Music in movies is so commonplace that many people don’t even consciously notice it’s there – but it’s still affecting them. From swelling scores that makes your heart overflow in a romantic scene to screeching violins and musical explosions that keep you on the edge of your seat or make you jump right out of it in horror films, good films scores take movies to new heights.
Of course, behind every great film score is a talented composer, and too often they toil in near anonymity. Discover 5 of the greatest film composers of all time below and bring a new appreciation to some of your favourite films.
Bernard Herrmann: Hitchcock’s Secret Weapon
Bernard Herrmann, born 1911, was one of the most influential film composers of all time. He was arguably the secret weapon of director Alfred Hitchcock, creating memorable and thrilling scores for Hitchcock’s thriller and horror movies. The bone-chilling, scratching and stabbing violin in the infamous ‘shower scene’ in Psycho (1960) is Herrmann’s work and is synonymous with horror, even turning up in an episode of The Simpsons.
As well as his work with Hitchcock, Herrmann won an Academy Award for The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) and collaborated with Orson Welles to write music for Citizen Kane (1941), widely considered the greatest film of all time. Bernard Herrmann casts a long shadow indeed over contemporary film music writing.
Ennio Morricone: From Fellini to the Wild West
Ennio Morricone has been composing music for films for 50 years, and it is impossible to overestimate his influence. Born in 1928, Morricone’s most famous scores are for westerns The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Even if you’ve never seen these films, you’ve heard parts of their soundtrack, which have come to define what ‘The Old West’ sounds like on film.
Morricone has worked with some of cinema’s greatest directors, including Federico Fellini, Roman Polanski, and Franco Zefirelli. He has won five BAFTA awards, an Italian Golden Globe, and three Oscars, most recently for The Hateful Eight (2016).
John Williams: Epics Incorporated
To put it simply, John Williams is a Titan. Born in 1932, Williams is the composer of choice for many of Hollywood’s most successful directors. He has won five Academy Awards, seven BAFTAs, three Emmys, four Golden Globes, and a jaw-dropping 22 Grammy Awards! In 2005, the AFI named his score for Star Wars the greatest American film score of all time.
Williams is a master of dramatic, emotional scores and is best known for epic action films such as Jaws (1975), Star Wars, Jurassic Park (1993), Indiana Jones, and Superman (1978), as well dramas like E.T. (1982) and Schindler’s List (1993). Every score Williams writes seems to be an instant classic – just think of his ominous theme for Darth Vader, or his uplifting score for the early scenes of Jurassic Park.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Hollywood Legend
Erich Wolfgang Korngold was born in 1897 and helped to pioneer the use of full orchestral scores in movies. Starting in the early 1930s, Korngold composed scores for Paramount and Warner Bros. including the rousing music for The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), which The American Film Institute (AFI) ranked #11 in their list of greatest film scores.
Dmitri Shostakovich: Soviet Superstar
Dmitri Shostakovich is best known for his avant-garde symphonies, string quartets, and operas. But the great composer, born in 1906, was also prolific in the Soviet film industry, writing the scores for more than 100 films including Pirogov (1947), The Gadfly (1955), and Hamlet (1964).
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