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Skip this, take me to the music!

I love movie soundtracks and feel that this genre contains the best music composed today overall. But many classical musicians are snobbish about film music, and grumble about having to include it in family concerts, or derogate "legitimate" concert pieces by saying they sound like movie music.

I'm on the opposite side. :) My favorite performances have not been Shostakovich or Mahler, but playing John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith. Just because a piece is inspired by movies doesn't mean it lacks some sort of intrinsic merit that would otherwise let it take its place with strictly classical works. Music has and always will take its inspiration from other things, be it the composer's emotions, a painting or book, a scene in the country, or historical events. Why should music inspired by movies be considered any different than examples of "concert" such as the Pathetique Symphony, Pictures at an Exhibition, or The Moldau?

For me, orchestral film music is classical music in the sense that the scores by Williams and Elfman and others like them are directly descended from the classical tradition: melodic orchestral music. Throughout the centuries, Western classical music has always been music of its time in that people listened to works that had just been composed. Bach had to write brand new cantatas for church every week instead of recycling what he'd done before. And composers like Beethoven and Berlioz conducted the premieres of their own works (and got lousy reviews, for the most part), not the works of centuries past. It wasn't until much later that people developed the "old is good" approach and classical music got the reputation of being stuffy music by dead guys.

Today, while composers of modern classical music are doing their best to reach audiences again with their works, in the concert hall, people still would rather hear the Jurassic Park theme than a strictly "classical" work by a modern composer, no matter how good he or she is. Given the popularity of movies, film music is the genre that's heard by the most people in the world, and it's the music of today. And whether it's heard in the concert hall or in a movie theater, like it or not, this is the classical music that speaks best to audiences of our time.

This little intro (or rant, if you will) may be preaching to the choir, because there are many people who love movie soundtracks just as much as I do. But for the random soul who may happen to stumble across this page, and who doesn't know anything about film scores, then this hodgepodge list of my favorite composers and soundtracks will provide somewhere to start with this genre. For those who are already film music fans, my soundtrack collection is far from being even halfway complete, so there will be glaring omissions... more to be added later!

Click on the composer to read more info, or scroll down to read them all. All soundclips are in mp3 format.

John Williams

Where to begin with a legend like John Williams? He has written some of the most recognizable film music of all time, conducted the top orchestras in the world, and is a talented professional pianist. Born in 1932 in Long Island, Williams was involved in music from a young age, starting his own jazz band as a teen. He studied piano at UCLA and later at Juilliard, composition with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, orchestration with Robert van Eps, and learned conducting while leading various service bands during his years in the Air Force in the early 1950s. While he worked as a jazz pianist under the name Johnny T. Williams, he went back to Hollywood after Juilliard to focus on composing. Williams initially worked as a studio pianist and then became an orchestrator for some of Hollywood's top composers. This led to some movie and television work, and it was his score for 1969's The Reivers that caught young director Steven Spielberg's ear, and he subsequently hired Williams as the composer for his first big film, The Sugarland Express. Over the decades, their collaborations have been legendary, and include Jaws, E.T., Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler's List, The Terminal, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of the Sun, and Catch Me If You Can. But Williams really made cinema history in 1977 when he wrote the score to 1977's Star Wars. Since then, Williams has written five other phenomenal scores for the Star Wars sequels. Other notable films include Superman, three Harry Potter movies, The Patriot, Angela's Ashes, Memoirs of a Geisha, Home Alone, and The Cowboys. John Williams has been a huge influence over the years. With films like Star Wars, he brought the great orchestral sound of golden era Hollywood back into vogue at a time when soundtracks were generally pop music. His genius for orchestration, unsurpassable melodies, skillful use of harmonies and leitmotifs, and broad range of styles is unrivaled by any other composer. Beyond the film world, Williams has also enjoyed a successful career as a conductor, including over a decade with the Boston Pops, and he has written a number of successful non-film music. Despite his fame, Williams is humble and unassuming in person. Although this man is about the biggest thing to happen in music since the invention of the triad, there's no arrogance and no egotism. When he conducts, he is gracious, classy, patient, witty, and appreciative of the players' efforts. All around, he is a gentleman, so it's satisfying to know that when one listens to his scores, one can admire the composer as well as his music.

Recommended Soundtracks

Star Wars Episodes IV-VI: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi - With the first Star Wars movie of 1977, Williams brought back the classic Hollywood soaring, epic adventure music in a time when orchestral soundtracks weren't really being written. Like the earlier composers of Hollywood, such as Franz Waxman, Erich Korngold, and Miklos Rozsa, Williams employed reoccurring themes or leitmotifs, a device of the Post-Romantic composers like Wagner to help define and support characters and places onscreen. Williams' genius and innovation with orchestration is readily apparent in these scores (like using a single piccolo to evoke the vastness of space), and a trademark touch is his use of melodies which are doubled several octaves apart, lending a melodic richness that spans throughout the range of the orchestra. Besides the unforgettable, heroic main theme, the classic trilogy, as Episodes IV-VI has come to be called, features all kinds of styles, from romantic (Leia's Theme), to martial (Imperial March), action (Through the Asteroid Field), creepy/evil (the Emperor's Theme), and pure fun (the cantina band music). Choirs were featured but rarely in the first three films, but when they were employed, they appeared during key moments, such as the climactic battle scenes of Return of the Jedi. For both the classic trilogy and the prequels, I practically sweated blood trying to decide which tracks to pick: of all the soundtracks I've ever heard, these are by far my favorites, and I could have easily sampled any of the tracks from any of the Star Wars CDs I have. You can be glad - or not - that I restrained myself. :)

  • The Princess Appears - (Star Wars) - Leia's Theme is quoted briefly in this track, and then comes Ben Kenobi's theme. The solitary horn, romantic strings, and wide interval skips create a soaring melody used to great effect when Luke is watching the twin suns set on his homeworld of Tatooine. In the liner notes, Williams says, "Originally, I scored the scene with Luke's theme. When George heard it, he asked if I could replace it with Ben's theme. George's feeling was that since Luke dreamed of leaving Tatooine and becoming an adventurous spacepilot, Ben's theme is better in that context. It gives a reflective, contemplative feeling to the score."

  • Cantina Song (Star Wars) - Williams' jazz background comes to the fore in this light little number that's played by the bulbous-headed Bith musicians in the Mos Eisley cantina. Spectacularly recorded by jazz artists, the sound was slightly distorted in the editing process to provide an other-galaxy feel to it.

  • The Throne Room (Star Wars) - A bright hymn that portrays the triumph of good over evil, and sums up the whole Star Wars story. Says Williams, "I used Ben's theme as a triumphant parade fanfare as the group walks down the aisle. It represents the re-establishment of the values Ben believed in over the tyranny of the Galactic Empire. I used a theme I am very fond of over the presentation of the medals. It has a kind of 'land of hope and glory' feeling in it, almost like Coronation music..."

  • Imperial March (The Empire Strikes Back) - It's unthinkable to have a collection of Star Wars sound clips without including Vader's famous theme! This theme appears throughout the soundtrack, since it represents Vader and the Imperial forces, but Williams never lets it appear the same way twice. Something else to admire - the fast triple tonguing of the woodwinds, especially the flutes, in the softer middle section.

  • Asteroid Field (The Empire Strikes Back) - A great example of how Williams' action cues aren't just filler music. This is so vivid, one can see the asteroids hurtling by the Falcon through the music's twists and swoops. I particularly love the arcing run played by the woodwinds at the end of this clip - in perfect synchronization with the graceful loop the Falcon makes in the film as it dives into a cave on an asteroid. Williams doesn't often do such direct "mickey mousing" (a term derived from how closely the music in early cartoons imitates the onscreen action), but when he does, it's all the more effective, and I love this section every time I hear it on the soundtrack or see it in the film.

  • Yoda's Theme (The Empire Strikes Back) - A brilliant example of Williams' use of orchestration. The string ensemble of the beginning shows Yoda's wisdom and nobility - then the second half trips into a mischievous, delicate woodwind passage that shows his lighter side. This particular version is a concert arrangement that's not directly from the movie score.

  • Luke and Leia - (Return of the Jedi) - This starts with a lovely flute trio, and then goes into a tender melody that is passed around the woodwinds before surging to the strings. Listen to the responses of the flute when the celli and violas have the melody... gorgeous!

  • Final Duel - (Return of the Jedi) - This music marks the first major use of vocal work in the Star Wars trilogy. The use of men's voices along with the strings mirrors and magnifies the emotions that are present in this scene, making this one of the most powerful moments in the entire trilogy, both on the screen and in the soundtrack. Following the choral section is the sinister Emperor's Theme in the low strings, men's choir, and brass, topped with icy scales darting up and down in the violins.

  • Victory Celebration - (Return of the Jedi) - This piece was composed for the special edition and replaced the original edition's "Yub yub!" song of the Ewoks. The spacious melody soaring over the light patter of the accompanying percussion and nature sound effects creates an exuberant and joyous end to the trilogy. (This is my current cell phone ringtone.)

Star Wars Episodes I-III: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith - While the worth of the (far too) much-maligned trilogy of the Star Wars prequels has been under attack ever since they were released, there is one thing, at least, about which no one can complain: the music. Williams continued work on these three movies in the same spirit of adventure and hope that the first three had. While his sound and style has naturally evolved over the intervening years, the indescribable melodies, breathtaking orchestration, and pulse-racing action music are still there, skillfully linked to enough familiar themes from the original three movies to sound like Star Wars music to the listener. At the same time, many new themes are present as well, so the recent soundtracks are never repetitious. One thing has changed drastically since 1977, though - Williams' use of choir. Each of the prequels has seen more and more vocals gloriously combined with orchestra, culminating in the Revenge of the Sith soundtrack. Here, besides full choir usage, single voices and Tibetan monk-like drones become extensions of the orchestral instruments and entwine with the orchestra to create a color palette unlike any other Star Wars soundtrack. Duel of the Fates, Battle of the Heroes, Padme's Destiny, and the incomparably lovely and haunting Across the Stars love theme from Attack of the Clones are all excellent examples of Williams' brilliant work on these films.

  • Duel of the Fates - (The Phantom Menace) - This was the first strong usage of choir in the Star Wars saga, and the combination of vocals and orchestra makes this spirited battle music absolutely electrifying to hear. The lyrics are in Sanskrit, and translate to:
    Under the tongue root a fight most dread,
    And another raging, behind, in the head.
    This is a couplet from Robert Graves' translation of Cad Goddeu (Battle of the Trees), a medieval Welsh poem from the Book of Taliesin.

  • Anakin's Theme (The Phantom Menace) - Hear that ghostly nod to the Imperial March (aka Vader's theme)? This yearning, tender theme for the young Anakin isn't so innocent after all.

  • Across the Stars (Attack of the Clones) - For me, this is the most beautiful melody ever written... there's nothing else I can adequately say about this piece except to listen to it so it can speak for itself. And listen to it you can. I found I physically could not bring myself to mutilate this lovely piece by chopping it down for sampling, so here's the whole track.

  • The Meadow Picnic - (Attack of the Clones) - One of my favorite tracks, and not just because of the flute solos. This is a great example of how Williams creates whole worlds with his magic: in this case, the music embodies and enhances the stunning visual of Naboo's meadowfields and those distant waterfalls that put Niagara to shame.

  • Battle of the Heroes - (Revenge of the Sith) - This is the dramatic highlight of the soundtrack, for orchestra and choir, a spectacular movement launched by the violas with a riff that maintains the piece's relentless momentum throughout the piece as it gets taken up by various other instruments.

  • Anakin's Betrayal - (Revenge of the Sith) - A moving and powerful track for orchestra and choir, with a culmination in a full-dynamic D minor chord that is so dramatic in its anguish. But then the real peak of the movement (and probably my favorite musical moment of the entire soundtrack) comes a little later, when the orchestra and choir wordlessly surge to an E minor chord - powerful, heroic and yet tragic. The music begins to settle down after this, but Williams has one last perfect moment with a suspension/resolution that seizes the heart. Don't hear all this on this clip? Get the soundtrack! :)

  • Padme's Destiny (Revenge of the Sith) - This is a soul-wrenching blend of choir and orchestra, reprising an earlier theme from The Phantom Menace. Listen especially to the closely-knit harmonies of the choir underneath the relatively static (in a good way!) melody line, the ghostly reference of the familiar Force theme in the celli, and the muted knells of the chimes, which all combine to make this track indescribably lovely and yet tragic.

Saving Private Ryan - Writing a score to accompany a movie of this scope and realism would have been impossible for many composers, but Williams rose magnificently to the occasion. Despite being a war film, this is not an action-style score, as the battle scenes have no music in order to stay realistic. Hence, the score takes another turn stylistically and the music is slow, somber, heroic, and above all, patriotic. Whether it's from sheer intrinsic genius or absorbed from his years in the Air Force, I don't know, but I have never heard anyone who can write patriotic music like Williams. The long, sustained, and gradually unfolding melodies are simple yet beautiful, often scored for low brass and strings, and with faint echoes of a snare drum as if from a great distance. Large, open intervals make the music sound "American" and evoke American ideals like freedom and heroism, giving a magnitude and expansiveness to the score that suits the subject matter. I find this music too moving to listen to simply as background music - it's quiet, yet strong as steel, and makes one feel humbled to hear it. My generation doesn't fully understand what our WW2 veterans went through for our country, but if any music can come close to driving home what our troops have endured and still endure today, it's music like this.

  • Hymn to the Fallen - This slowly unfolding melody spreads throughout the orchestra until the final iteration. A noble, inspiring, and patriotic melody, this is the ultimate tribute to the soldiers of the greatest generation. I love the introduction as well, with those open harmonies in the brass that sound so quintessentially American.

  • Omaha Beach - During the D-Day invasion of Normandy, "Bloody Omaha" Beach was the deadliest for our soldiers. Like the Hymn to the Fallen, this melody is long and sustained, gradually reaching glorious yet tragic heights. Low brass chorale-like sections (Williams' experience as an arranger of music for Air Force bands is clearly heard here), pure trumpet solos, and lush, dark string ensemble interludes make this one of the most moving tracks on the CD.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - Williams spins his customary wizardry with the orchestration of this score, achieving colors and timbres, especially from the percussion section, that are as much a part of the magic of the Harry Potter world as Quidditch and Platform 9 3/4. The Harry Potter soundtracks have sometimes come under fire for sounding too similar and reprising the same themes too much, but, if it isn't completely obvious by now, I am unable to say anything bad against Williams. :) Just like Bach always sounds like Bach, if Williams wants to sound like Williams for the Harry Potter scores, that's fine with me.

  • Harry's Wondrous World - A beautiful, magical work featuring the strings. The winds, brass, and especially the percussion are especially important in this score, so it's nice to hear one of Williams' trademark soaring string melodies. The orchestration reminds me a little bit of Stravinsky's Petrouchka. Very lustrous, with a lot of different instrumental lines going on at once, but it's not too heavy or busy.

  • Christmas at Hogwarts - This light intro absolutely smacks of Christmas cheer. Nobody can write such light, joyous music like John Williams! Then... well, I bet you've never heard a Christmas carol sung quite like this before. :)

  • Hedwig's Theme - The most famous (and some say overused) melody in the three soundtracks so far. Overused? Well, if you or I came up with this music, I dare say we'd demonstrate what overusing really is...

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Patrick Doyle

Patrick Doyle (b. 1953) has always been an artistic jack of all trades. He attended the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama but he began his career as more of an actor than a composer. This changed in the year 1989, when, as an actor in the movie for Henry V, he became the film's composer after showing the director his ideas for the score. The rest, as they say, is history, and ever since, Doyle has been a film composer. While he has scored several other Shakespeare films such as Hamlet, Love's Labor's Lost, As You Like It, and Much Ado About Nothing, he has also composed the soundtracks to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Sense and Sensibility, Great Expectations, A Little Princess, Quest for Camelot, Bridget Jones' Diary, Calendar Girls, and the upcoming film Eragon. Doyle's trademark is his gift of melody - each score is rich with beautiful, singable melodies. This abundance of song makes each soundtrack wonderful from beginning to end, and many tracks could easily stand alone as concert pieces.

Recommended Soundtracks

Henry V (1989) - Words cannot express how much I love Shakespeare's Henry V. I've read it a million times, and I've seen this excellent movie almost as often. Doyle was initially just a cast member in this film, playing Court, a character who is rather infamous for having but one line in the entire play ("Brother John Bates, is not that the morning which breaks yonder?" - there, now you know an entire Shakespeare role by memory). While he was already the musical director and composer with Henry V director Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theater Company, he’d still never composed a feature film score before. Nevertheless, he played some musical ideas he had for Branagh, and immediately got the job. The finishing touch for this soundtrack came with the fact that instead of hiring independent musicians for a studio recording, the well-known City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra recorded the score, led by Simon Rattle (in his pre-Knighted days). Henry V was thus a first for many of the parties involved – Branagh’s first film, Doyle’s first film score, and the orchestra and Rattle’s first time recording a soundtrack, but the result is breathtaking. Doyle has composed many soundtracks since, but I still find this one to be my favorite. The score has many melodic gems such as Non Nobis Domine, The Death of Falstaff, The Wooing of Katherine, and the main theme, while a skillful use of leitmotifs and melody transformations reflect the moods of the characters and scenes. Besides melodicism, another strength of Doyle's is the way he combined the music and text, for his understanding of the dialogue as a Shakespearean actor allowed him to make the music go hand in hand with the words in subtle but effective ways.

  • Opening Title - O for a Muse of Fire - A flourishing prefatory motif in the woodwinds appears followed by a stately and majestic melody, this is a striking opening which sets the mood of the film, punctuated by woodwind embellishments. Although not labeled as such, I've come to hear this music as Harry's theme, since it or parts of it often appear either with Harry, or when others talk of him. (The theme labeled Henry's Theme in the track listing appears but rarely.) Each time it appears, though, it is transformed in tempo, orchestration, and character in order to fit the mood of the scene and act as a barometer for Harry’s thoughts and actions, or those of other characters who are thinking about him.

  • St Crispin's Theme - Henry rouses the courage of his "band of brothers" in one of Shakespeare’s most golden speeches. It is accompanied by a slowly unfolding theme in C major that signifies heroism, courage, and ultimately, victory. This is the first time in the soundtrack that this music has appeared, but from this point on, it will appear whenever Henry’s victory comes up. A slight resemblance to Harry’s theme can be traced in terms of the intervals. Doyle shows yet again how attuned he is to the text as the music is very carefully timed to Branagh’s words and reflects what he says in its timbre and key changes, and especially dynamics. When Harry’s voice drops, so does the music, and when he rings out the final words of the speech, the music is just as strong.

  • Non Nobis Domine - This track, which takes its opening notes from Harry's theme, is the peak of the film as well as the soundtrack. Unlike Henry's impassioned soliloquies of the night before the battle, or his heroic encouragement to his troops on Crispin's Day, Shakespeare gave Henry no lengthy victory speeches. The king simply attributes his victory to God and requests that Non Nobis Domine be sung. Likewise, Doyle keeps music from this scene very simple, reserving the emotions from the battle's aftermath for Non Nobis Domine. There is perfect silence when the king is told that the victory is his, and the next notes appear only when he is told that the nearby castle is called Agincourt. After that, a single soldier, played by Doyle himself, begins singing Non Nobis Domine. As Henry wearily crosses the battlefield, the orchestration grows from the single voice onscreen to a full choir of men and women's voices with an accompanying orchestra offscreen (the technical term for this is an audio dissolve). It is interesting to see how the music expands as we see more and more of the battlefield. The battle scenes in the film are close and claustrophobic, mostly following the feats of individual men. Here, we get a view of the full picture, and what the battle really cost, and this is what the Non Nobis Domine portrays.

  • The Death of Falstaff - Shakespeare's Henry V is part of four plays about the three Henrys in the Plantagenet line: Henry IV, Henry V, and the two-part Henry VI, and the beloved Falstaff is only a cameo in this particular play. He’s the life of the party of rascals Henry hung out with in his younger and wilder days before he became king: a merry rogue, a womanizer, a drunkard, and a goof-off, but a beloved character nonetheless, and one who's easy to laugh at. (Who after reading the Merry Wives of Windsor can forget when he was carried out with the laundry and dumped into the river?) However, Henry did a character aboutface when he became king. He became mature, responsible, and straitlaced, cutting off his former friends to overcome his previous reputation and causing Falstaff to die of a broken heart. Therefore, while his death here may seem out of place and unimportant to those unfamiliar with the character, Falstaff is a link back to Henry’s "greener days." Hence, the music is completely unrelated to any other theme in the film, as this is Falstaff’s theme, and with Falstaff gone, Doyle does not use any part of it again. (Which is certainly not a hardship for someone like him.) Typical for much of Doyle’s music, this lush yet sombre gem for string orchestra does not need to accompany a scene, but could stand alone as concert music.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) - As sad as I was to hear that John Williams would not create this score, I was still very excited and relieved to hear who would be composing it. Excited because I've been a fan of Doyle's ever since I was a kid, and this would easily be the most prominent film of his career so far. Relieved because of all the soundtrack composers out there today, I firmly believe that only Doyle could take on the ferociously difficult job of stepping into the legendary shoes of John Williams. Only Doyle's gift of song comes close to John Williams, and the score for Goblet of Fire would have to be supremely melodic in order to match up with the melodies that Williams had already given us. Yet Doyle had to walk a fine line with this soundtrack. If it was too derivative of previous Harry Potter soundtracks, people would say he was just copying John Williams. On the other hand, if his score was too different, people would still complain that it didn't sound like Harry Potter music or wasn't enough like John Williams. Doyle rose magnificently to the occasion. The score he wrote has the magic and wonder of the wizarding world that Williams has spun so finely in his own Harry Potter scores, as well as the best melodies this side of Williams, with the Hogwarts Hymn and Harry in Winter as shining examples. All in all, this is an excellent soundtrack, marred only by the addition of three jarring and annoying pop/rock songs by other artists at the end, which spoil the magical close of Doyle's score.

  • Quidditch World Cup - This track, in which the Irish and Bulgarian Quidditch players make their entrances, could only have been written by an Irishman like Doyle! Note for your neighbors: this is best heard very, very loud.

  • Harry in Winter - This track features a beautiful, crystalline melody surrounded by a shimmering backdrop of sound. Very pure and peaceful.

  • Hogwarts Hymn - A richly scored anthem that ascends higher and higher until the finish. This is the last track Doyle scored for soundtrack, and is a perfect ending track... only it isn't. Those three jarring and discordant pop songs follow and completely ruin the mood Doyle sets. Alas... but one cannot have everything.

A Little Princess (1995) - Whereas Henry V had grand sweeping melodies suitable to the film's scope and the size of its sets, A Little Princess is different. Because it is set almost entirely indoors, Doyle tended to use smaller chamber ensembles for the score, as a big orchestral soundtrack was unsuitable for such small, contained areas. The score includes Indian ragas as well as classical influences such as Haydn, combining the magic and allure of the faraway land where Sara grew up with the prim Baroque music of London and Miss Minchin's School for Girls, and overall the score is fanned by the fires of William Blake's poetry. Doyle equally mixes Western and Indian instruments like the tabla and sitar to create a rich backdrop for the film, and the instruments are spectacularly played by professional Indian musicians. Due to how the film begins, there is no obvious main theme in the first track, but the shimmering Indian instruments set the mood for the soundtrack, along with settings of Blake's poetry which are sung by girl's choirs. While perhaps not as melodically diverse as some of his other scores, in keeping with the Doyle tradition in which one track becomes the heart and soul of the score, the song for this film is "Kindle My Heart," an absolutely beautiful melody.

  • Kindle My Heart (The Goodbye) - Music is usually inspired by a scene in the film - here, the scene in the film was inspired by the music. In the liner notes, Alfonso Cuaron, the director writes:
    "One day, for some reason, I decided not to follow the script. I didn't really know what to shoot instead of the written pages, except that the scene would have to convey the bliss of Sara's awakening; the recovering of her faith... I went with Mark, my producer, to listen to the just arrived demo of a song by Patrick... The song was "Kindle My Heart." Back on the sound stage we rehearsed Sara's awakening, this time playing the song through it. The set became a warm cocoon where the music was kindling our creative impulses.... we experienced the birth of A Little Princess' heart. The next morning the whole crew was humming the song, and at night we played it as we watched dailies from the day before in an unusually crowded screening room. Some cried. The song became the soul of the film score... The scene for which the song was originally composed didn't survive the final cut of the film. The song was used in the scene invented by the song itself."
    Kindle My Heart appears twice, once sung by Abigail Doyle (hm, Doyle, coincidence? I think not) on track titled Kindle My Heart, and the other on the closing track, which I've excerpted here. I chose this version, with lead actress Liesel Matthews singing it because Liesel is a far better singer, and stays almost impeccably in tune (although she does try too hard to get vibrato). Abigail Doyle, on the other hand, goes so flat on the chorus, it spoils that version of the song for me, although I really love its orchestration. I know Abigail was just a kid and did the best she could, but this is one case where I wish they'd worked a little more studio magic on her before mixing her part into the accompaniment... In any case, those big interval jumps make it a hard song for a child to sing, and most kids probably couldn't do even as well as Abigail did. On both tracks, the accompaniment is gorgeous - all in all, singer imperfections aside, this is one of Doyle's best pieces ever. The atmosphere he creates with the blend of Indian and Western instruments is probably his finest ever, and the song is definitely one you will be humming after hearing it.

  • Touched by an Angel - This reprises the Kindle My Heart melody and is richly played by strings amidst a jewel-like accompaniment of Indian instruments.

  • Christina Elisa Waltz - Besides the dramatic melodies, delicate harp solos, chants of Om Namaste, and Purcell-like settings of Blake's poetry, there's music on this side of the spectrum: an absolutely delightful little waltz. Move over, Johann Jr.

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James Newton Howard

James Newton Howard (b. 1951) was classically trained as a pianist as a boy, and grew up in a musical family, as his grandmother had been the concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony. He also listened to rock and jazz, and cites the Beatles and Beethoven as especial influences. He attended the Music Academy of the West and also the University of Southern California School of Music for piano performance and piano accompaniment, where he studied with teachers like Leon Fleisher and Gwendolyn Koldolfsky, as well as composition with Marty Paich. In the years following his graduation, Howard became the keyboardist for several rock bands, including Mama Lion and his own band China as well as being a keyboardist in Elton John's band for several of his tours. After that, Howard became known as a musical powerhouse who could play the keyboard, orchestrate music, write songs, and produce albums, working with many top musicians of the time - all in the popular genre. His first film score opportunity came in 1985 with the movie Head Office. Initially apprehensive, he found that he loved composing movie soundtracks, and switched over to the film scoring industry for good. Among his scores are Pretty Woman, The Man in the Moon, Alive, The Fugitive, The Prince of Tides, Snow Falling on Cedars, and Dreamcatcher. Lately, he is most known for his collaborations with director M. Night Shyamalan on Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, and Lady in the Water. His style has ranged from the romantic music of his early period to action music and most lately his dark, atmospheric thriller scores, and he expertly incorporates symphonic orchestrations with synthesized music and non-Western instruments.

Recommended Soundtracks

Snow Falling on Cedars - This haunting, atmospheric soundtrack features many unusual instruments and effects. The shakuhachi flute, solo cello, wind chimes, choir, and high-pitched ethnic flutes are common elements in the score, creating a dark, ambient soundtrack that I never tire of listening to.

  • Lost in the Fog - A track which sounds like its name. Featuring a goodly array of ethnic instruments, this isn't a melody-driven track, but is very effective in setting the mood.

  • Tarawa - An incredibly powerful track with full choir and orchestra, this builds to the soundtrack's high point in terms of dynamics and emotions. I love the chord progressions here - this is definitely my favorite part of the CD.

  • End Title - The solo cello is heard throughout the soundtrack, and is featured here in a quiet, ambient setting.

The Village - Perhaps my favorite Howard score (so far), this was one of Howard's collaborations with M. Night Shyamalan. Written for orchestra with many prominent solos for violin, the soundtrack features classical violinist Hilary Hahn, with the best solo violin playing in a soundtrack since Schindler's List with Itzhak Perlman. I've always liked Hilary Hahn's playing since the times I heard her in student recitals at the Curtis Institute of Music when I was a kid, so between her playing and Howard's score, and the use of the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra (the liner notes list each musician by name, which is nice), this is one amazingly written and performed soundtrack. A haunting and atmospheric work with two main moods: the undulating ripples of fast notes which are as eerie and flickering as the shadows in the woods the movie portrays, and the long, sustained, keening violin solos. Both are exceedingly effective and give the soundtrack its soul.

  • Noah Visits - The first track on the album, this starts off quietly, introducing the beautifully long, sustained solos by Hilary Hahn. This sets the mood for the rest of the soundtrack, which is mostly strings, winds, and percussion effects.

  • What Are You Asking Me? - Another gorgeous duet for piano and violin that later turns into shadowy flutters of faster notes while the strings take over the slow melodies.

  • The Gravel Road - These lambent ripples in the solo violin are vital in setting the mood of eerie suspense.

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Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman (b. 1955) is the son of Alfred, one of the early pillars of Hollywood music. He studied composition at USC with Frederick Lesemann and famous film composer David Raksin, and also attended Yale for his master's degree, studying with Jacob Druckman, Robert Moore, and Bruce MacCombie, as well as taking private lessons with George Tremblay. Besides his classical studies, Thomas Newman is also talented on other genres as well and was once a keyboardist in a rock band called The Innocents. Among his film scores are National Treasure, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Madagascar, The Road to Perdition, Erin Brockovich, American Beauty, The Horse Whisperer, The Green Mile, Three Kings, Meet Joe Black, Little Women, and Fried Green Tomatoes. An accomplished pianist, he often plays in his soundtrack recordings, and is known for his stylistic versatility, which lets him score all kinds of films with equal ease. His soundtracks tend to be very atmospheric and set the mood of the film, and use piano, percussion, synthesizers, and non-Western instruments to supplement the orchestra scoring.

Recommended Soundtracks:

The Road to Perdition - A dark, somber, Irish-flavored soundtrack that uses gorgeous string harmonies supplemented with atmospheric sound effects and many ethnic instruments.

  • Rock Island, 1931 - A beautiful, mood-setting track which uses Uilleann pipes.

  • Road to Chicago - Starts with the theme on solo piano (played by Newman himself), while more instruments gradually join in. Great use of harmony and timbre.

  • Murder - An uneasily-shifting flow of chords and various spooky instrumental effects create a tense atmosphere in this part of the track.

  • Road to Perdition - A hushed, bittersweet track for piano and strings which highlights Newman's ability to create a mood simply and effectively.

  • Perdition - Piano Duet - This track was actually written by John M. Williams (not the John Williams, whose middle name is Towner), and is performed onscreen by Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. John M. Williams was in the movie as an Irish musician and was also a consultant for the Irish music in the score.

Danny Elfman

Like many other film composers, Danny Elfman (b. 1953) started out as a rock musician before switching to film composing. Born in California, Elfman grew up influenced by classical music of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Bartok, Ravel, and Stravinsky, as well as the post-Romantic style film scores of composers like Waxman, Korngold, Rota, and Herrmann. After high school, he toured in France with his older brother in a theater group called Le Grand Circus. After France, Elfman moved to Africa, journeying through several countries and absorbing the musical influences and various ethnic instruments as he went. Once back in the States, he joined The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo, a group started by his older brother, who used them and their music in the cult hit The Forbidden Zone. Elfman acted in this film as well as writing music for it, and Oingo Boingo (as the band later called itself) performed and recorded together until they broke up in 1985. Elfman's collaboration with Tim Burton started after Burton had seen an Oingo Boingo concert, and asked him to compose the score for his first big film, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Elfman was initially apprehensive, but ended up loving it and ever since, he has been writing film scores. He has collaborated with Burton on nearly all of that director's films, including Batman, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mars Attacks!, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Corpse Bride. Other notable films include Black Beauty, Sommersby, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Good Will Hunting, and Men in Black. Elfman's style is often dark and rich, especially on his films with Tim Burton, but there is a fantasy element of light and wonder on many of his films, like Big Fish, and childlike innocence, such as Black Beauty. Elfman has not been formally trained in composition, and taught himself to write music on paper. Some have looked down on him for this, but his scores are clear proof that training doesn't equal talent and talent doesn't always need training.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Spider-Man - Although the theme to Spider-Man is great, the rest of the score isn't one of Elfman's best, but even so, it's still good and suits the action and emotions of the film.

  • Main Theme - The perfect music for Spidey to use while webslinging through NYC, this is a great action-style track from start to finish. (Nearly the whole track is here... I had to include the "with great power comes great responsibility" part near the end...)

Big Fish - Even if you've never seen Tim Burton's 2003 Big Fish, just by listening to this soundtrack, you know what the movie is like. Elfman creates a fusion of fantasy elements in this heavily atmospheric soundtrack. Pitch-bending, sprightly fiddle tunes in folkish style blend with atmospheric chords for string ensemble, and tender piano solos with woodwinds. Brass are rarely used; most of the orchestration is for strings, winds, and piano. It's a shorter CD for Elfman fans, though, as only tracks 8 to 22 are Elfman's. The rest are the popular songs used in the film which include Bing Crosby, Elvis, Pearl Jam, and Buddy Holly.

  • Finale - The Finale is an eleven minute track: this section features slowly drifting islands of sound from the strings, which is representative of the kind of fantasy world Elfman creates with this score.

  • Finale (excerpt 2) - This second excerpt is the final portion of the track. I love how the string melody soars over the rippling, translucent wash of sonorities.

  • Jenny's Theme - A haunting, quiet melody for strings and later delicately played by solo piano and harp... reminds me of an old, dusty music box.

Black Beauty - This is very different in style from the athletic Spider-Man or any of Elfman's Burton soundtracks. Directed by Caroline Thompson in 1994, the score for this film is very sweet and often sad, yet still somehow beautifully childlike as well. The orchestration alternates solos in smaller chamber ensembles with bigger orchestral cues, and topped off with shimmering decorations from the celeste and other instruments in the percussion department, along with penny whistle solos. All in all, a beautiful, romantic soundtrack.

  • Main Theme - This theme is the heart of the soundtrack, and is present in some shape or form in many of the other tracks. A lovely, luminous melody.

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Howard Shore

Although he is best known today for the epic Lord of the Rings scores, Howard Shore started out as a rock musician with the band Lighthouse and was the first music director for Saturday Night Live. Born in Canada in 1946, Shore studied at the Berklee College of Music. He counts Toru Takemitsu among his influences, and plays a variety of instruments, including flute, piano, all the saxes, and cello. Besides composing, Shore has made documentaries and nature films, and worked for radio as well. He has collaborated with a number of directors on various films, including Silence of the Lambs, The Aviator, After Hours, The Brood, Ed Wood, and Panic Room. His style has ranged from the more experimental sound of his early works to the grand symphonic sagas for the Lord of the Rings films. These days, he is more interested in writing chamber music because of the flexibility to be gained with smaller ensembles.

Recommended Soundtracks:

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Return of the King) - As a diehard Tolkien fan/purist, Peter Jackson didn't really have a chance with me, not after the way he committed such mortal sins as combining characters and changing dialogue and plots, all for reasons other than cutting the book down to the required length for the film. But the redeeming feature from the trilogy besides the sets and the pristine New Zealand landscape is Howard shore's music. Shore said he composed the score with LotR open besides him as he worked, and it shows. The music far transcends the films and is something that I can listen to while reading the book. Elven song, vocals, ethnic instruments, and skilled orchestration make the soundtracks from these films unforgettable. Shore's music ranges from complex, densely textured works for full orchestra and choir to pure, transparent sections for small chamber ensembles, or even single instruments deep in the background - there is very little pure silence in the films. Whether it's ethereal Elven strains, rousing battle music, or the warmly comfortable Shire theme, Shore's epic sound, masterful orchestration, and beautiful melodies have truly created the sound of Middle-earth.

  • The Prophecy (Fellowship of the Ring) - The first track of the trilogy. Like an opera overture, this is an excellent introduction to the music of Lord of the Rings. Great blend of choral and instrumental music, growing from the subtle beginnings to full choir and orchestra.

  • Amon Hen (Fellowship of the Ring) - Some great brass playing here! This track includes the orc motif in 5/4 time signature - a new twist for marching music, and highlighting the kind of creatures marching to this off-kilter beat.

  • The King of the Golden Hall (The Two Towers) - The use of the Norwegian fiddle is great in setting the right character and musical ambience for the people and country of Rohan (although technically, Tolkien based the Rohan folk on the Old English people, who were not Norwegian in origin.)

  • The White Tree (The Return of the King) - This is a glorious case of scenery and music combining together in the film. The ancient signal beacons of Gondor are being lit, one after the other on succeeding hills and mountains, and the camera swoops from one to the next as each fire springs into being. The music is likewise of grand scope in order to fit with the scenery, and rises in pitch and intensity throughout the sequence.


The Aviator - The Aviator, on the other hand, is in a completely different musical spectrum than the epic Lord of the Rings scores, although I think this is more similar to Shore's own personal style than the LotR music ever was. More in line with his early works, such as The Brood (although it's more tonal than that score), The Aviator reminds me strongly of Hindemith or a modern Bach. It's modern in melody and harmony, but, like the quote of Hindemith's about all music taking its departure from the C major triad, Shore retains standard classical musical practices, employing mostly the major-minor tonal system along with musical forms such as fugues. This is a lean, athletic score that makes one think - at first hearing, it's so different from what one would expect for a period film like The Aviator that it's almost startling. Yet it fits. Just as the early pilots with their "flying machines" were on the cutting edge of their day's technology and way of thinking, doing things that were thought to be crazy by the rest of society, this score is likewise not held back by traditions. There's also another soundtrack of the early popular music used in the movie, which helps date the film more accurately, but the more I hear this score, the more I like what Shore is doing.

  • Icarus - This focused, forward-driven piece for strings and later full orchestra is the soundtrack's first track.

  • There Is No Great Genius Without Some Form of Madness - This introduces the soundtrack's most common theme, a fugue-like work for string ensemble.

  • The Mighty Hercules - I included some of this because I love the way the theme from the previous sound clip is used in this powerful work.

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Joe Hisaishi

Joe Hisaishi (b. 1950) began playing violin as a child and attended Kunitachi College of Music. Hisaishi's name was originally Mamoru Fujisawa, but as his career began to take off, he adopted the name of Joe Hisaishi, a Japanese adaption of the name Quincy Jones, the famous musician. He was initially a classical composer who was especially influenced by the minimalist movement, but the famed director Hayao Miyazaki heard some of his music and asked him to compose the soundtrack for his animated movie Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind in 1983. This would be the first of many collaborations with Miyazaki, including Laputa Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service, Howl's Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro, all animated films. Hisaishi's style is lush and romantic, with beautiful melodies and luminous harmonies.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Spirited Away - Spirited Away is an animated movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki in 2001, and is about a little girl named Chihiro. It can be a little strange sometimes for Western viewers to watch (especially when Chihiro has to work at a bathhouse for spirits), as much of it is based on Japanese mythology and legends, but Hisaishi created a score that is very Western in style.

  • Reprise - Featuring extensive woodwind and piano solos, this simple yet warm and lovely melody has always, in its grander iterations, reminded me of the final movement of Sibelius' Fifth symphony - something about the intervals used.

  • One Summer's Day - For piano and orchestra, Hisaishi once again creates an entire world with his music, one that's as full of magic and legend as Miyazaki's films.

Princess Mononoke - 1997's Princess Mononoke was also created by Miyazaki, and author Neil Gaiman did the English version for the United States release. The plot takes place in Japan in the 1300s, and follows the story of Ashitaka, a cursed prince, and Mononoke, a princess who was raised by wolves. Like Spirited Away, it can also be a little strange for Western audiences (the gods and spirits in particular are definitely not what we're used to), but it's a great movie with a particularly great soundtrack.

  • Ashitaka and San - A beautiful love theme for solo piano and orchestra, which has always sounded vaguely like how I imagine Rachmaninoff would write if he did film scores today

  • End Title - A rich, epic melody for strings with quieter wind interludes. Like most of the rest of the soundtrack, this is very Western in style and orchestration, although there are a few instances on the soundtrack where traditional instruments are used.

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David Arnold

David Arnold was born in England in 1962 and played piano, guitar, and clarinet as a youth. He attended the National Film and Television School with Danny Cannon, and the two collaborated on many student films together with Cannon directing and Arnold composing. Their graduation film, Strangers led to Cannon's first film after graduation, named The Young Americans, for which Arnold wrote the score. This led to composing the music for Stargate, which further cemented Arnold's reputation. Since then, he has composed the music for Independence Day, Stepford Wives, 2 Fast 2 Furious, A Life Less Ordinary, Amazing Grace, as well as four James Bond movies to date, including Die Another Day and The World Is Not Enough. Arnold's style is varied, ranging from epic orchestral to popular, such as the song he co-wrote with Bjork for The Young Americans. The John Williams influence can definitely be heard in his scores, but Arnold's music nonetheless has a unique voice.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Independence Day - I picked this soundtrack up in the library by the merest chance many years ago. It was a ratty, scratched disc that wouldn't play all the tracks, but I absolutely loved what I heard and quickly bought a copy for myself. This soundtrack won a Grammy, and it certainly deserved it. The music is scored for full orchestra, but the winds, especially the brass, often take precedence, evoking the sound of a wind ensemble or military band. Cymbal scrapes, a choir, and percussive sounds achieved by the strings playing col legno (striking the strings with the wood of the bow rather than the hair) are some of the effects Arnold uses to color the score, while the style ranges from fierce action music to soft band chorales. The musicians performing this score are absolutely superb. The brass are incredibly strong, as they'd need to be for a score of this style, and have that perfect blend and cohesiveness that comes only with topnotch players. The piccolo player is another amazing nameless musician, easily playing in registers mankind wasn't meant to hear, let alone have to play on something that's roughly the size of a soda straw. All around, this is an excellent soundtrack, and a clear case of a score far outpacing the film for which it was written.

  • 1969: We Came in Peace - The opening track, featuring subtle strings, snare drum, and a lone trumpet solo, surging to full orchestra only near the end.

  • The Darkest Day - I imagine the aliens are attacking in this scene... it's been years since I saw the movie. Some great brass work in this track and a good use of choir as well.

  • Evacuation - Another martial track, featuring more brass and wind solos, and some creepy string usage.

  • Canceled Leave - This track features of a change of pace with a lovely chorale. Although the orchestration includes strings, it sounds like a beautiful wind ensemble due to the prominence of the wind and brass solos.

  • End Titles - My favorite track, this joyous, celebratory piece reprises the best melodies of the score. It was very, very hard to find a stopping point for the audio clip...

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Tan Dun

Tan Dun (b. 1957) is one of the few successful crossover composers, an established classical composer and conductor who has also written some film scores in recent years. Born in Hunan, China, he studied at the Beijing Central Conservatory, where he came across modern Western classical music, something which had been suppressed in China, and later studied at Columbia University. An important composer of avant-garde music, his style incorporates Eastern and Western influences, and strives to span the genres of classical and non-classical. Influenced by modern music as well as ethnic arts, Tan Dun has conducted many orchestras around the world. Some of his works include the various Organic Concertos, which are influenced by nature and natural elements, and multimedia presentations such as The Map, a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma which includes video as well as orchestral accompaniment. He has written operatic works as well, and upcoming commissions include a piano work for Lang Lang. His film scores include Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Yimou Zhang's Hero, and Feng Xiaogang's The Banquet.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - A superb score combining Eastern and Western influences, with cello solos by famous classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Scored for strings, Chinese instruments, and Yo-Yo Ma's soft cello playing, this is an excellent introduction to the soundtrack. (Sound clip coming soon!)

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Ennio Morricone

Ennio Morricone (b. 1928) is best known for his collaborations with director Sergio Leone, and has been hugely influential on the style of music for Westerns. Morricone studied trumpet at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome. In 1964, he wrote the score for Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, the first of the Man With No Name trilogy. Since then, he has scored almost four hundred films, including For a Few Dollars More, The Good, Bad, and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in America, Casualties of War, and The Mission. His style ranges from the scrappy, spare scores for Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns to the somber and lush scores for films like The Mission.

Recommended Soundtracks:

For a Few Dollars More - A Fistful of Dollars was radically different from other film scores of the time, using instruments like the jew's harp, electric guitars, and harmonicas, and Westerns have been influenced by it ever since. As in the first of the trilogy, the second film, For a Few Dollars More, includes the same unusual sonorities, such as whistles, men's chorus, and the jew's harp. New sounds such as the organ and especially the delicate tones of the famous music box theme heavily contribute to the ambience of the film.

  • Main Theme - That's some pretty amazing whistling. The whistler here is Allessandro Allessandroni, a friend of Leone's. A very effective opening track for the film, and an instant mood setter.

The Mission - The theme for this film set in 18th century South America is a gorgeous, slowly spun melody for oboe, and has been arranged and recorded by various artists, including James Galway to Yo-Yo Ma. Beautiful, lush, and tragic, this score was nominated for an Academy Award.

  • Gabriel's Oboe - He makes you wait for this melody, with over forty-five seconds of the sustained A (for time's sake I had to cut it short for the sound clip). But it's worth the wait, when you hear the oboist playing the theme. A gorgeous, prayerful melody.

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Nino Rota

Nino Rota (1911-1979) is most known for his collaborations with the famed director Federico Fellini, although he worked with many others besides. Born in Milan, Rota was a child prodigy who studied with Ildebrando Pizzetti at the Milan Conservatory at the age of twelve. Later, he was taught by Alfredo Casella in Rome, and then in America with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute of Music. Although he wrote over one hundred and fifty film scores, he also had a prodigious classical output which includes operas, ballets, concerti, and chamber music. While his most famous scores are the ones from Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy, his collaborations with Fellini began in 1952, and included Amarcord, Prova D'Orchestra, and Roma.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Romeo and Juliet - Rota did several Shakespeare films, and this one was directed by Franco Zeffirelli. The soundtrack includes some dialogue from the play, but including Shakespeare's words only enhances the overall quality, to my thinking. :) It's also nice because it lets one hear how well the music complements the words.

  • Love Theme - The most famous theme from the movie, this wistful, haunting melody captures the fate of the starcrossed lovers.

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Miklos Rozsa

Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995) was born in Budapest and studied violin, viola, and piano as a child. At nineteen, he went to the Leipzig Conservatory, and afterwards he settled in Paris and then London. Like many other film composers of his time, due to how new the art of movie music was, he was trained as a classical composer and wrote classical works first. He was very influenced by the first movie score he ever heard, which was written in 1934 by his friend, fellow classical composer Arthur Honegger. In 1937, he was given the opportunity to write a score for Alexander Korda's Knight Without Armour. In 1940, Rozsa came to Hollywood and finished work on The Thief of Bagdad. He remained in the United States for the rest of his life, where he wrote the scores to films such as Ivanhoe, Julius Caesar, King of Kings, El Cid, Quo Vadis, The Jungle Book, Double Indemnity, The Asphalt Jungle, and, most famously, Ben-Hur. Besides his film output, he was an established classical composer who wrote many pieces which are still performed in concert today, such as Theme Variations, and Finale, Symphony in Three Movements, and concerti for viola, cello, and violin, the last of which was written for the famous violinist Jascha Heifetz. Rozsa's style is descended from the classical post-Romanticists such as Liszt (his mother studied piano with pupils of Liszt), and his work includes larger than life film overtures, tender love themes, brilliant and richly dissonant harmonies, the suspense and drama of film noir scores, and militaristic marches and fanfares. Passionate and romantic, his music has a style all his own, and is unique in cinema history.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Ben-Hur - The crown jewel of Rozsa's many wonderful film scores, this epic score rightfully earned Rozsa an Oscar in 1960. Probably my favorite early Hollywood score, it just doesn't get any better than this. Gorgeous, passionate melodies for strings, brass fanfares, Eastern flavors, choral singing, and sumptuous scoring have made this one of the finest film scores of all time.

  • Overture - The film starts off with this overture, with just the music playing, no accompanying scenes onscreen - wonderful to listen to for Rosza fans, although I imagine everyone else just fast forwards through it. This music features Rozsa's rich harmonies (like those opening chords and the woodwind harmonies during the strings' first melody), multi-textured scoring, and sweeping melodies. Since I couldn't include all six minutes, it was very hard to have to cut it off for the sample clip...

  • Parade of the Charioteers - This rousing, flamboyant march features the trumpet section in particular, with short antiphonal passages for the trumpets and low brass. Very pompous and decadent, which makes it the perfect Roman parade music. So the ancient Romans didn't write marches like this, but if they could, I think they would have.

  • Star of Bethlehem (Extended Version) - Some may call this cheesy or overly dramatic, but for me, this melody and the way it's written perfectly sums up the music of this era in Hollywood. I also like the touch of the trilling piccolo in the very beginning, which evokes the light from the Star of Bethlehem and reminds me of how John Williams would use the piccolo eighteen years later to portray the star-scattered expanse of space.

  • Esther - A gentle arrangement of the Love Theme, using muted strings tinged with ripples of accompanying harp and intermittent oboe solos.

El Cid - El Cid, Ben-Hur, and King of Kings share a similar style, as two are Biblical and El Cid is also a historical film. The soundtrack is lush and melodic, with spices of Spanish flavor and rousing battle fanfares.

  • Wedding Night - Haunting, passionate solos from the winds and finally the rest of the orchestra in all its splendor make this a gorgeous, moving track. (Sound clip coming soon!)

  • Main Theme - This Spanish-flavored theme features brass fanfares and martial rhythms.

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Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) started out as a classical composer who had the praise of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. He was born in what is today the Czech Republic, learned piano at a young age, and also studied composition with Alexander von Zemlinsky and Robert Fuchs. Korngold, a child prodigy who was dubbed the "second Mozart", was a prominent musician in Europe before emigrating to the States in 1934 to write the score to A Midsummer Night's Dream. After that, he was signed by Warner Bros., and wrote film scores in America while still writing concert music in Europe. With World War II, however, he brought his family over to America, not wanting to write any more concert works until Hitler was gone. Along with orchestral, operatic, and chamber works, Korngold wrote the scores to films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Of Human Bondage, The Sea Hawk, King's Row, Escape Me Never, The Prince and the Pauper, Hearts Divided, Between Two Worlds, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Anthony Adverse, Captain Blood, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Korngold was one of the giants of early Hollywood, who was exceedingly influential in setting the standards for orchestral soundtracks, and his style is very Post-Romantic, rich in harmonies, and brilliantly scored. His intent was to create "operas without singing" (an admirable idea!), and films like Star Wars have roots in this composer's works. Sadly, Korngold was greatly underappreciated in his lifetime. Once he returned to Europe after World War II, he was disdained because he'd composed movie soundtracks, something too low for the cultural elites to stomach. Eventually he came back to the United States, yet even here, he was not appreciated as he deserved to be and died forgotten, at age sixty.

Recommended Soundtracks:

The Adventures of Robin Hood - The first talkies appeared in the late 1920s, and this movie was made in 1938. Korngold was thus on the cusp of setting the standards for this new musical art form and he did it brilliantly. This film was his first after leaving Europe because of World War II, and it won him a well-deserved Oscar.

  • The Archery Tournament - A brilliant, exciting fanfare from the brass which is taken over by the strings.

  • Coronation Procession - This is a sprightly piece, not as stately as one would think from the title, and only becomes more grandiose towards the end.

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Alfred Newman

If there is a First Family of film composers in America, it is the Newmans. Besides Alfred (1901-1970), there was his brother Lionel, another brother Emil, his son Thomas, his other son David, his daughter Maria, his nephew Randy, and his great-nephew Joey. Alfred Newman (not to be confused with Alfred E. Neuman) was born in Connecticut and showed an early talent for piano, earning a living for his large family when his father couldn't find work. He played in music theater for awhile, but his real talent was in composing and conducting. In fact, it was his conducting talent that first took him to Hollywood and then started him on a composing career that would span hundreds of films, 45 Academy nominations, and 9 Oscars. Among his film scores are How Green Was My Valley, Twelve O'Clock High, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, The Bad and the Beautiful, How The West Was Won, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Camelot, The Robe, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The King and I, The Prisoner of Zenda, Wuthering Heights, and The Mask of Zorro, although perhaps his most recognizable piece is the Fox fanfare that accompanies the studio logo. His music isn't quite as close to the Post-Romantic style, nor does it usually possess as much of the wide-flung abandon common to some of his peers, but his trademarks are extremely memorable melodies and an expert command of many styles for all kinds of films, including Westerns, military, and historical dramas. Newman has been an important influence on many composers over the years, including John Williams.

Recommended Soundtracks:

The Greatest Story Ever Told - Written after the stylistic vein of Ben-Hur, which preceded this film by six years, this score features tender, muted strings, prominent woodwind solos, and accompanying choir for the most dramatic sections.

  • Jesus of Nazareth (Theme) - A beautifully spun melody with gorgeous suspensions and resolutions. Unlike many themes, the theme is scored for a smaller ensemble in a softer, more intimate arrangement.

How the West Was Won - A great, swashbuckling score with big, expansive themes, tender melodies, folk songs, Western influences, and heroism to spare.

  • Main Theme - This melody makes me wish I could play French horn, because it sounds so fun to play. :) The kind of music that can only be written in America, this is the pioneer spirit personified.

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Franz Waxman

Franz Waxman (1906-1967) was born in Germany with the name Franz Wachsmann. Only one of many composers whose families disapproved of his career choice, he initially became a bank teller to please his father, but studied piano and composition on the side. Finally, he moved to Berlin to continue his musical studies, supporting himself by playing the piano in nightclubs and also in a jazz band, the Weintraub Syncopaters, and his arrangements for the band led to some orchestration opportunities in the film world, including the arranging and conducting of Frederick Hollander's music for The Blue Angel, which starred Marlene Dietrich. He left Germany in 1932 because of the rise of the Nazis and his Jewish background, and went to France before ending up in Hollywood. (I haven't found out when he changed his name to Waxman, but I imagine the anti-German sentiment of the time had something to do with it.) He scored over one hundred films, including Rebecca, Mr Skeffington, Sunset Boulevard, Taras Bulba, The Philadelphia Story, Rear Window, Captains Courageous, Suspicion, A Place in the Sun, A Christmas Carol, Dark City, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Woman of the Year, The Young at Heart, The Spirit of St Louis, Edge of Darkness, Sayonara, Peyton Place, Destination Tokyo, and, perhaps most famously, The Bride of Frankenstein. Besides his film work, Waxman was a champion of contemporary classical music, founding the Los Angelos International Music Festival, where he premiered new works by composers such as Stravinsky, Schoenberg, William Walton, Shostakovich, and Vaughan Williams. His own concert output was broad, writing choral, orchestral, concerti, chamber music, jazz ensemble, band, instrumental music with piano, and solo works. His sound was varied, and although he was especially known for his warm romantic music and strong Straussian Post-Romantic flavor, he also wrote in other styles such as jazz.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Taras Bulba - This sensational soundtrack was written in 1962, and showcases Waxman's swashbuckling style. The score features warmly singing melodies for muted strings, dazzling flashes of woodwind virtuosity, dark sorrowful moments for chamber ensemble, and excellent brass passages. The entire soundtrack can be summed up with one word: virtuosity, both with the composer's fertile imagination and the players who brought this to life.

  • Overture - This brilliantly scored work is at least on an equal level, if not higher, than the so-called strictly classical music that was written during this time. From a technical standpoint, this is probably the most difficult music from a soundtrack that I've ever heard. Anyone who thinks calling something "movie music" is an insult and thinks those who play it are pansies, listen to those runs that the woodwinds have, especially the flutes and piccolo! It's easy to admire the composers for writing like this, but it's even easier to forget all the unsung heroes of the recording studios, who had little to no preparation time to turn out such stellar performances.

Rebecca - Waxman's genius of orchestration is apparent on this supremely romantic score dating from 1940. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the score for this film noir also possesses some suitably darker and mysterious moments.

  • Theme - Mix the huge, complex scores of Richard Strauss, the tonal colors of Wagner, and Mahler's expansive, unrestrained lyricism with Waxman's melodies and sweeping Hollywood sound, and this is what you get: a score that incorporates these influences, but goes far beyond them, too.

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Ralph Vaughan Williams

Ralph (pronounced Rafe) Vaughan-Williams was born in 1872, and was an English composer who was strongly influenced by the music of his own country, so his music usually sounds very English. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London with Sir Charles Villier, and in Paris with Maurice Ravel. He also edited the English Hymnal in 1906, and later wrote, "Two years of close association with some of the best (as well as some of the worst) tunes in the world was a better musical education than any amount of sonatas and fugues." When World War I came around, he served as a stretcher-bearer and in the Royal Garrison Artillery, although he later went deaf from exposure to the sounds of gunfire. Although primarily a classical composer, Vaughan Williams also wrote several film scores in the 1940s, in order to do something for the war effort as he was too old to fight by then, and these include Forty-Ninth Parallel, Coastal Command, The People's Land, Story of a Flemish Farm, and The Pilgrim's Progress. In his film music as well as his classical works, Vaughan Williams' style is based on his thorough background in English folk songs, and, especially in his war films, thus becomes very patriotic. A dryly witty person and a well-loved composer, conductor, and pedagogue, Vaughan Williams died in 1958 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Forty-Ninth Parallel - Also called The Invaders, this 1942 film was a propaganda attempt to by the British to get the neutral United States to join the war. This was Vaughan Williams' first film score, and possesses in particular a gem of a main theme. I'm not sure there is a soundtrack for this, but there's a spectacular CD of music from several of Vaughan Williams' film scores, including the prelude from this film, which is what I've linked instead.

  • Prelude - A choral-like theme, reminiscent of Vaughan Williams' work on church music, soars into a glorious, faith-affirming melody for strings with gorgeous brass accompaniment and counterpoint.

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Elmer Bernstein

No relation to Leonard, Elmer's last name is pronounced "Bern-steen" as opposed to Leonard's "Bern-stine". Bernstein (1922-2004) studied composition with Roger Sessions, and Stefan Wolpe, attending the Juilliard School. Talented in more than composing, Bernstein could also paint, dance, and act. He served in WWII in an entertainment unit, and arranged American music for Glenn Miller and the United States Army Band as well as composing for the Armed Forces Radio broadcasts. After the war, Bernstein wrote hundreds of film scores, of which his most famous two are The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. Other notable works include The Man with the Golden Arm, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Ten Commandments, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Hawaii, Ghostbusters, The Making of the President, The Rainmaker, The Age of Innocence, The Hallelujah Trail, Wild Wild West and Far From Heaven. Bernstein possessed a flair for catchy melodies, and used jazz in his music as well as Copland-esque Western scores.

Recommended Soundtracks:

The Great Escape - A great soundtrack for a wonderful movie, the score for the Great Escape well portrays the good spirits, bravery, and ingenuity of those in the prison camp.

  • Theme - Probably one of the most famous film themes of all time, this spunky, indomitable theme is the spirit of the film. It has had a wide influence over the years, and 2000's Chicken Run is definitely indebted to both the music and the film itself.

The Magnificent Seven - This 1960 movie was a remake of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. Bernstein's sound is very reminiscent of Copland's American essence. A very different sound than Morricone's flinty spaghetti Western style, this score reserves full orchestral playing for the soaring melodies such as the main theme, using sparser instrumentation and plentiful woodwind and brass solos, while instruments such as the guitar and castanets provide the Spanish flavor of the southwest. P>

  • Theme - The famous string melody punctuated by rhythms from the brass provide the perfect theme for the seven heroes. (Sound clip coming soon!)

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Alex North

Born in Chester, Pennsylvania, Alex North (1910-1991) attended the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School, studying piano at Curtis with George Boyle, and composition at Juilliard with Bernard Wagenaar. His interest in Prokofiev's works, and with Russian music at large, resulted in his attending the Moscow Conservatory as its first American pupil. In 1936, he returned to the States to study with Aaron Copland and Ernst Toch. He worked in ballet and theaters as a pianist and music director, collaborating with Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, and Anna Sokolow. While on tour with Sokolow's company in Mexico, he also studied with Silvestre Revueltas. North began writing movie scores in 1936, and although he was drafted in 1942, his talent for film scoring landed him a job scoring Office of War Information documentaries. After the war, he continued working in theater and composing classical works before his big break, 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire, a film notable for its jazz score. North was also the composer for 2001 A Space Oddyssey, but at the last minute, his music was replaced with the classical selections that have become so famous today. North's scores include, Spartacus, Death of a Salesman, Unchained, Rich Man Poor Man, I'll Cry Tomorrow, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Long Hot Summer, Viva Zapata!, Dragonslayer, Cheyenne Autumn, The Misfits, and Cleopatra. North had a huge array of influences, from his studies in Philadelphia, New York, Moscow, and Mexico, and he was more influenced by the current musical fashions and less dependent on the Post-Romantic tradition than many other composers, so he was important for bringing in new influences to the world of film music.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Spartacus - Directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1960, Spartacus is about the spirited slave and his fight for freedom in the days of the Roman Empire. The musical influences of this score are Prokofiev and other twentieth century composers, rather than the Straussian style of earlier classical composers.

  • Homeward Bound - This active, energetic track and that of the similar opening track is far different than the overture to Ben-Hur and the music from previous historical films of similar subjects.

  • Love Theme - A very lush, romantic, yet ultimately tragic work for strings with accents by the woodwinds.

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Ron Goodwin

Ron Goodwin (1925-2003) was born in Britain and was a conductor as well as a composer. Although he played trumpet as a child, he initially worked in the insurance field before realizing that he belonged in music. He became a music copier at the London music publishing firm of Campbell, Connolly, & Co. while studying trumpet at the Guildhall School of Music, and also played with Harry Gould and his Pieces of Eight. Later, he was appointed the head of the arranging department at another publisher, as well as collaborating with pop stars on their own recordings, working at Parlophone with George Martin, the Beatles' recording manager. Goodwin's name became known through his various LPs of arranged music as well as original compositions, which led to his writing soundtracks. He wrote over fifty, and was especially known for his war films. His output includes Whirlpool, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, 633 Squadron, The Trap, Frenzy, The Early Bird, Where Eagles Dare, Valhalla, The Battle of Britain, One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, and Operation Crossbow. Besides writing film scores, Goodwin was also a successful conductor, bringing both pops and film music to audiences.

Recommended Soundtracks:

633 Squadron - I'm a sucker for classic war movie soundtracks, and this is a great theme for the 1964 movie, capturing the excitement and patriotism common to movies of this genre. The CD is a double disc set that has two soundtracks on it - the score for 633 Squadron as well as Goodwin's Submarine X-1.

  • Main Theme - 633 Squadron - Martial horns and trumpets signal the march-like theme, followed by a softer section for woodwinds.

The Battle of Britain - William Walton had already written a score for this when the American distributors decided they didn't like it. Walton, a famous composer of both classical and film works, was not amused at having his score tossed, and he was not alone in his anger. Sir Laurence Olivier gave the producers an ultimatum: at least some of his music be used or else he, Olivier, would have his name removed from the credits. Accordingly, a small bit of Walton's score was used near the end, but the rest was Goodwin's. Goodwin did a great job, especially after having to follow a composer like Walton, and the main theme and tracks like the march Aces High have achieved a reputation outside of the film.

  • Main Theme - One of Goodwin's most famous melodies, this martial brass fanfare sums up the spirit of the movie, and the heroism of the British RAF in World War II.

Where Eagles Dare - Where Eagles Dare was a book written by the Scottish author Alistair MacLean (good action/adventure book with awesome characters, by the way), which was adapted into a movie in 1968. Another classic war film of Goodwin's.

  • Main Title - The snare drum and slowly rising brass theme give it a military flair and signal the threat of the German base which the heroes are infiltrating, while the fugue employed adds to the tension.

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Randy Edelman

Randy Edelman (b. 1947) attended the University of Cincinnati and played piano in Broadway, where he was also a songwriter whose works were picked up by artists such as The Carpenters and Olivia Newton-John. He began composing in the movie and TV industry after he moved to Los Angelos, scoring shows and films such as MacGyver, Kindergarten Cop, Ghostbusters II, Dragonheart, and Gettysburg. The latter two are his best works, and certainly his best known, because the themes from these have been used in various movie trailers throughout the years. Edelman's style is melodic with synthesized enhancements filling out the orchestral instruments. While not on the top or even second tier of my favorite film composers, he definitely hit the nail on the head with Gettysburg and Dragonheart, so that's why I've included him here.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Gettysburg - The score for Gettysburg is melodically a fantastic score, but has a lot of synthesized parts (not sure whether such synthesization comes from a lack of budget or whether it's Randy's style, since synthesized instruments appear on a lot of his films). It doesn't sound bad per se, but given the scope of the film as well as the fact that it is a period piece, it's a shame that a live orchestra couldn't have recorded the soundtrack. The guitar is a common solo instrument in the work, and the fife and drum make an appearance as well. Songs such as "Dixie" are also referenced, but for the most part, the score is original music.

  • Main Theme - Randy really outdid himself here. The main theme appears after a lengthy introduction. It's first quietly introduced by the guitar, and then taken up by the entire orchestra on the second refrain. A great, noble melody and the heart of the soundtrack.

  • Fife and Gun - An example of Edelman's integration of the old and new - modern instruments, a very credible Civil War era type of piece, and Edelman's own inimitable style.

Dragonheart - Another good soundtrack of Edelman's, and one that I went out and bought after seeing the movie. Again, although using real instruments would have improved the overall sound, Edelman's long, arching melodies, quirky, comical sections, and percussive action sections are certainly effective, making this a good soundtrack overall.

  • The World of the Heart (Theme) - Rich stringwork and soaring melodies in the upper violins are complemented by humorous, snappy sections, in keeping with the style of the movie.

  • Einon - Percussive synthesizations and a martial horn melody characterize this theme for the bad guy.

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Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer (b. 1957) is from Frankfurt, Germany, and, like so many other film composers, played the keyboard in several bands, including Ultravox, Krisma, and The Buggles. He began composing soundtracks through working with Stanley Myers, and Rain Man of 1988 was his first big break, earning him an Academy Award nomination. Zimmer has written soundtracks for all kinds of movies, including Black Hawk Down, The Thin Red Line, Pearl Harbor, Driving Miss Daisy, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Da Vinci Code, Muppet Treasure Island, The Prince of Egypt, As Good As It Gets, Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron, The Lion King, The Last Samurai, The Preacher's Wife, Gladiator, Spanglish, Crimson Tide, Toys, The Ring, Mission: Impossible 2, and Broken Arrow. Zimmer has enjoyed collaborating with other composers, and has helped the careers of many young composers through his "School of Sound" in Los Angelos. An early experimenter with synthesizers and computers in music, which is evident in his works (although with more successful results than many other composers), Zimmer's style mixes various genres of music.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Toys - Zimmer isn't one of my favorite soundtrack composers... his sound (and that of his many proteges, such as Klaus Badelt) is too synthesized, too derivative of other works (both his own and others'), and for me, he just doesn't have the melodic interest of other composers. (I'm also highly skeptical of his Media Ventures composing company, ever since I heard a theme from Gladiator being blatantly copied in the Pirates of the Caribbean main theme, both Media Ventures projects, but not both by the same composer... and not such a great theme to merit the re-use, either.) I do like Zimmer's earlier soundtrack for 1992's Toys, though. Not the most memorable movie, nor Robin Williams' funniest, but the music was fun. A good example of Zimmer's collaborations with other artists, the soundtrack features popular singers such as Tori Amos, Enya, Shirley Walker, Grace Jones, and also includes some classical music such as Tchaikovsky's Symphony 1.

  • The Closing of the Year (Main Theme) - A track with children's chorus. Maybe it's the sleigh-bells, but this piece sounds very much like the holidays, with snow falling and Christmas lights glowing... A joyous track, one that's uniquely styled and scored.

  • Battle Introduction - "Ladies and gentlemen - our army. Let's wind up the troops," Robin Williams says at the beginning of this. The toys are assembled to help in the fight, so this music is highly influenced by the music for war films. Features Zimmer's typical amalgamation of synthesized and live music.

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Hagood Hardy

Canadian-born Hagood Hardy (1937-1997) is best known to American audiences for his endearing soundtrack on the Anne of Green Gables movies. He studied the piano as a child, and later added the vibraphone, attending the University of Toronto before becoming a jazz player in New York City. He also wrote jingles for commercials, such as one for Salada Tea in 1972, which he turned into a song called The Homecoming. It was extremely popular, and by 1976, Billboard magazine named Hardy instrumentalist of the year. He turned to composing soundtracks, such as the Anne movies, Second Wind, Klondike Rituals, An American Christmas Carol, The Silent Sky, and Rituals. Hardy's musical interests are broad, and in his later years, he did more work with jazz and also a hard-bop group, while his albums include Walk with Me and My Song, both of which are a mix of genres. His goal was to write music that could stand on its own, rather than just supporting music for the film it was written for, and in this he eminently succeeded.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Anne of Green Gables - This (excellent!) TV movie was made in 1985 and Hardy earned a Gemini award for best score. Lush strings and rippling harp passages contrast with lively wind sections, piano solos, folk songs, and joyous waltzes... all in all, the perfect score for this movie. This music doesn't just invite you in to Green Gables; it gives you a seat by the fire and offers you cookies and raspberry cordial (or, remembering Diana's little episode, currant wine).

  • The Trip to Green Gables (Theme) - A beautiful theme that's as important in setting the mood of the film as the gorgeous scenery on Prince Edward Island. His music always sounds so nostalgic to me, and although that's probably partly from having seen this movie and its sequel many times ever since I was a little girl, I also came across a quote of Hardy's in which he stated that he wanted his music to make people take a moment to reflect and re-examine, something at which he succeeds in this timeless score.

  • Diana - I can't hear this without thinking of Anne standing stiffly with her nose in the air as she waits for Gilbert to see her, respond to her cold "Good evening, Mr Blythe," and ask her to dance. A charming little waltz that responds to the joy of Anne and Diana at getting to go to a party, and especially Anne's delight at getting to wear puffed sleeves (if you've read the story, you know the italics are necessary).

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Wojciech Kilar

Wojciech Kilar was born in Poland in 1932, and attended the Katowice Music Academy, studying piano and composition with Boleslaw Woytowicz. After this, he spent a few years in Paris, studying under Nadia Boulanger, the world-famous pedagogue who taught virtually everyone of the classical field at that time. Along with classical composers like Penderecki and Gorecki, he was a leader of modern Polish music in the post-War era, and wrote in various avant-garde styles, being especially influenced by minimalism for a time. Later, he settled for a purer melodic approach, while folk music from his native land is an important inspiration in his works. Among his soundtracks are Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, and others such as Death and the Maiden, Life for Life, and Portrait of a Lady.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Portrait of a Lady - I remember the first time I ever heard the theme from this - I was at the movies, and before the previews began, they were showing stills from various films accompanied with a gorgeous, somber piece featuring two solo recorders. I liked it a lot, so the next day I contacted the theater and found out what they had been playing. Portrait of a Lady was directed by Jane Campion in 1996, and features more dark music like this, with gorgeous string and wind work. Also on the soundtrack, very fittingly, is some Schubert as well: two Impromptus played by Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the well-known string quartet, Death and the Maiden, played by the Brindisi String Quartet. This is an autumnal, moody soundtrack that sounds to me the way a very, very depressed Schubert would write if he wrote soundtracks today. It's absolutely drenched in sentiment, morose and dark sentiment at that, so it works when you're in the mood for it, or if it's a cold, rainy night (thunderstorms a bonus). For this soundtrack, I find that a little goes a long way, not only in terms of the mood, but for the actual melodies, too. Kilar was a minimalist, so he's still very influenced by the minimalist school. Each track has a great melody, but he repeats the melody more times than necessary for those of us who are non-minimalist fans. It still works if you're playing it as background music, but if you're actively listening to it, you'll probably end up skipping to the next track halfway through.

  • My Life Before Me (Theme) - Muted strings provide a constant, luminous wall of sound over which the two recorder soloists to play their slowly ascending melody.

  • Portrait of a Lady - Listening to this music while in the following scenario is optional but recommended: a dark study with the embers of an old fire glowing faintly upon the hearth, portraits of ancestors glowering down upon you, flickers of lightning briefly illuminating the shelves of leather-bound books that no one ever reads, the wind howling in the eaves of your grim yet stately mansion and driving the rain against the heavy curtain-shrouded windows, the furtive step of your dour and secretive butler creeping by in the hall, and the need to brood over your misfortunes/sins past as you sit for hours at your desk, alone in the dim pool of light from a single, lambent candle... (Okay, so maybe I got carried away there, but this dense, heavy music certainly isn't about leprechauns and lollipops.)

  • A Certain Light - Can it be? A major key signature?? Although this melody also appears on a few other tracks in minor, Kilar still manages to make the major key version sound grim. I've never seen this movie, but based on its music, it must be terribly depressing...

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George Fenton

George Fenton (b. 1950) is from London, and was born George Howe. Although he taught himself guitar and organ, he wanted to be an actor and that was how he started his career. As he found himself more in demand as a musician, he soon he switched to composition and worked with various English theaters, such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, Riverside Studios, the National Theatre, and The Royal Exchange Theater. Remaining self-taught in composition, he has worked extensively since then, with Dangerous Liaisons, Anna and the King, Cry Freedom, You've Got Mail, Memphis Belle, The wind That Shakes the Barley, Planet Earth, Dangerous Beauty, Fight club, Shadowlands, and Gandhi. Gandhi, on which he collaborated with Ravi Shankar, was only Fenton's fourth soundtrack, but it was nominated for an Oscar. Television credits include The Blue Planet, Shoestring, Life in the Freezer, Jewel in the Crown, and The Monocled Mutineer. He is a professor with the Royal College of Music, a member of the Royal Society of Music, and also with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Recommended Soundtracks:

Dangerous Beauty - Dangerous Beauty is another case of only having one soundtrack by a composer whose works I would love to explore more thoroughly. A simple, beautiful score, often featuring solo guitar, lush strings, and dark woodwind strains as well as lighter moments, too. Dating from 1998, Fenton took over when Rachel Portman was unavailable to write the score for it as planned.

  • Venice Proud and Pretty - A beautiful and simple opening theme played by solo guitar, later supported by soft strings. Very atmospheric.

  • The Verdict and End Titles - This one features full orchestra as well as solo instruments. Beautiful melodies and rather nostalgic, too.

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James Horner

James Horner (b. 1953) attended the Royal Academy of Music in England, the University of Southern California, and the University of California, Los Angelos. His composition teachers include Gyorgy Ligeti (whose music is best known to general audiences from its use as the spooky music in 2001: A Space Odyssey), and Paul Chihara, who has scored a lot of the American additions to Joe Hisaishi's soundtracks. Initially, Horner taught music theory at UCLA, but turned to composing full time. His big break came in 1982 with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. which was followed by movies such as The Land Before Time, Casper, Braveheart, Apollo 13, Willow, Aliens, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, The Rocketeer, Thunderheart, An American Tail, Field of Dreams, Glory, Legends of the Fall, Jumanji, Deep Impact, A Beautiful Mind, Iris, Windtalkers, House of Sand and Fog, Troy, The Legend of Zorro, and, most famously, Titanic. Horner has absorbed early avant-garde techniques such as Ligeti's as well as electronic music and ethnic influences from world music, creating an ambient style for each film based on its mood and atmosphere.

Recommended Soundtracks:

The Rocketeer - The Rocketeer was released in 1991, and the soundtrack contains beautiful, romantic works, jazz, and fast-paced action music. This is a decent soundtrack, but with Horner's scores, I tend to like his themes, while the rest of his soundtracks don't interest me as much.

  • Main Title / Takeoff - This theme is slightly unusual for a film like The Rocketeer, where one would expect a more action/adventure theme, but this one starts with a shimmering cloud of sound through which the theme is softly played by the piano. Only later in the track does the music become more heroic.

Braveheart - The soundtrack for this 1995 movie about William Wallace very appropriately has a strong flavor of the Scottish highlands in its instrumentation and scoring style.

  • Main Title - Features Horner's use of ethnic solo instruments. A bittersweet, beautifully scored track in which Horner captures the essence of Scotland's music and countryside, and William Wallace's fight for freedom.

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