horror-based template Lennertz had crafted in the Pilot, but also evolved the sound for more emotional moments of the show into another template entirely. As a result, his episodes during this season contain a fairly equal balance between the two aspects. What struck me when I first started watching the show was the amount of actual emotion it contained, and how they could balance it in just being real instead of going over the line into the corn most shows might make it. Gruska’s cues in this season are integral to many of the most important Winchester family scenes, skilled in being just prominent enough to be effective while still being careful enough not to be intrusive. It’s unconscious enough to let a viewer live in a scene alone, but when you are listening for it, you realize why that scene worked so well for you before. It truly lent something to the scene. If you've developed a connection to these characters and their journey during Season One, most likely it’s because Gruska’s score has affected you along the way. Of course, because this IS Supernatural, he also plays the needed amount of creepy Lennertz favors so much. But generally, Season One, he showed more willingness to use strings, horns, and woodwinds (including some fabulous oboe uses), especially in terms of sentiment where Lennertz leaned more on the use of lone piano keys. During his episodes in Season One, you're more likely to hear an acoustic guitar (opposed to Lennertz's electric guitar) and as well as less-commonly used folk instruments which added a rustic Midwestern element to the overall sound of the show.
Some of his most memorable cues from Season One:
- For Jessica - 1.02 - Sam’s dream of visiting Jess’s grave
- We‘re Gonna Find Dad - 1.02 - End of episode as Dean assures Sam they’ll find John
- Triumph - 1.04 - The muted horn victory as the plane returns to safe flight
- On Solid Ground - 1.04 - The passengers return to safety of the airport
- Dad‘s Message - 1.04 - Sam and Dean call John’s cell and hear the new message. Melody heard again in 120 when John tells Sam this was never the life he wanted for him. (Can be considered Sam and John's Theme)
- Mirror Murder - 1.06 - After Dean shoots the shapeshifter, as he examines the body and retrieves his necklace
- Never Disappointed - 1.08 - Dean assures Sam John was never disappointed in him
- To Find The Truth - 1.08 - Native American instrument driven melody heard as the boys visit the tribe to find information
- Sam Wants To Find Dad - 1.08 - End of the episode as Sam admits to Dean he does want to find John
- Opener - 1.11 - Acoustic guitar melody beginning as the couple comes out of the restaurant in the town
- Dad‘s Call - 1.11 - Throughout John's call to the boys
- The Split - 1.11 - As Sam gets out of the car, Dean declares he's selfish, through Sam walking away and Dean leaving him behind
- Coming Into Town - 1.11 - Acoustic melody as Dean drives into Burkittsville
- Brothers' Goodbye - 1.11 - Throughout Dean's conversation with Sam on the cell
- To Boston - 1.11 - A short melodic piece heard as the boys see Emily's bus off
- Stuck With Sam - 1.11 - Sam tells Dean he's staying
- Sheriff Checks Out The House - 1.15 - As the Sheriff walks up to the hillbillies' house
- Don't Ever Do That Again - 1.15 - The ending as Dean expressing his sympathies to the sheriff, through Dean and Sam walking away to the close
- The Hospital Walk (Full Episode Theme) - 1.18 - Heard as the boys first investigate the hospital corridors through talking to the doctor
- Full Episode Theme - 1.18 - Same place as above, just cut before dialogue for a cleaner version of the theme
- Drive Into Town - 1.18 - A short fragment heard as the boys drive into the hotel parking lot
- Second Flashback - 1.18 - Heard throughout Dean remembering the milk and spaghettio's memory
- Asher's Sick - 1.18 - Throughout Michael telling Dean about his brother
- Old Woman (Theme) - 1.18 - Throughout Dean and Sam walking through the hospital to the old woman's room
- Fort Douglas, Wisconsin - 1.18 - Throughout Dean's reveal of what happened before
- Do Anything For Your Brother - 1.18 - As Michael comes back and agrees to help
- All Better - 1.18 - As Dean, Sam, and Michael find out the kids are all well again
- Stake Out/The Colt - 1.20 - As John stakes out the vamps with the boys, through him telling them about The Colt
- Not The Life John Wanted For Sam - 1.20 - As John explains to Sam his mindset in their fight ((Same motif as that used in 'Dad's Message' - 1.04)
- Leaving The Colt - 1.22 - A small response to Dean supposedly giving into Sam and putting The Colt in the trunk
- Pulling The Alarm - 1.22 - As Sam pulls the alarm, Dean bothers the firefighters, and Sam gets the uniforms
- Attack - 1.22 - Throughout Sam being attacked, to Dean's bullet usage
- Dean's Family Dedication Theme - 1.22 - Heard as the Impala speeds down the road in the night, this is the clean version of the motif used for Dean later in 122, more fully heard throughout 201, then again in 209, 211, and its final use in 221. (Dean's Theme Analysis)
- The Things Dean's Willing To Do (Dean's Full Theme) - 1.22 - In the cabin, the full motif is heard as Dean laments to Sam about killing for Sam, through John coming in and praising Dean
By Season Two, the scoring had evolved into a much more integrated sound. Gruska could be heard using electric guitar melodies similar to those used by Lennertz in the Silly Brothers Theme and the End Credits. Lennertz could now be heard turning to an acoustic guitar similar to Gruska's use in Scarecrow (1.11) and The Benders (1.15) to codify the Roadhouse (first notably introduced in 2.02) and help lend more of that Midwestern sound to the show. Additionally, Lennertz's score seems to have evolved immensely over the last year, especially in terms of timbre expansion, with a more liberal use of strings (such as the gorgeous piece heard during the Winchester reunion in All Hell Breaks Loose (Part 2)) and a willingness to implement woodwinds (for such sweet-sounding scores as those heard in What Is And What Should Never Be). Meanwhile, Gruska seemed to have not only experimented with different sounds this season, but also could be heard establishing an increased musical presence, especially in the case of scene transition cues (such as those in Croatoan and Playthings). Still, we saw patented Lennertz responsible for much of the exhilarating tension and suspense of the season, such as that seen in Nightshifter (2.12) and Born Under A Bad Sign (2.14), as well as classic Gruska in the emotionally-driven scenes of Heart (2.17) and Croatoan (2.09).
While overall, I tend to believe the consistency of effective scoring in the second season had waned, it also contained some of the most excellent standout moments of the series, including those written for Crossroad Blues (2.08), What Is and What Should Never Be(2.20), and arguably the best full episode score heard yet, All Hell Breaks Loose (Part 2) (2.22), all by Lennertz.
Perhaps the most noteworthy occasion of the Season Two scoring was hearing Gruska put his memorable melodic presence to work through the excellent usage of the Dean Family Dedication Theme. This theme could be heard in emotional scenes throughout the season, possessing a strong sense of meaning and purpose, adding dimension to the scenes it accompanied, and overall pulling the season together from bookend to bookend. For more on this reoccurring melody, see MOTIFS below. Downloads for this motif can be located HERE.
(The following criticism was taken from S3 Score Analysis & Downloads by zimshan.)
While I will always enjoy Supernatural score, and while undoubtedly there still were a number of bright and shining moments this year, ultimately, I regret to say that for the most part of this season, I found the score to be disappointing in comparison to the quality of past seasons. While I understand that the source material might not have been consistently there as it had previously, we saw much less attempt to help the source than in past season. Score was widely inconsistent, notably absent or dull, and in some cases, actually a hindrance. Probably the biggest misstep of the season was how much of ‘Bad Day in Black Rock’ 3.03 scored by Lennertz was littered with gimmicky sitcom-like score which was far too cartoonish for this show and under-valued the episode as a whole.
Stand outs were still seen though, most notably in Lennertz’s beautiful chorale-like "Be My Brother Again" score featured in ‘Fresh Blood’ 3.07 as well as the return of Gruska’s "Dean Theme" in ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ 3.16. "What I Have Done" 3.07 is one of my personal favorites of the season, accenting the moment of Sam’s reaction to facing his brother after one of the most brutal kills of the show. It gave an honesty to the moment, and it was small but open and raw and beautiful.
We did see a number of tightly consistent whole episodic scores by Lennertz as well. One of the reasons why I find 'Fresh Blood' 3.07 and 'Jus In Bello' 3.12 the best two episodes of the season is because of the entirely consistent and fabulously strong score that supports them. The unique set of beautiful unifying woodwinds that pervaded most of 'Bedtime Stories' 3.05 really helped immensely in pulling off one of the more 'hard to sell' episode concepts of the series. That episode's related trio of "The Truth", "Letting Go", and "What Dean Wants" succeeded in tying together the emotional resonance of the episode to the boys far before narrative drew its own line. And as lackluster as the episode itself was, Lennertz did an excellent set of diverse cues for ‘A Magnificent Seven’ 3.01, from the gritty, metallic clangor of "Enter Ruby" and "Ruby Stalks Sam" to the simple melodic morning mourning of "Burial" and "Parting Words". And of course, the source of most fans' favorite moment of the episode, the strings-featured calm-before-the-storm during Sam and Dean's holy water pouring silence, "A Quiet Moment", accomplished in 28 seconds and one look, what the whole rest of the episode was trying to do: make you feel the gravity of their situation.
The problem became in a lot of ways, the consistency of the score from episode to episode throughout the season. Whereas in S1 each composer had their own style but could still keep the show sounding cohesive week to week, in S2 the two styles had really evolved to create a more integrated sound that stayed much more consistent episode to episode. But somewhere along the line between S2 and S3 though, Gruska and Lennertz diverged widely.
Ultimately, a lot of what I loved about Gruska's scoring in the first season seemed to be missing for a majority of the season. Much of the episodic score by Gruska seemed derivative, and at some points, bordering on gimmicky. Some people expressed their endearment for the humor-ladden scores dubbed by many as Crack Music. It first appeared in 3.02 by Gruska ("Sitcomic Crack Music"), later littered in 3.03 by Lennertz ("Crack #3", "Sam's Bad Luck") and repeated in 3.10 and 3.11 again by Gruska. And I'll be honest, to me, it sounds like something right out of a Seinfield sitcom and honestly, I think, has no place in this show. [Lennertz's electric guitar-featured Silly Brothers motif used in the first two seasons seemed to be much more effective and in line with the show's style.] The run-of-the-mill ER-type running music was used far too often, mostly during chases, like in 3.02 [dubbed "Funkytown Score" for lack of a better name] as well as Sam's Macho montage of 3.11 ["Holy Full Metal Jacket Sam]. In both cases, it detracted from the tension the episodes had created, by pulling viewers out of the scene. I'd be lying if I didn't say they haven't grown on me over time, mostly because it now is PART of the show, but it doesn't change the fact that critically, all of this makes the show sound...dare I say, cheap? It takes away the cinematic quality that the show and its score used to consistently have. Which is absolutely ridiculous because we all know Gruska can do FAR better. We’ve HEARD it.
You never know what inspires a composer or what doesn't. We all know S3 was different than the seasons past, perhaps the material just didn't appeal as much as it had previously. Perhaps he was instructed differently by the producers (I have a sneaky suspicion that's who we can blame the numerous Crack Music reuses on), or was preoccupied with other projects. Perhaps he just needed more to work with. Important moments of the series, like those in 3.08 and 3.16 saw Gruska rise to the occasion. My number one personal favorite cue of the season was "Like Father, Like Son" heard in Gruska's 'No Rest For The Wicked' 3.16, which was absolutely gorgeous in timbre and tone that expanded the sentiment of the moment far past the resonance one would have gotten without it. I would LOVE to see it reused in the future for Sam, if the occasion warranted it, and I know I'm not alone in that. [Hint, Hint: *singsongs* Sam still doesn't have his own theme!] I also loved the instances of "Funky Guitar Impala Interludes" Gruska used in a number of episodes to take the place of the Mullet Rock the budget couldn't pay for. A couple of little seconds really helped to preserve the original sound of the show that got lost where we went entire episodes without hearing any guitar strings. And in one small but severely interesting reuse, the "Mirror Murder" first heard when Dean killed his shapeshifter self way back in 'Skins' 1.06, was used again in 3.10 ("Double Mirror Murder") as Dean kills his Demon self and Sam kills his own mirror, Jeremy.
One of the things that really became evident to me while working on this project was just how ridiculously absent the rustic part of the show had become this season. This is through no fault of the composers, obviously, but its absence is really reflected in the score itself, and is horribly missed. You can hear Lennertz try to infuse a piece of that rustic sound in a few spare moments anyway, once in 3.03 ("Gun Draw"), and once in 3.12 ("The Boys Walk In"). But ultimately, the episodes themselves were much more located in middle class, suburban or urban settings, rather than small towns and rural settings of the past seasons, and it's difference is definitely heard in its sound.
I say this as a reminder that scoring IS actually based off the show itself, and if the material doesn't give it, the score can't either. No one will argue with the fact that there were some missteps in Season Three, and its inconsistency was seen in everything from the writing right down to the scoring.
BUT. The upcoming season sounds to be, from all accounts, pulling out ALL THE STOPS.
So, for the upcoming fourth season, I would like to call on BOTH composers to step up to the plate and try to equal their truly cinematic score of the first season. Take a step back, look at what worked previously, key standout score episodes such as ‘Home’, 'Scarecrow' and ‘What Is’, standalones like 'Phantom Traveler' and 'Something Wicked', and beloved reoccurring motifs such as Dean’s Theme. Like I said, Sam still hasn't gotten one of his own, and if there's anytime to start one, now will be the time! And guys, if you're reading? Ditch the Crack Music, 'kay?
(The following criticism was taken from S4 Score Analysis & Downloads by zimshan.)
If we hold that higher quality score comes out of work that inspires its composers, then season four must have inspired Supernatural's composers in spades. To put it simply, these guys got their mojo back this year. It was not without some struggle, the first couple episodes of the season sounds as though both Gruska and Lennertz were searching for something. But as the world of the show expanded into new territories, so did the show’s sound palette. As the show started pulling itself back to its roots, harking back to old characters and eluding to past episodes, so the score began becoming more closely stitched, tying old melodies into new ones and new themes into old ones. And the results were astounding.
It's worth noting just how integrated the sound has become. On a show in which two different composers with their own preferences and styles swap episodes throughout the season, it's easy for a cohesive sound to become sacrificed in the process. While previously the show's height of cohesive sound had been the second season, and had fallen enormously in the wildly inconsistent third season, this season shocked even me. Literally so was the integrated sound that for the first time in years I couldn’t decide confidently who scored the last two episodes without DVD conformation. And once I had the DVD's in my possession, I uncovered that four episodes in which I surely thought I’d had right, WERE WRONG. What ON EARTH had happened to my EARS?!
But close examination revealed where my initial confidence had come from. Lennertz’s heartfelt flute-and-oboe score for ‘Criss Angel Is A Douchebag’ 4.12 ("No, You'll Be There", "Manna From Heaven", "The Right Thing") sounds almost identical to Gruska's rich scoring on his best day. Meanwhile, Gruska’s empathic strings-and-piano work for ‘Afterschool Special’ 4.13 ("In Memory of Barry", "The Life You Want To Live", "Blast from the Past", 'A Change of Fortune") is a dead ringer for Lennertz’s more sentimental scoring pieces. Lennertz also unusually scored three episodes in a row, from 4.08-4.10, but managed to make each one sound unique in wake of its differing source.
If anyone knows anything about my love of scores, they’ll know my favorite is the use of leitmotifs. Season four featured an expansion on a number of past motifs. These motifs can add so much to the text in the space of a couple seconds, and can be the difference between a mundane scene and a meaningful one. I always like to think of them as little clues in the narrative, and to dissect the score and find one is like the greatest prize you can get. And in the case of a season that concluded with a curveball of a finale, it’s interesting to see what the score signaled throughout the season.
The most recognizable motif, "Dean’s Family Dedication Theme" (or Dean Theme as it’s most commonly called) came back to increased prominence this year. First heard this season in ‘Afterschool Special’ 4.13 in a less developed form, it served as the melodic backbone of the gorgeous multi-timbre "A Change of Fortune" 4.13 (before nosediving into Sam's own melody). If you recall, the last flashback of the Winchester Brothers had featured the theme 3.08 in a very premature form, and so it is fitting that as it is heard here in a flashback four years later, this melody is now more fully formed. Yet, especially given the context of the scene (in which teenage Dean counters a girl’s criticism by childishly asserting to the whole school how much of a hero he is), it is also fitting that some notes of the melody are still absent, suggesting that his heroism still has a ways of development to go. The theme was also heard in its original form in ‘Death Takes A Holiday’ 4.15 during "Dean’s Confession" 4.15, referencing 'In My Time of Dying' 2.01 and his newly found angel-size second chance. In perhaps the most curious use of the year, the Dean Theme melody is also heard later in the same episode as Dean criticizes Alistair’s choice of murder tools ("To Kill A Reaper" 4.15). Presented in an eerily sharpened form, the melody serves to recall how tarnished Dean’s heroism became in Hell and perverts the hope of those second chances. Finally, in the most memorable occurrence of the season, the melody accompanies the final moment of ‘When The Levee Breaks’ 4.21 as Sam defies an emotionally exhausted Dean and walks out the door ("Sam's Defiance" 4.21), a use that only makes the scene more gut-wrenching by also referencing past events such as John’s warning to Dean and Dean’s ultimate sacrifice for Sam.
Another old motif made its comeback this year, Lennertz’s YED Theme, heard way back in the first moments of the series pilot. This three-note motif has been used sparingly if at all since, and so I had not previously expanded on it. While important human character motifs can be a complex melody multiple notes long, monster motifs typically are simple and bare, consisting of only three or four notes, a tradition prevalent in film scoring since the 1930’s monster movies to signify the monster’s lack of humanity. Lennertz’s YED Theme was appropriately first heard this season during the YED’s reappearance in 'In The Beginning' as he bragged to Dean about his endgame ("The Endgame" 4.03). The motif resurfaced in real-time during ‘Yellow Fever’ characterizing Dean’s hallucinations of both yellow-eyed Sam ("Yellow-Eyed Fear" 4.06), and Lilith ("Remembering Hell" 4.06), creating a fascinating musical connection between Sam, Lilith, Hell, and Azazel that becomes significant in light of the finale. Most curious, is its inclusion in ‘Heaven & Hell’ as Anna wakes up from her hypnosis and remembers she is an angel ("Anna Remembers" 4.10). While Anna turned out to be by all accounts a staunch defender of humanity, the use of this theme connected angels to the apocalypse’s architects very early on in the season and interestingly signified heaven‘s nefarious plans far before the finale‘s reveal.
When I first saw 'Yellow Fever', I cursed Lennertz for bringing back my major complaint of S3, the infamous Crack Score ("Crack To Guitar" 4.06). But had to laugh when moments later I heard my own suggested crack score replacement, "Silly Brother's Theme", coming through my speakers. Okay, guys, I get it, you like your crack score. I'll settle for a compromise as long as it sounds less out of left field. And it's true, its usage became much less intrusive, both in that episode and later in 'The Monster At The End of This Book' 4.18, an episode that even I can admit begged for crack score. Instead of being recklessly placed in an episode, the sound was melded with the show's signature guitar riffs ("Crack to Guitar" 4.06, "Opposite Day" 4.18) and regular score ("Chuck Shirley" 4.18, "It's Lilith" 4.18). This integration into the show's normal style helped the sound succeed where it otherwise might have failed, and for that I must tip my hat on the improvement.
Sam has absolutely WRECKED me since S3. And I found it so inconceivable that Sam had gone through these last two years with no theme that I became certain that I had missed it. I scoured through this season with a fine tooth comb. And while I think that if you really wanted to make an argument, one could say that "To See What I Have Done" 4.07, "Sam's Changed Mind" 4.12, and "In Memory of Barry" 4.13 are variations of Sam & John's Theme, their sound doesn't really recall the others like a motif should. I feel confident in stating that sadly, Sam has no one melodic theme a la Dean Theme to attach to his name.
There are however three interesting things going on with Sam's score this year. One is a reference, however intentional or not, to the S1 Sam & John Theme. While I hadn't realized it before, their motif is intrinsically a continuously descending melody, which seems fitting when you recall each man's subsequent spiraling downfalls. Essentially, the melodies pertaining to Sam this season can be divided into two parts, those of ascending melodies during moments of new hope and possibility. And those of descending melody during moments of despair or doom as Sam resigns himself to his horrible fate. The only one which doesn't fit in this split is my personal favorite of the season, "To Keep Going Without Dean" 4.04 which I've nicknamed "The Tragedy of Sam" since I find it most adeptly characterizes the corner he was painted into this year. (While being also ACHINGLY gorgeous, of course.) So, on the up side, Sam does have themes, just a lot of them. Gruska especially gave Sam some fabulous melodies to call his own this year, and I'd be remiss to not single them out. So, because it's an experience in itself just listening to all of Sam's melodies in the series, I've put them all on one playlist for easy listening.
The third interesting thing going on with Sam in the score this year was Gruska's instrumentation use for Sam's Mind Exorcism. Heard consistently in all Gruksa-score episodes in which Sam uses his new talent ("Sam's New Talent" 4.01, "Ganking Samhain" 4.07, "You Have No Idea" [4.15]) is a theremin or theremin-like sound accompanying it. Alone, the sound is a perfect denotation of Sam's extra tunnel-visioned focus, and works especially well during the excruciating strain of exorcising Samhain 4.07. When you add in that the theremin was historically used in film music to code monsters, aliens, and those with psychological abnormalities in order to denote them as less than human, the use takes on a much more sinister tone. But it is its use in 'Sex & Violence' that makes it one of the most brilliant scoring choices of the season. Used to code the siren's thrall over its victims while they killed for it ("A Siren's Symphony" 4.14), the inclusion adds a new dimension to the season as a whole, as the siren's spell echoes the thrall Ruby had over Sam this season, simply because she knew what he wanted. Sure enough, after Sam listens to Dean's fake voicemail in the finale, the sound returns as Sam's determination to see killing Lilith through returns ("Sam's Last Minute Decision" 4.22). Finally, all of this only adds to the brother parallelism of the season when one remembers the similar theremin-sounding voice Castiel used to talk to Jimmy and Dean.
We had a lot of other neat instrumentation this season, from the eerily unsettling harpsichord in "Girl In The Window" 4.11 to unusual percussion in "Ring The Dinner Bell" 4.01 and "Messin' With The Wheels" 4.11. Native American flutes and percussion were commonly heard throughout the season in reference to Hell, from melodies accompanying Dean's tearful confessions ("No Forgetting" 4.08, "Forty Years" 4.10) to quick clangorous references to his time downstairs ("Getting Out Of The Life" 4.03, "Remembering Hell" 4.06, "Angel Radio" 4.09). Oboes and bassoons were used extensively this year, mostly in codifying humanity ("To Be Human" 4.10, "Find Someone Else" 4.16), so it's significant just how many Sam melodies contained them. Vocals were used in relation to both angels ("Servant of Heaven" 4.20, "Lilith IS the Final Seal" 4.22) and demons (4.16, "Final Showdown" 4.22). Two high-pitched piccolo notes were heard during the mention of Lucifer and Lilith ("The Sixty-Six Seals" 4.02). Lennertz's hero horn was heard as Dean's voice multiple times in the season ("Find Someone Else" 4.16, "Ruby's Demise" 4.22), and then brilliantly used as a gag in "Get Up & Fight" 4.18. And the rustic score made a comeback again this year in the "A Head-Scratching Case" 4.06 and "Dean Challenges Fate" 4.18.
Strains of old episode themes were also heard throughout the season. During 'In The Beginning' 4.03, distinct styles from the 'Pilot' 1.01, 'Bloody Mary' 1.05, and 'Home' 1.09 were heard scattered about the episode ("Dean's Crystal Ball", "Dean's Co-Pilot", "How It Began"). Perhaps my favorite scored episode of the series, 'Death Takes A Holiday' 4.15 featured remnants of 'Scarecrow' 1.11, 'In My Time of Dying' 2.01, 'Playthings' 2.11 and 'To Dream A Little Dream' 3.10 which came together in a rich woodwind-themed score to created the memorable atmospheric sound for a highly successful episode ("To Become Ghosts", "Couple of Heroes", "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", "Process of Letting Go"). And perhaps the most versatile episodic score heard yet, 'The Monster at the End of the Book' 4.18 followed right in step with the narrative, seamlessly melding the cheesy cool ("Supernatural: The Books") with the silly crack ("Chuck Shirley", "Opposite Day"), with the eerie creepies ("It's Lilith", "New Material") and the awesomely epic ("The Winchester Gospel", "Don't Bother Knocking", "What You Always Do: Write"). Also contained in that episode was the cue "What Choice Does Sam Have", a repeat on a melody not heard since the Dean & Sam Stairs scene in the 'Pilot'. I already mentioned 'Criss Angel Is A Douchebag' 4.12 and 'Afternoon Special' 4.13, but their exceptional thematic scores deserve repeating because their simply GORGEOUS melodies are responsible for giving the episodes an emotional resonance that was absolutely essential to their success.
For course no score post on this season is complete without mention of Gruska's full-orchestral 1930s film score pastiche in 'Monster Movie' 4.05 which sounds like something straight out of Max Steiner's King Kong sheet music. One day I'll have a post on this episode alone, because I could talk about it all day. It's definitely a breed of its own from the over-the-top ("Opening Title Sequence") and whimsical ("Straw-Sipping Girl") to its trills ("Mummy Rising") and harp usage ("Werewolf in the Moonlight"). While expertly crafted and hysterical, it unfortunately doesn't mesh with the rest of the season well, and so this is not the place for it to be discussed in length.
I can't conclude this without discussing some of my favorite pieces of this year. There were a bunch, but three especially deserve to be mentioned. "What If We Could Win" 4.12 was the reason I started this post, because it absolutely broke my heart first time around, accenting Sam's hope heard in his voice over the possibility that Dean would be with him on what he's saying. Retrospectively, it's a heart-stomper that Dean doesn't recognize the moment's importance and dashes Sam's hopes. And simultaneously, its revealing through its accent on Sam repeating Ruby's words played like an omen of what was to come. "In Memory of Barry" 4.13 is a theme heard three times in the episode as a gorgeous piano and strings melody which perfectly captures Sam‘s quiet sadness for his friend he had no choice but to leave behind, and infuses the whole episode with its high-powered nostalgic emotion. "Whatever Sam Has To" 4.15 is perhaps the most gorgeously entailed but perplexing melodies of the season, as it accompanies Sam lying through his teeth to the young ghost boy. I can't help but wonder exactly what Gruska wanted to accomplish with this cue, and yet its existence alone made sure an otherwise trivial scene would be telegraphed as a more revelatory moment for Sam's characterization.
And there's just gobs of other things going on in almost every cue clipped here that I simply don't have the time to discuss fully, like the two entwining, conflicting, and clashing violin melodies during "Trust Me" 4.21, or the lost, searching Castiel piano melody and bold, inspirational Anna score string melody in "Time To Think For Yourself" 4.18. Or the two challenging melodies in "A Fathers' Orders" 4.07 in which one wins. Or the hesitant "Holding Sam Back" that perfectly underlines Dean's concerns. Or the hymn-like score of "Angel Possession" 4.20, complete with a piano part echoing a church-bell sound. And I have to stop myself there or this post will turn into a runaway train! But please, download the zip, listen to them yourself and draw your own conclusions. Hear what each melody, timbre, instrumentation, and style brings to each moment, and I'm positive you will not be disappointed.
Listening to it all together just highlights how much of a wonderfully tragic and beautifully stitched season this year really was. On the whole, text and score together, it really ties together exceptionally well for a season of television.
Background on Motifs:
Just as literature can possess reoccurring themes called 'motifs', so can strains of music within the score of a film or television show. The tradition of the use of motifs in film score is actually an old idea which was derived from the German composers who coined the phrase, leitmotif ('leading motif') and made the practice popular. While the precise term, 'leitmotif' was first to explain the work of von Weber (1786-1826), it was Wagner (1813-1888) who is most commonly associated with popularizing the practice. His operas which early film composers would later look to for inspiration, made liberal use of these leitmotifs, and consequently became a large part of scoring film and television.
The most common use of a musical motif ties a particular melody to a character, which is repeated in reference to that character. More complex motifs which reference feelings or ideas can also occur. They function quite interestingly on a subconscious level for the viewer to recall the visual or visuals previously associated with that melody and evoke certain emotions because of it.
Motifs on Supernatural:
Because Supernatural has two composers, it is hard to keep up a truly consistent motif usage. Individually, each have introduced and used their own motifs for certain characters or ideas. It's debatable whether Gruska and Lennertz have been consciously willing to use the others motif for a specific instance a scene might relate to.
It's hard to purely quantify what the meaning of a repeated melody on the show might be. Sometimes, it means nothing. Composers on television recycle bits of score all the time. But sometimes a melody will be reused, and has a direct connection with its first use. These are the motifs I've listed below as they have occurred in Supernatural. Motifs were named purely based on the common thread that all its instances contained.
Derivatives of a theme are also commonly used in film score, where a motif is taken and manipulated in a meaningful way. For instance, flattening out the notes of a melody can illustrate metaphorically the loss of the idea that that melody previously represented.
Different forms of a theme through the use of different timbres can also be meaningful. Trumpets can be victory. Woodwinds can be warmth and safety. Violins can be the voice of a specific character.
All of this is of course hinged on the word 'can'. We can't actually know whether or not the meaning is there intentionally. These notes below are simply sketches of what was presented. Infer or not as you wish. (But really, that's half the motif fun!)
The Demon's Theme: (the beginning of 'And So It Begins')
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- 1.01 - Starts as Mary gets out of bed to check on Sammy
- 1.14 - Heard again as Max tells Sam his mother died in his nursery
- 4.03 - Heard as the YED brags to Dean about his endgame
- 4.06 - Heard as Dean's hallucination of Sam as he reveals his yellow eyes
- 4.06 - Heard as Dean's hallucination of Lilith reminds Dean how he remembers Hell
Silly Brothers Theme:
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- 1.01 - Electric guitar piece heard first as Dean and Sam first arrive at the bridge and impersonate U.S. Marshalls
- Heard again a couple minutes later after they run into the REAL U.S. Marshalls
- One bar of this piece is heard in the later bridge scene after Sam tells Dean he "smells like a toilet"
- 1.08 - Heard as Dean convinces Sam to squat in the model house for the night
- 1.14 - Heard at the end of the episode as Dean cracks his Vegas joke
- 1.17 - Heard as a response to Sam's prank of salsa-fying Dean's radio
- Heard as Dean slips pepper in Sam's pants while he takes a shower
- Heard again as Dean realizes his hand is stuck to the beer bottle and Sam celebrates in victory
- 2.06 - Heard towards the end after Dean drives in with the cement truck
- 3.15 - Heard after the boys question the victim who lost his kidney
- 4.06 - Heard as Dean is confronted by the ferocious dog that's been chasing him
- 4.08 - Heard as Sam realizes who the "ghost" in the girl's locker room was
- Heard again after Sam and Dean pull a gun on Wes.
Sam and John's Theme:
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- 1.04 - Heard at the end as Sam and Dean listen to John's new cell message
- 1.08 - A wavering, unsettled derivative heard as Sam tells Dean he wants to find John
- 1.20 - Heard as John tells Sam this was never the life he wanted for him
- 4.07 - Heard as Sam finishes ganking Samhain and notices Dean from afar
- 4.12 - Heard at the end of the episode as Sam makes his decision and opens up the car door to join Ruby
Dean's Family Dedication Theme:
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- 1.22 - A small piece first heard as the Impala drives on an nightroad to the cabin
- 1.22 - The full theme heard through Dean's "Things I'm willing to do" speech inside the cabin
- 2.01 - Episode Theme (small strains are heard throughout the episode)
- The pure form heard as John sits by Dean's bedside while Dean yells at him to do something
- A distorted form heard as Tessa is revealed as a reaper and tries to convince Dean to let go
- A piano and flute version heard through John's "You did that" speech to Dean
- A higher octave flute w/ backed orch. version heard as Sam finds John dead
- 2.09 - An acoustic version heard throughout Dean's "I'm tired" speech
- 2.11 - Same acoustic version heard as Dean watches Drunk!Sam go to sleep after he made Dean swear to kill him if he goes dangerous
- 2.20 - Flattened form heard when Dean realizes Sam and him don't get along in Wishverse
- 2.21 - A brass form of the full theme heard as Sam dies in Dean's arms
- 3.08 - A disguised derivative of the theme heard as Young!Sam gives his present to Young!Dean
- 3.16 - The original theme heard in during Dean's "Things I'm Willing To Do" Speech resurfaces as he tells Sam they cannot make the same mistakes again
- 4.13 - A underdeveloped variation of the theme heard as teenage Dean announces he's a hero
- 4.15 - The full theme heard as makes his Dean confession to Tessa
- 4.15 - An eerily sharpened derivative heard as Dean criticizes Alistair for his choice of murder tools
- 4.21 - The full theme heard as Sam defiantly walks out the door against Dean's protests
Download this theme HERE.
THE DEAN THEME ANALYSIS
Season Two Perspective:
This theme could be heard in emotional scenes throughout the season, possessing a strong sense of meaning and purpose, adding dimension to the scenes it accompanied, and overall pulling the season together from bookend to bookend. After first appearing in 'Devil's Trap' (1.22]) to accompany Dean's speech in which revealed his fears for the things he is willing to do for his family, it's melody becomes the major musical theme of the season two premiere, 'In My Time of Dying' (2.01). In here, it is most notably paired with John and his silent decision to sacrifice himself to save Dean and suggests that that sacrifice was for Dean in response to everything Dean had given him and Sam over the years. Furthermore, its accompaniment to The Secret tells us of John's belief in Dean and his power to watch over his family. As it is carried throughout the season, the theme references not only Dean's responsibility to keep Sam safe, but also the burden of The Secret, and marks Dean's weariness with this life, both in 'Croatoan' (2.09) and 'Playthings' (2.11). During Dean's Wish World in 'What Is' (2.20), Lennertz quite brilliantly (whether intentional or not) references this theme in a flatten form of the theme's melody right as Dean realizes that the Sam in this world does not need him, and signifies the loss of that responsibility. Probably most memorable is its use at the end of 'All Hell Breaks Loose (Part 1)' (2.21), as Dean holds a stabbed Sam and watches him die in his arms. This use all at once invokes the whole season and all of Dean's dedication towards his family right before your eyes, helping the viewer to mourn with Dean his complete loss of the most important people in his life and subsequent loss of purpose.
Season Three Perspective:
In season three, the theme resurfaces exactly twice. In the flashback of ‘A Very Supernatural Christmas’ (3.08), a messy disguised derivative of this theme begins as Little Sammy gives Young Dean his Christmas present (the amulet), effectively signifying the passing of responsibility of Sam from John to Dean. Existing not in the purified form which would characterize Dean’s dedication to his family almost twenty years later, but as this disguised derivative in which the core melody remains hidden beneath numerous filler noters surrounding it, perfectly characterizes the moment as the beginning of the dedication which would later result in the Dean we know today.
The purified theme is resurrected in the Season Three Finale, ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ (3.16) as Dean tells Sam that they cannot keep making the same mistakes over again. The version used is identical to that first heard in the theme’s introduction during Dean’s “Things I’m Willing To Do” speech, which appropriately references back to that speech two years before, and with it, brings the accompanied imagery of the last three years, particularly family’s mistakes marked by John’s and Sam’s death, to the current scene at hand. Moreover, it stands to subvert that which was once considered sacred: The Dedication of the Winchester Family, as Dean explains to Sam how they need to stop being martyrs and making the same mistakes over again, bringing the theme and the idea behind it completely full circle. Perhaps we should have been calling this theme the Winchester Family Dedication Theme all along, but since Dean restates his role as the protector of the Winchester Constitution in the next breath, I feel confident in keeping it as is.
- Season 1 Score Analysis & Downloads by zimshan
- Season 3 Score Analysis & Downloads by zimshan
- Season 4 Score Analysis & Downloads by zimshan
- Dean's Family Dedication Theme (S1-S4) Analysis & Downloads by zimshan
- Score Motif Analysis by zimshan
- Ongoing List of Episodes for Each Composer (S1-S5) by zimshan]