Eleven Influential Film Score Composers
If you live in North America and watch movies, chances are you’ve heard the music of the composers on this list, whether you’re aware of it or not.
Thanks to high-profile films in recent years, the crucial role of music has gradually become more and more recognized. Our list is by no means exhaustive, but gives credit to some of the composers whose work has permeated modern culture through film.
Portman became the first female composer to win an Oscar for Best Music or Musical for the film Emma (1996). She was subsequently nominated twice more for The rules of the cider house (1999) and Chocolate (2000). Portman made history again in 2015 when she became the first female composer to win a Primetime Emmy Award for her work on the film. Besie. She has written commissioned works including an opera for the Houston Grand Opera, a choral symphony for the BBC Proms and most recently one of Joyce Di Donato’s pieces. Eden Release. His works are distinguished by a preference for string and wind instruments, with a lyrical and often playful approach.
Danny Elfman’s orchestral scores for movies and television have become part of pop culture history. As the composer of the majority of Tim Burton films, his music has become part of their iconic appeal, including the well-known themes of beetle juice (1988), Batman (1989) — for which he won a Grammy — and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), as well as men in black (1997) and many others. Elfman began his career as a performing musician and left high school to (literally) join his brother in a traveling circus – The Grand Magic Circus – and tour the African continent. He rose to fame as a member of the Oingo Boingo group in the 1970s and 80s.
British composer John Barry was best known for his work from the 1960s to the 1980s, particularly on the James Bond film series. He wrote 11 of Bond’s scores in the early years of the franchise – jazzy music that often featured brass (his first instrument was the trumpet). He was also able to scan orchestral music, such as the score of Outside of Africa which won him an Oscar. Barry has won a total of five Oscars over the years, including music for dance with wolves. After 2001, and his score for the film Enigmahe turns to live performance.
AR Rahman is arguably India’s most successful film composer, with work that spans beyond Tamil and Hindi productions to Hollywood. His score for Slumdog Millionaire won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and two Oscars in 2009. He has written music for over 150 films, as well as television and other media. Unlike many Indian film composers, he generally employs a smaller ensemble for his works, with modern instrumentation and a range of moods, often using ambient sounds. His music blends the idioms of Carnatic, Hindustani and Western classical music, as well as traditional and electronic elements. He also wrote the score for several musicals, including The Lord of the Rings: The Musicalwhich premiered in London in 2006.
Joe Hisaishi is loved by anime fans as a go-to composer for his partnership with Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, with a series of iconic productions. His work is often minimalist in nature, with a preference for keyboard and string work that blends European and Japanese musical idioms. Hisaishi’s credits include Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, and many more Ghibli movies. Born in Japan in 1950 as Mamoru Fusijawa, he took the name Joe Hisaishi in honor of American producer Quincy Jones.
Italian composer Ennio Morricone scored more than 500 films dating back to the 1960s. He was closely associated with Sergio Leone and his spaghetti westerns, including The good the bad and the ugly. His work on the latter is considered by many to mark an important moment in the history of film scores, opening up the possibilities and dimensions that music could add to films. In 2016, after a long career, he finally won an Oscar for his work on Quentin Tarantino The Hateful Eight. His later years were spent touring the world conducting and performing his most famous compositions. Morricone was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for his great influence on those who followed him. He died in 2020 at the age of 91.
As far as modern fandom goes, Howard Shore’s name will always be inextricably linked to his Oscar-winning music from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. His music helped build the huge and enduring appeal of the franchise and continues to be featured in the ever-evolving film with a live orchestra circuit. Shore’s ability to create works capable of expressing the emotional heart of the story while following complex narratives, such as in the LoTR franchise, has made him a sought-after composer in Hollywood. His other credits include Martin Scorsese New York Gangs and The deadand Fly for David Cronenberg, among more than 80 other credits.
Looking back in the history of cinema, there are few composers more influential than Herrmann. He played the piano at a professional level and wrote music for some of the most famous films of his time. His credit list includes works includes Citizen Kane (1941), The day the earth stood still (1951), vertigo (1958), psychology (1960), Fahrenheit 451 (1966), and Taxi driver (1976). He has also written extensively for radio and television shows, including Rod Serling’s The twilight zone. Contemporary composers like Danny Elfman and Alexandre Desplat cite him as a source of inspiration. He is particularly known for his work on Hitchcock films, where his whimsical and atmospheric music reinforced the narrative.
Hans Zimmer began his musical career playing keyboards in pop bands, notably with the Buggles, where he appeared in their hit video. The video killed the radio star. Director Barry Levinson’s wife heard an early Zimmer soundtrack, and Levinson was inspired to ask her to score rain man. It was just the star of a steady rise to the top of the current generation of film composers. Its catalog includes Ridley Scott hits like Gladiator and Black Hawk Downin the same way sherlock holmes, and three films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. He is perhaps best known for his co-songwriting credits on Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, and more recently, Wonder Woman 1984 and Denis Villeneuve Dunes. His music is orchestral in nature and often draws inspiration from Western classical music, as well as other global sources, adding electronic music to the mix. He won two Oscars for his work.
Although purists sometimes still refuse to take his work seriously, the work of American composer John Williams has undoubtedly been heard (and hummed) by hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people around the world. The Juilliard-trained composer is responsible for the iconic scores of the Star Wars series from its inception in 1977 through 2019, as well as Spielberg hits like Jaws and ET: The Extraterrestrialor classic by Richard Donners Superman (1978). His penchant for moving and anthemic themes is a perfect fit for Hollywood blockbusters full of heroism and family adventures, and has arguably made him the most beloved film composer in the world.
Hildur Guðnadóttir is a pioneer from every angle. His work on films like Sicario: Day of the Soldado and the HBO miniseries Chernobyl helped earn her reputation as a unique composer and sound designer for film. She won a Primetime Emmy, a BAFTA and a Grammy Award for Chernobyland an Oscar for Best Original Score for the soundtrack of Joker. Joker also won her a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award, making her the first woman to receive both for the same film. She represents a new generation of film composers, whose work defies easy categorization. The Icelandic composer is also a trained cellist who has performed and recorded with several ensembles.
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