Have you ever wondered who wrote the scores for your favourite movies that had an impact on you at some point in your life? Even though the message, narrative, and characters come from the content of those motion pictures, scores also play a massive role in shaping the style, mood and the identity of those movies. In this article I plan to introduce five contemporary film composers whose works are significant and you might have already heard their musical pieces in your favourite films, but you did not know their scores come from these musical geniuses. So let us get started, shall we?
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The Frankfurt-born, German gentleman is probably one of the most famous and well-known composers of our time. After relocating to London and starting a career as a keyboardist in several new wave bands in the late ‘70s, he teamed up to work on film scores with Stanley Myers. Their mutual work also focused on establishing an innovative composing style by fusing electronic instruments with traditional orchestral sounds. The partnership with Myers proved to be productive, they co-wrote scores for movies such as Moonlighting (1982), Success is the Best Revenge (1984), Insignificance (1985), and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).
In 1988, Barry Levinson hired Hans Zimmer to write music for his film Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, which became a turning point in the career of the German composer. The score of Rain Man got nominated for an Academy Award and was well-received critically. Since then Hans Zimmer has received an Academy Award for the score of The Lion King (1994), and created several other truly famous compositions that got featured in well-known motion pictures like Gladiator (2000), The Last Samurai (2003), Sherlock Holmes (2009), Inception (2010), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Interstellar (2014), and Dunkirk (2017).
She is another giant of film composers who has had a very long and successful career in composing for the screen. Portman studied music at Worcester College in Oxford and began composing for student films and theatre productions. Her career took off when she was offered jobs to compose music for drama in BBC and Channel 4 films. Later on, she became the first female composer to receive an Academy Award for her compositions in the film Emma (1996) but her works in The Cider House Rules (1999) and in Chocolat (2000) also brought her two nominations for the Academy Award. Other successful movies like Hart’s War (2002), Oliver Twist (2005), The Lake House (2005) and Their Finest (2016) have also got scores that Portman composed, and that makes her work and composing style truly wide ranging and versatile.
He is a real veteran of film scores, born and raised in Los Angeles, his father was Alfred Newman who was also a composer and won the Academy Award nine times. His brother David Newman and his sister, Maria Newman, are also composers, as was his uncle, Lionel Newman. Thomas Newman studied composition at University of Southern California but later transferred to Yale University and he completed his bachelor and master degrees there. John Williams, who was a friend of Alfred Newman, invited Thomas to work on Return of the Jedi (1983) and asked him to orchestrate the scene in which Darth Vader dies. That was a milestone in Newman’s career and helped him to get on the radar as a composer in Hollywood.
In 1992, Newman got the job to compose music for the film Scent of a Woman, starring Al Pacino and Chris O’Donnell, and two years later, in 1994, his score in Shawshank Redemption got nominated for an Academy Award, which made Newman one of the most acknowledged contemporary film composer. After working with Frank Darabont, he scored Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer (1998), as well Martin Brest’s Meet Joe Black (1998), his latter works include Green Mile (1999) Erin Brockovich (2000), American Beauty (2000), Finding Nemo (2003), Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), WALL-E (2008), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Skyfall (2012), Bridge of Spies (2015), Highwaymen (2019), Tolkien (2019), and 1917 (2019).
The next musical genius, I would like to introduce to you, is Hildur Guðnadóttir, a Nordic composer and cello player, who was born and raised in Iceland. She studied music in Reykjavik and later in Berlin where she also eventually settled down. Her style and musicianship mainly comes from classical music, however, when it comes to composing, she already showed the world how innovative and unique her music can be. Before capturing Hollywood with her marvellous musical pieces as a composer, she worked on the scores for films like the Danish film motion picture; A Hijacking (2012), and Jîn (2013).
Later that year she participated as a cellist in the score recording for Prisoners (2013), starring Jack Gyllenhall, and Hugh Jackman. Guðnadóttir scored Sicario: Day of The Soldado (2018), starring Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin. Furthermore she composed music for the critically acclaimed HBO series Chernobyl (2019), which won her a Primetime Emmy, a BAFTA and a Grammy award. In addition to this, she scored the psychological thriller Joker (2019) which won her an Academy Award in the category of Best Original Score.
He could be righteously called the godfather of film scores. John Williams was born in Queens, New York, in 1932, but later in 1948, he and his family moved to Los Angeles. He studied composition at University of California, Los Angeles privately with Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Later in 1951 he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Air Force where he worked as a pianist and also played the brass in the band of American Air Force.
After his years in the U.S. army, Williams studied piano at Juilliard school in New York City, during this period Williams worked as a jazz pianist in many jazz clubs in the Big Apple. After New York, Williams moved back to Los Angeles and started to work as a session musician for Henry Mancini with whom Williams also made the soundtrack for the Peter Gunn television series. During the 1950s and 1960s Williams wrote several scores for film and television programmes.
There are two directors who must be mentioned in the career story of John Williams, they are George Lucas and Steven Spielberg with whom Williams has worked together on dozens of movies since the 1970s. One of their early collaborations was Jaws (1975), which was followed by Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), in the same year Williams was recommended to George Lucas by Spielberg, and encouraged him to work with the composer on the soundtrack of Star Wars that became one of the most famous scores of all time and it won him an Academy Award.
Williams also wrote the score of other successful and famous motions pictures, such as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1983), the Indiana Jones saga, Jurassic Park (1993), and the Harry Potter saga. His compositional style is rather considered neo-romantic, neoclassical, monumental, yet accurate, powerful yet perfectly expressive that always matches with the narrative, the mood and the general setting of the films.