A Brief History of Film Music

by Piero Scaruffi
A chapter of my History of Popular Music

TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.

To purchase the book

(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Popular Music")
Continued from Film Music

Post-war Film Music

See also this Spotify playlist based on this page.

Hollywood: The New Wave of Film Music

TM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

By the time rock'n'roll changed the shape of the recording industry, the concept of a film soundtrack had also changed dramatically. The score was no longer mere marketing for the film, but a product on its own that could be as profitable as the movie itself. On the other hand, purely instrumental scores were still conceived of as in the old days: rarely released on record. Even that changed when two instrumental soundtracks, released on LP, climbed the sale charts: Victor Young's score for Michael Anderson's Around the World in 90 Days (1956) and Ernest Gold's score for Otto Preminger's Exodus (1961). Gold composed both for drama, such as Stanley Kramer's On The Beach (1959), that includes Waltzing Matilda, and for comedy, such as It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963).

Henry Mancini crafted a unique style that harked back to lounge music, Latin music and traditional jazz. After scoring Orson Welles' Touch Of Evil (1958), Mancini worked on the "Gunn" television series, immortalized in his most famous theme, Peter Gunn (1958), vaguely reminiscent of Stan Kenton's jazz sound. His longest association was with Blake Edwards, for whom he composed soundtracks that yielded other celebrated themes: Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Pink Panther Theme (with saxophone by Plas Johnson) from The Pink Panther (1964) and its sequels, Days of Wine and Roses from the namesake film (1962), It's Easy To Say from 10 (1979), from The Great Race (1965) to Victor/Victoria (1982). Another famous song was The Baby Elephant Walk from Howard Hawks' Hatari (1962). He also worked for Stanley Donen on Charade (1963) and Arabesque (1966), marked by the same "sad humour" of the Edwards' scores.

Nelson Riddle (Sinatra's arranger) scored Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1962).

In Italy, Nino Rota crafted the sound of Federico Fellini's masterpieces I Vitelloni (1953), La Strada (1954), Le Notti di Cabiria (1957), La Dolce Vita (1960), 8 1/2 (1963), Giulietta degli Spiriti (1965), I Clown (1971), Amarcord (1974), and is co-responsible for their provincial atmosphere. His scores combine Italian folk music, circus music and jazz in warm and laid-back tones. The sense of drama was stronger in Luchino Visconti's Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli (1960) and Il Gattopardo (1963). Rota's progression towards a more aristocratic language, even if still grounded in popular music, continued with Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1969) and Francis-Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972) and its sequels.

Giovanni Fusco was to Michelangelo Antonioni was Rota was to Fellini. He scored his psychological masterpieces L'Avventura/ Adventure (1960), L'Eclisse/ Eclipse (1962) and Deserto Rosso (1964), besides Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959).

In France, Michel Legrand tried different avenues, first with Jacques Demy's Les Parapluies de Cherbourg/ Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) whose entire dialogue was sung by the actors, and then with the cinematic operetta Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1966). He scored several classics of the "nouvelle vague", such as Agnes Varda's Cleo de 5 A 7 (1961) and Jean-Luc Godard's Band A Part/ Band of Outsiders (1964). His Hollywood soundtracks yielded the hit songs The Windmills of Your Mind, off Norman Jewison's The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), What Are you Doing the Rest of Your Life, off Richard Brooks' The Happy Ending (1969), the theme from Buzz Kulik's Brian's Song (1971). He also worked on the soundtrack for Robert Mulligan's Summer of '42 (1971), on Joseph Losey's The Go-Between (1971), perhaps the most elaborate, a veritable symphonic suite, on Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers (1974), that mimicks baroque music, on Barbra Streisand's musical Yentl (1983) and on his Broadway opera bouffe L'Amour - Le Passe-Muraille (1997).

George Delerue, influenced by Rota, scored Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Jean-Luc Godard's Le Mepris (1963), but, more importantly, crafted the ambience of most Francois Truffaut's classics: Jules et Jim (1961), Tirez sur le Pianiste/ Shoot the Pianist (1962), Le Deux Anglaises (1971), La Nuit Americaine (1973), Le Dernier Metro (1980). Each of them, as well as Mike Nichols' The Day of the Dolphin (1973), was a sophisticated tribute to French melodic music.

But the French "nouvelle vague" had no Morricone, so it had to improvise from film to film: Algerian jazz pianist Martial Solal scored Jean-Luc Godard's A Bout de Souffle/ Breathless (1959), singer-songwriter Jean Constantin scored Francois Truffaut's Les Quatrecents Coups/ The 400 Blows (1959), composer Antoine Duhamel scored Francois Truffaut's BAisers Voles(1968), and Miles Davis in person scored Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'Echafaud (1958).

Ingmar Bergman hired classical composers for his soundtracks: Erland Von Koch for Fangelse (1949), Erik Nordgren for Glycklarnas Afton/ Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), Sommarnattens Leende/ Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), Ansiktet/ Magician (1957), the medieval and gothic score for Det Sjunde Inseglet/ Seventh Seal (1956), Smultronstallet/ Wild Strawberries (1957), Jungfrukallan/ Virgin Spring (1959) and Nattvardsgatterna/ Winter Light (1962), Lars Johan Werle for Persona (1966) and Bargtimmen/ Hour of the Wolf (1967), while Skammen/ Shame (1968) has no music score.

Polish jazz composer Krzysztof Komeda was called by Roman Polanski to score his early films, from Noz w Wodzie/ Knife in the Water (1962) to Rosemary's Baby (1968), demonstrating a unique ability to mix the lyrical and the harrowing.

On the other hand, Maurice Jarre focused on pompous scores for colossal romantic productions such as David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965), whose Lara's Theme was a massive hit (later reissues as Somewhere My Love). But he also worked on Roger Vadim's futuristic Barbarella (1968), John Huston's western The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean (1972), Adrian Lyne's thriller Fatal Attraction (1987), before becoming Peter Weir's trusted composer for Witness (1985), Mosquito Coast (1986) and Dead Poets Society (1989). His score for Jerry Zucker's Ghost (1990) was the archetype for the fusion of electronic and orchestral music.

In Greece, Mikis Theodorakis introduced a strong folk element in Michael Cacoyannis' Zorba (1964) and Costa-Gravas' Z (1969). More importantly, Eleni Karaindrou composed the soundtracks to some of Theo Angelopoulos' masterpieces: Jaxidi sta Kithira/ Voyage to Citera (1984), O Melissokomos/ The Beekeeper (1986), To Pio Stin Omichli/ Landscape In The Mist (1988), The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991), To Vlemma tou Odyssea/ Ulysses' Gaze (1995), Mia Eoniotita ke Mi Mera/ Eternity And A Day (1998).

In Britain, John Barry's bombastic, lyrical and humorous soundtracks for Terence Young's "James Bond" movies became almost synonymous with the "Swinging London": Dr No (1962) was the first one, but his art probably peaked with Goldfinger (1964). He lent a grave, serious tone to Sidney Furie's The Ipcress File (1965), possibly his best work (a masterful fusion of jazz and classical motifs), James Hill's Born Free (1966), the theme of John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy (1969), and Lawrence Kasdan's Body Heat (1981). More conventional soundtracks include Sidney Pollack's Out Of Africa (1985), Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves (1990).

Italian composer Ennio Morricone was a master of ambience and suspense whose soundtracks relied on martial but slow rhythms, evocative melodies (often sung by classical voices), that mixed exotic and almost sacred overtones with a sense of nostalgy and of fatalism. His arrangements shunned the orchestra and preferred to emphasize the timbres of the individual instruments (particularly harmonica, trumpet and guitar) and the female voice. He applied this austere style to a rather trivial genre, Sergio Leone's "spaghetti westerns" Per Un Pugno di Dollari (1964) and Il Buono Il Brutto Il Cattivo (1967), as well as other westerns such as Don Siegel's Two Mules for Sister Sara (1969). By the time Leone upped the ante with the epic C'Era Una Volta il West/ Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), Morricone's style approached the classical opera. He continued to refine the metaphysical element of his music in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 (1976) and Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978), achieving in Roland Joffe's Mission (1986) an almost liturgical peak.

Japanese classical composer Toru Takemitsu left his mark on a generation of Japanese films: Masaki Kobayashi's Seppuku/ Hara Kiri (1962), Kwaidan (1964), Joiuchi/ Samurai Rebellion (1967), Nihon no Seishun/ Hymn to a Tired Man (1968), Kaseki/ The Fossil (1971); Hiroshi Teshigahara's Suna no Onna/ Woman in the Dunes (1964), Face Of Another (1966) and Rikyu (1989); Akira Kurosawa's Dodeskaden (1970) and Ran (1985); Nagisa Oshima's Gishiki/ Ceremony (1971) and Ai No Corrida/ In the Realm of the Senses (1976); Masahiro Shinoda's Kawaita Hana/ Pale Flower (1964), Double Suicide (1969), and Hanare-Goze Orin/ Ballad of Orin (1977); Shohei Imamura's Kuroi Ame/ Black Rain (1989). His scores merge western, eastern and avantgarde sensibility in a seductive and evocative whole.

Among Hollywood's most original composers of the Sixties, David Amram scored Elia Kazan's Splendor In The Grass (1961) and John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Jazz great and pop arranger Quincy Jones tried his hand at the movies with Richard Brooks' terrifying In Cold Blood (1967) and Peter Collinson's hilarious The Italian Job (1969), proving adept at both psychological drama and superficial comedy. He also scored Sam Peckinpah's The Getaway (1972).

Frank DeVol penned the soundtracks for Robert Aldrich's two masterpieces, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) and Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1965), as well as Elliot Silverstein's unusual western Cat Ballou (1965) and Stanley Kramer's comedy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967).

Jerry Goldsmith crafted John Guillermin's Blue Max (1966), which possibly remained his most adventurous soundtrack, and a handful that displayed his willingness to experiment different formats: John Frankenheimer's Seconds (1966), Franklin Schaffner's Planet of the Apes (1968), that was pure avantgarde music, basically a concerto for sound effects, Franklin Schaffner's Papillon (1973), Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), Richard Donner's The Omen (1976), Peter Hyams' Capricorn One (1978). By comparison, his later scores are rather uneventful, but they nonetheless include the unreleased original score for Ridley Scott's Legend (1985), James Cameron's Alien (1986), Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct (1992) and Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential (1998).

Dave Grusin ran the gamut from "mood music", in Sidney Pollack's Three Days of the Condor (1975), romantic pop, in Warren Beatty's Heaven Can Wait (1978), solo piano, in Mark Rydell's On Golden Pond (1981), vaudeville, in Sydney Pollack's Tootsie (1982), that contains It Might Be You, Latin, in Sydney Pollack's Havana (1990), rhythm'n'blues, in Sidney Pollack's The Firm (1993), jazz, in Sydney Pollack's Random Hearts (1999), to torch song, in Steve Kloves' The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989).

The Sixties were also the age of tv soundtracks, that, in many ways, represented the real soundtrack of the era: Jay Livingston's Bonanza Theme (1959), the same man who composed some of cinema's most famous melodies: To Each His Own (1946), Mona Lisa (1950), Silver Bells (1951), Que Sera Sera (1956); Vic Mizzy's The Addams Family Theme (1964), Alexander Courage's Star Trek Theme (1966), Sherwood Schwartz's The Brady Bunch Theme (1969), Patrick Williams' themes for The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970), The Bob Newhart Show (1972) and The Streets of San Francisco (1972), all the way to Edward Shearmur's theme for the tv series Charlie's Angels (1976), that basically summarized the previous era.

Laurie Johnson wrote the themes for a British serial, the futuristic secret-agent thriller The Avengers, that debuted in 1961. He also scored Stanley Kubrick's political comedy Dr Strangelove (1964), but probably his most fantastic soundtrack was the one for Brian Clemens' Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974).

A specialist of music for farcical comedy, Ira Newborn wrote the themes for the tv series Dragnet (1967) and Police Squad (1982), that sound like parodies of Henry Mancini soundtracks, and then the series begun with David Zucker's Naked Gun (1988).

Classical and jazz composer Lalo Schifrin wrote the theme for the tv series Mission Impossible (1966) and Mannix (1967) but also became a specialist in soundtracks for action movies, such as Stuart Rosenberg's Cool Hand Luke (1967), Peter Yates' Bullitt (1968), Don Siegel's Coogan's Bluff (1968), Dirty Harry (1971) and Charley Varrick (1973), all the way to Brett Ratner's Rush Hour (1998).

Rock music became a major source of film music after the international success of a few scores that were mere collages of pre-existing hits by various rock artists: Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967), Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider (1969), John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy (1969), Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point (1970), Nicolas Roeg's Performance (1970), Stuart Hagmann's The Strawberry Statement (1970), culminating with Michael Wadleigh's documentary on Woodstock (1970). Rock music dramatically changed the style of Hollywood soundtracks (even when they were not directly using rock songs). In the 1970s, Hollywood discovered soul music as well, starting with Gordon Parks' films Shaft (1971), scored by Isaac Hayes, and Superfly (1972), a vehicle for Curtis Mayfield's music. Gato Barbieri scored Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris/ Ultimo Tango a Parigi (1972), Bob Dylan scored Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garret and Billy the Kid (1973), Herbie Hancock scored Michael Winner's Death Wish (1974). This crescendo eventually led to George Lucas' American Graffiti (1973), whose score not only included rock songs but rock songs from twenty years earlier ("oldies").

Rock musician Vangelis Papathanassiou entered cinema with several groundbreaking works, such as the two scores for Frederic Rossif, L'Apocalypse Des Animaux (1973) and Opera Sauvage (1979), but then veered towards the synthesizer-based symphonic opulence of Hugh Hudson's Chariots Of Fire (1981), Koreyoshi Kurahara's Antarctica (1985), and Ridley Scott's 1492 Conquest of Paradise (1995), as well as the ultimate futuristic thriller, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982).

Despite Francis Lai's theme for Arthur Hiller's Love Story (1971) and Fred Karlin's For All We Know, off Cy Howard's Love And Other Strangers (1970), the dominant theme of the 1970s was alienation, best represented by Roy Budd's calculated score for the Mike Hodges' thriller Get Carter (1971), George Aliceson Tipton's subdued score for Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973), Bill Conti's vibrant theme for John Avildsen's Rocky (1976).

Polish composer Wojciech Kilar created the haunting atmospheres of Andrzej Wajda's Ziemia Obiecana/ The Promised Land (1975), Paul Grimault's Le Roi Et L'Oiseau (1980) and Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula (1992).

French composer Philippe Sarde scored Claude Sautet's Cesar et Rosalie (1972), Roman Polanski's Le Locataire/ The Tenant (1976), Jean-Jacques Annaud's La Guerre du Feu/ Quest for Fire (1981), Bernard Tavernier's Coup de Torchon (1982) and Une Dimanche Dans la Campagne (1984).

French musician Francis Lai, Edith Piaf's accordionist, became Claude Lelouch's trusted composer after Un Homme et Une Femme (1966) and L'Homme qui me Plait (1969), that mixed a tenderly romantic sensibility with neoclassical ambitions, an approach also found in Lai's ambitious score for Edouard Logereau's Louve Solitaire (1968).

David Shire's solo-piano score for Francis Ford Coppola's political thriller The Conversation(1974), and his complex and dissonant suite for Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three (1974), belonged to the cinema of alienation, but his revivalist scores for David Zelag Goodman's Farewell My Lovely (1975), Robert Wise's The Hindenburg (1975), John Badham's Saturday Night Fever (1977), that he only partially composed but that launched disco-music in Hollywood (and in the world), and Randal Kleiser's Grease (1978), a compilation of rock songs inspired to the style of the 1950s, were the quintessential artifacts of the nostalgic cinema that came afterwards.

Marvin Hamlish's score for George Roy Hill's The Sting (1973) was instrumental in launching a revival of ragtime music. He also scored Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run (1969) and Bananas (1971).

Another nostalgic score was Richard-Rodney Bennett's Murder On The Orient Express (1974).

The Seventies also saw the full-fledged introduction of electronics into film music, starting with Wendy Carlos's score for Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971), that recycled Beethoven, Rossini and Purcell played on synthesizers, followed by Fred Karlin's electronic and orchestral soundscape for Michael Crichton's sci-fi fantasy Westworld (1973).

Giorgio Moroder brought the electronic arrangements of disco music to film soundtracks such as Alan Parker's Midnight Express (1978), Paul Schrader's American Gigolo (1980) and Cat People (1982), perhaps his best, Adrian Lyne's Flash Dance (1983), that feels like one long music video (both in the film-making style and in the interaction between sounds and images), Wolfgang Petersen's The Never Ending Story (1984), Tony Scott's Top Gun (1986).

Among the most original works were Jorge Arriagada's atonal scores for Raoul Ruiz's films, and Gerald Busby's atonal score for Robert Altman's Three Women (1977).

John Carpenter was a rarity: a filmmaker who also composed his own scores, often with help from Alan Howarth. They coined a new genre of electronic rock-influenced music on Assault On Precinct 13 (1976), Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), Dark Star (1982), Christine (1983), etc.

Howard Shore was horror master David Cronenberg's composer for many years, through Shivers (1974), Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), Dead Ringers (1988), Naked Lunch (1991) and Crash (1996), but he proved his versatility with Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Chris Columbus' Mrs Doubtfire (1993), David Fincher's Game (1998) and 7even (1999) and Kevin Smith's Dogma (1999), that led him to the task of scoring the big-budget productions of Peter Jackson's The Lord Of The Rings (2001) and its sequels.

On the other hand, John Williams was perhaps the most neo-classical of cinema's composers, a faithful disciple of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. He scored Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the "Indiana Jones" series, starting with Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T.(1982) and Schindler's List (1993), but made history (although backwards) with George Lucas' "Star Wars" series, starting with Star Wars (1977), one of the most popular soundtracks ever, that resurrected the orchestral score a` la Steiner/Korngold. Williams' later soundtracks included commercial comedies, such as Chris Columbus' Home Alone (1990), that he scored in an equally trivial manner but that were all very popular, and the "Harry Potter" series, starting with Chris Columbus' Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001).

During the 1980s, rock music was impossible to contain. Soundtracks that were basically compilations of rock, soul and disco hits continued to proliferate: James Bridges' Urban Cowboy (1980), Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill (1983), a collection of old Motown tunes and one of the best-selling soundtrack albums of all time, Herbert Ross' Footloose (1984), Martin Brest's Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Ivan Reitman's Ghostbusters (1984), Taylor Hackford's White Nights (1985), Emile Ardolino's Dirty Dancing (1987), Lawrence Kasdan's The Bodyguard (1992), peaking perhaps with Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump (1994), a classic compilation of oldies that accompany the hero through the ages of his life. Designing the sequence of songs became as important as designing the scenes of the film. At the same time, the relationship between the song and the scene became looser and looser. Soundtrack composers often seemed to ignore the film they were "soundtracking". (In the 1990s it even became fashionable to release albums titled after a film that were actually not the soundtrack of the film, or contained only a few songs from the real soundtrack).

Film Music as Ambience

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As they got older, rock musicians came to the forefront of the soundtrack business: Pino Donaggio's suspense scores for Brian DePalma's Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981) and Body Double (1984); Ry Cooder's stylized folk music for Walter Hill's Long Riders (1980) and Wim Wenders' Paris Texas (1983); Prince's personal statements for Albert Magnoli's Purple Rain (1984); Ryuichi Sakamoto's sophisticated electronic languor for Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1984), Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1986) and The Sheltering Sky (1990), Pedro Almodovar's High Heels (1992); and, best of all, Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (1989), a spiritual suite of ethnic music that set a new standard for scoring films.

Stewart Copeland (of the Police) created a style heavy on rhythm and electronica for Francis-Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish (1983), and especially for Oliver Stone's Wall Street (1987) and Talk Radio (1988). His most surreal score was for Kevin Reynolds' Rapa Nui (1994), that employs percussion, synthesizer, ethnic instruments, choir and orchestra.

Singer-songwriter Randy Newman used his witty and nostalgic sense of American roots-music to pen Milos Forman's Ragtime (1981), a celebration of American popular music, Barry Levinson's The Natural (1984), Ron Howard's Parenthood (1989), that contains I Love To See You Smile, Barry Levinson's Avalon (1990), Richard Donner's Maverick (1994), John Lasseter's Toy Story (1995), Gary Ross' Pleasantville (1998).

Hans Zimmer (ex Buggles) blended electronic, classical, popular and world music in his scores for Barry Levinson's Rain Man (1988), Ridley Scott's Thelma and Louise (1991), Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998).

Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits) penned the electronic score for Uli Edel's Last Exit to Brooklyn (1990) and the haunting Morricone-style atmosphere of Barry Levinson's Wag the Dog (1997).

Danny Elfman (of Oingo Boingo) composed some of the most imaginative soundtracks of his time: Tim Burton's Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman Returns (1992) and especially Mars Attack (1996); Martin Brest's Midnight Run (1988), Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy (1990), Henry Selick's Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Guy Van Sant's To Die For (1995) and Good Will Hunting (1997), Taylor Hackford's Dolores Claiborne (1994), Brian DePalma's Mission Impossible (1996), Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan (1998). Elfman specialized in unsettling music that draws from a multiplicity of styles, from roots-music to the avantgarde. He also composed themes for two tv series, The Simpsons and Tales From The Crypt.

Anne Dudley (of Art Of Noise) scored several dramas, in particular Neil Jordan's The Crying Game (1992), Peter Cattaneo's The Full Monty (1997), and Tony Kaye's American History X (1998), possibly her best.

Hip-hop producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds scored Forest Whitaker's Waiting To Exhale (1995) with songs delivered by some of the top black vocalists of the time.

New Zealand's industrial rocker Graeme Revell (of SPK) coined a disturbing style that employs rock music, orchestra, ethnic instruments and found sounds: Philip Noyce's Dead Calm (1989), Wim Wenders' Until The End Of The World (1991), John Woo's Hard Target (1993), Alex Proyas' The Crow (1994), Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days (1995), Wayne Wang's Chinese Box (1998).

Ditto for avantgarde musicians, who renounced some of their harsher tones and focused on the "ambience" of their styles.

Michael Nyman became one of the most prestigious composer of film soundtracks thanks to his collaborations with director Peter Greenaway: The Draughtsman's Contract (1982), A Zed & Two Noughts (1985), Drowning By Numbers (1988), The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) and Prospero's Books (1991). But he also scored Jane Campion's The Piano (1993) and Andrew Niccol's Gattaca (1997) in a more traditional style.

Minimalist composer Philip Glass revolutionized the genre with Godfrey Reggio's trilogy Koyaanisqatsi (1983), Powaqaatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2003), an experiment in audio-visual fusion, and with the ethereal scores of Paul Schrader's Mishima (1985) and Martin Scorcese's Kundun (1998).

Mark Isham fused Miles Davis-ian jazz-rock and new-age music for Alan Rudolph's Trouble In Mind (1985) and The Moderns (1988), as well as for Robert Redford's A River Runs Through It (1992).

Angelo Badalamenti concocted a mysterious, sensual and subliminal country-pop-jazz fusion in his soundtracks for David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986), Twin Peaks (1990), Wild At Heart (1990), Mulholland Drive (2001). Another major achievement was the music for Jean-Pierre Jeunet's surreal La Cite' des Enfants Perdus (1995).

Michael Galasso fused his background in minimalist and world music to create the score for Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love (2000).

Goran Bregovic created the effervescent musical parade for Emil Kusturica's Time of the Gypsies (1989), Underground (1995) and Black Cat White Cat (1998), as well as Patrice Chereau's La Reine Margot (1994).

Among prolific all-purpose Hollywood composers, and a master of soaring apotheoses, James Horner scored Walter Hill's 48 Hrs (1982), James Cameron's Aliens (1986), Mel Gibson's Braveheart 1995), and James Cameron's Titanic (1997), that included My Heart Will Go On and became the best-selling soundtrack album of all times. His post-Wagnerian symphonies merged with the sounds of nature in Terence Malick's The New World (2005).

Harold Faltermeyer worked on Martin Brest's Beverly Hills Cop (1984).

George Fenton scored Richard Attenborough's moving dramas Gandhi (1982) and Cry Freedom (1987), as well as Marshall Herskovitz's Dangerous Beauty (1998).

Michael Kamen proved to be a virtuoso of cinematic music with the soundtrack for Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985), built from variations on the eponymous song, Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), that mixed vaudeville and classical music, and then he applied the lesson to action movies such as Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon (1987), that uses Eric Clapton's guitar and David Sanborn's saxophone to complement the lines of the two protagonists, and John McTiernan's Die Hard (1988). Despite the very low quality of some of the movies he scored, his style that borders on rock and pop yielded a number of hits: Everything I Do, off John Irvin's Robin Hood (1991), It's Probably Me, off John McTiernan's Lethal Weapon 3 (1992), All For Love, off Stephen Herek's The Three Musketeers (1993), Have You Really Ever Loved A Woman, off Jeremy Leven's Don Juan DeMarco (1994), Rowena, off Stephen Herek's Mr Holland's Opus (1995), that also contains Kamen's tour de force, American Symphony.

Trevor Jones penned two very different scores (one classical, one rock) for Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986).

Carter Burwell specialized in scores for unconventional movies. He penned the subdued chamber soundtracks for Joel Coen's Blood Simple (1984), Raising Arizona (1987), Miller's Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Hudsucker Proxy (1993), for soprano and choir, and Fargo (1996), as well as for Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters (1998), for chamber ensemble, Richard Donner's Conspiracy Theory (1997) and Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich (1999), each of them characterized by discontinuity of style.

A similar talent, Mason Daring, specialized in scores for John Sayles, that usually reflect the location of the story and create its ambience: Matewan (1987), The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), Lone Star (1996), Men With Guns (1997).

American composer John Corigliano scored two of the most daring soundtracks of the era: Ken Russell's Altered States (1980) and Francois Girard's Le Violon Rouge (1998).

Another classical composer, Lee Holdridge, penned the melodies for Don Coscarelli's The Beastmaster (1982) and Ron Howard's Splash (1984), as well as the theme song for the tv series Moonlighting (1985).

Brad Fiedel became famous with the menacing, futuristic electronic score of James Cameron's The Terminator (1984), but also scored the horror soundtrack for Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) and the romantic soundtrack for Donald Petrie's Mystic Pizza (1988).

Alan Silvestri, a master of quotation from the past, was Robert Zemeckis' trusted composer for his blockbuster movies: Romancing the Stone (1984), Back to the Future (1985), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). He also composed the theme for Lawrence Kasdan's The Bodyguard (1992).

Thomas Newman made his reputation with the pop/rock pastiche of Susan Seidelman's Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), but became a staple of Hollywood blockbusters with the more conventional albeit highly evocative style that he applied to Martin Brest's Scent Of A Woman (1992), Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Jocelyn Moorhouse's How to Make an American Quilt (1995), Gillian Armstrong's Oscar and Lucinda (1997), Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer (1998), Sam Mendes' American Beauty (1999), Steven Soderbergh's Erin Brockovich (2000).

Basil Poledouris created the eerie soundscape for John Milius' Conan the Barbarian (1982), basically a collage of sound effects, and then applied that lesson to the field of action movies, for example Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers (1997).

Christopher Young specialized in horror movies, such as Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987), Bruce Robinson's Jennifer 8 (1992) and Roger Donaldson's Species (1995).

Bruce Broughton established himself as a new master of the western soundtrack with Lawrence Kasdan's Silverado (1985) and George Cosmatos' Tombstone (1993).

Cliff Eidelman debuted with terrifying masses of symphonic and choral sounds, such as for Monica Teuber's Magdalene (1988) and Robert Young's Triumph of the Spirit (1989).

Randy Edelman penned melodic fantasias for light comedies such as Jonathan Lynn's My Cousin Vinny (1992) and Jon Turteltaub's While You Were Sleeping (1995). But his more serious style surfaced on dramatic scores that employed a combination of synthesizers and orchestra, such as Alan Parker's Come See the Paradise (1990), Ronald Maxwell's Gettysburg (1993), Rob Cohen's Dragonheart (1996).

In China, Jiping Zhao scored the music for most of Yimou Zhang's films, notably Red Sorghum (1987) and Raise The Red Lantern (1991), and as well we for Kaige Chen's Yellow Earth (1984) and Farewell My Concubine (1993).

In Japan, Kenji Kawai scored the touching music for Mamoru Oshii's sci-fi thriller Avalon (2001).

Joe Hisaishi (real name Mamoru Fujisawa) scored the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki, notably Castle In The Sky (1986) and Howl's Moving Castle (2004), and the thrillers of Takeshi Kitano, notably Kikujiro (1999).

Among themes for tv series, Gary Portnoy's Where Everybody Knows Your Name (1982) for Cheers, and Mark Snow's X Files Themes (1993), became very popular.

Videogame Music

The first videogames were invented in the 1970s, and the first blockbuster videogame was Toshihiro Nishikado's "Space Invaders" in 1978 but it wasn't until Masayuki Uemura's "Nintendo Entertainment System" in 1985 that the videogame became a complex multimedia experience. Initially the music for a videogame was composed by the author himself, as in the case of Shigeru Miyamoto's "Donkey Kong Ditty" (1981) and Alex Pajitnov's "The Tetris Syndrome" (1985). Videogame music came of age between 1984 and 1989, when pioneers such as Koji Kondo ("Supermario Bros", 1985), Jeroen Tel and Rob Hubbard began to compose music for games. It was, by definition, a digital form of music, that had to play using the limited electronic chips implanted in the computer. Nonetheless, those were the humble beginnings of digital popular music. As the videogame entered its renaissance period in the early 1990s, and 16-bit and 32-bit microprocessors allowed for superior sonic fidelity, its soundtracks emancipated themselves from the cliches of the old game arcades and became more and more "musical".

Film Music of the 1990s

At the end of the century, the main disciples of Morricone and Rota were Luis Bacalov, with Michael Radford's Il Postino (1995), and Nicola Piovani, with Roberto Benigni's La Vita E` Bella/ Life Is Beautiful (1998).

French composer Yann Tiersen grafted childish minimalist music into disjointed folk music for Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie (2001) and Wolfgang Becker's Goodbye Lenin (2003).

In Spain, Alberto Iglesias was Pedro Almodovar's trusted composer for Hable con Ella/ Talk To Her (2002) and Mala Education/ Bad Education (2004), colorful fusions of Spanish folk music (such as flamenco) and classical music.

Scottish rock producer Craig Armstrong coined a personal style relying on synthesized strings, piano and percussion for Baz Luhrmann's Romeo And Juliet (1998), Jake Scott's Plunkett And Macleane (1999), Roger Kumble's Cruel Intentions (1999), Mike Barker's Best Laid Plans (1999), Phillip Noyce's Bone Collector (1999), and Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge (2001).

Canadian new-age music composer Mychael Danna crafted some of the most delicate and evocative soundtracks of the 1990s, particularly for Atom Egoyan's Exotica (1994), Sweet Hereafter (1997), Kama Sutra (1996) and Felicia's Journey (1999), but also for Ang Lee's The Ice Storm (1997) and Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding (2002).

Former Dead Can Dance's vocalist Lisa Gerrard composed the mostly-instrumental soundtrack for Niki Caro's The Whale Rider (2003).

Eric Serra scored Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita (1991), Leon/ The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1996).

James Newton Howard emerged as a prolific and eclectic composer with Garry Marshall's Pretty Woman (1990), Barbra Streisand's The Prince of Tides (1991), Andrew Davis' The Fugitive (1993), Wolfgang Petersen's Outbreak (1995), Kevin Reynolds' Waterworld (1995), PJ Hogan's My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), Taylor Hackford's Devil's Advocate (1998), Night Shyamalan's Sixth Sense (1999), as well as the theme for the tv series ER (1994).

Classical composer Elliot Goldenthal created the hallucinated ambience of Gus VanSant's Drugstore Cowboy (1989), then the neurotic orchestral suite of David Fincher's Alien 3 (1992), the madcap stylistic romp of Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever (1995), Barry Levinson's Sphere (1998), July Taymor's Titus (1999).

Jon Brion specialized in eerie and sometimes suspenseful soundscapes, such as the ones assembled for Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999) and Punch-Drunk Love (2002), and Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

Rock singer-songwriter Scott Walker scored the soundtracks for Brady Corbet's films The Childhood of a Leader and Vox Lux (2018), that rank among his most creative works.

Other films with innovative soundtracks at the turn of the centuries included: Regis Warnier's Indochine (1992) by Patrick Doyle, Wayne Wang's The Joy Luck Club (1993) by Rachel Portman, Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island (1995) by John Debney, Rob Reiner's The American President (1995) by Marc Shaiman, Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (1996) by Neil Young, Roland Emmerich's Independence Day (1996) by David Arnold, Jan DeBont's Twister (1996) by Mark Mancina, Anthony Minghella's The English Patient (1996) by Gabriel Yared, Larry Wachowski 's The Matrix (1999) by Don Davis, Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000), by Chinese classical composer Tan Dun; Philip Kaufman's Quills (2000), by Stephen Warbeck, influenced by Michael Nyman; Alex Proyas' I Robot (2004) by Marco Beltrami, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004) by John Debney.

See my list of the Best film soundtracks of all times.
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