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The Brains Behind The Music: 7 Film Composers You Should Know

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

What would cinema be without music? The soundtrack makes all the difference in a production. It is what creates the atmosphere, what makes suspense possible and intensifies the emotion and grace of the scenes. Psychosis to The Godfather, there are several themes to remember, but there are always those who go down in history and remain in our memory. Let’s check some of the composers who made them!

Bernard Herrmann (American – 1 Oscar, 1 Golden Globe, 1 Grammy)

There is no way to make suspense without some terrifying notes. Creator of the theme of Psychosis and several other classics by Alfred Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann made history in cinema. He is recognized as one of the greatest soundtrack composers of all time, due to the quality of his works and the success that some of his compositions have achieved, eternalizing themselves in the memory of cinema. He was also the one who created the score for Citizen Kane and gave Taxi Driver fans a go with “A Nice Piece For An Orchestra”.

John Williams (American – 5 Oscars, 4 Golden Globes)

With 48 Oscar nominations, John Williams is celebrated as one of the biggest names in the soundtracks. The conductor who came to the general public with the fantastic soundtrack of Jaws in 1975, is a true living legend. In a long partnership with Steven Spielberg, he signs memorable themes such as Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Superman, E.T. – The Extraterrestrial, Shark, Harry Potter and many others. In addition, of course, to the classic Star Wars, in which the imperial march was immortalized.

Jerry Goldsmith  (American – 1 Oscar)

As it is very dangerous to play with the Star Wars X Star Trek rivalry, we cannot fail to mention Jerry Goldsmith. Jerry is always remembered as one of the greatest and most influential composers that cinema has ever seen, having composed more than 300 works, some of which are real heritage of cinema, television and theater. In addition to the famous science fiction, the composer was also responsible for classics such as The Planet of the Apes, Poltergeist and The Prophecy.

Alfred Newman  (American – 9 Oscars)

There is no possibility that you have never heard a score by Alfred Newman.  Doubt it?  If you have seen any Fox Film production (or at least the trailer), you’ve heard the classic “Twentieth Century-Fox Fanfare” opening. In addition, he used all his sensibility in the arrangements for: Wuthering Heights, How My Valley Was Green, Bernadette’s Song and Anne Frank’s Diary. 

Nino Rota (Italian – 1 Oscar, 1 Golden Globe, 1 Grammy) 

Also an opera composer and partner of Federico Fellini, certainly the most famous creation of the italian Nino Rota is the theme of The Godfather, which has become a classic, almost as well known as a film. But the composer’s work does not stop there, Romeo and Juliet and La Dolce Vita also feature the italian’s soundtrack.

Alan Menken (American – 8 Oscars, 7 Golden Globes, 12 Grammys)

The childhood of many children was shaped by compositions by Alan Menken, who signs the soundtrack for several Disney animations. Starting on Broadway, he was successful with the soundtrack for The Little Shop of Horrors, which later became a movie and earned him his first Oscar nomination and the consequent trip to Disney. From The Little Mermaid to Pocahontas, through Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, he has won several prizes. Menken continues to create for fantasy stories, today with versions for Disney classics, as in Mirror Mirror.

Hans Zimmer (German – 1 Oscar, 2 Golden Globes, 3 Grammys)

An animation also won an Oscar because of Hans Zimmer, responsible for the soundtrack of The Lion King. One of the most successful composers of the last few decades, Zimmer has been noted for his super production soundtracks. Among the great works of the composer, there are also Gladiator, Pearl Harbor and, recently, Pirates of the Caribbean and Batman – The Dark Knight and The Origin. So far there have been more than 100 tracks, collecting hits in action films.

BONUS: Hildur Guðnadóttir (Icelandic – 1 Oscar, 1 Golden Globe) 

As we can see, the list only includes men. It happens because women are still trying to win their spaces in the movie industry. Despite that, it is very important to watch and disseminate movies which soundtracks are made by women. 

Hildur Guðnadóttir has played and recorded with a lot of bands and she has also produced solo works. Hildur has gained international recognition for her film and television scores, including for the action thriller film Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018), and the HBO miniseries Chernobyl (2019), which made her win a Primetime Emmy Award and a Grammy Award. For her score to the 2019 psychological thriller film Joker, Hildur won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. She also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and the BAFTA Award for Best Original Music, making her the first solo female composer to win in both.


The article above was edited by Mel Trench

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Maria Cunha

Casper Libero '23

Journalism student, passionate about cinema and theater. I love my family more than anything in the world and I am grateful to God every day for it. São Paulo and soccer fan. Enthusiast of reality shows and soap operas. ????
Giovanna Pascucci

Casper Libero '22

Estudante de Relações Públicas na Faculdade Cásper Líbero que ama animais e falar sobre séries.