Monday, September 11, 2017

My Favorite Movie Composers

This week, I've compiled a list that may surprise you. Not only are there no books, I don't think I've ever told you that I once had a large collection of movie soundtracks. 

I think my first real introduction to the music composed for film and television was when I was a small child, wide awake in bed at night, listening to whatever my ears could pick up from the television while Mom had a little down time. I couldn't hear the dialogue; what I could hear was the music, and I remember liking Nelson Riddle's theme to The Untouchables and Henry Mancini's music for Peter Gunn. There were others, but being a kid, I didn't think much about it... until I was in college.

When Mom was asked what teenage Cathy spent her money on, music was number one. (Movie tickets was second.) After all, I worked in a library and had access to thousands of free books. When I went to college, I quickly learned that (1) I preferred writing papers and studying in the wee hours of the morning, and (2) music without lyrics was the best study aid. This is when my love of movie soundtracks really blossomed, and when I watched old Errol Flynn swashbucklers, Erich Wolfgang Korngold's music made me passionate about this genre. How many of your favorite movies wouldn't be quite as good as they are without the music that helps tell the story? Quite a few, I imagine.

If you don't think music is important to a movie, I won't tell you about Dimitri Tiomkin who composed the music for Gary Cooper's High Noon. Preview audiences didn't much like the film so it was shelved. Tiomkin liked the music he created-- especially the theme song Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling-- so he released the song as a single, and it became a big hit. Due to that song, High Noon was taken out of the vault and went on to win four Academy Awards (including Best Song and Best Music). Yes, music can be important.

Classical music and movie soundtracks fueled many hours at my desk, and they fired my imagination. Without further fanfare, I'm going to share my favorite movie composers. In the captions below each graphic, I'll have links to bios of each composer as well as links to Youtube where you'll be able to listen to some of the music if you like.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Captain Blood.

Max Steiner. His music for A Summer Place made it a better movie than it really was.

Bernard Herrmann. Perfect music to get nervous by, like The Twilight Zone.

Henry Mancini. What a fantastic body of work! The Thorn Birds.

John Barry. So hard to choose. All those James Bond films... or how about The Lion in Winter?

Maurice Jarre. How about the barn building scene from Witness?

Ennio Morricone. I heard the opening bars of music to The Untouchables and knew I was going to like the movie!

Marvin Hamlisch. He made me buy all the Scott Joplin music I could find, and the theme to Sophie's Choice made me cry.

John Williams. The theme music to Jaws still makes the hair stand on the back of my neck.

Hans Zimmer. Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!

I'm having a difficult time tearing myself away from Youtube in order to finish this post. I'd forgotten how powerfully this music can affect me. I've been rocking out with my headphones on, totally oblivious to the world around me. You might have smiled when you came to Morricone's entry and read that the second I heard the opening bars of The Untouchables theme, I knew I was going to like the movie. It does sound a bit balmy, but music can do that to me. I had the exact same thing happen when I first heard the theme to the series I'll end this trip down Memory Lane on--

Ramin Djawadi. Game of Thrones.

The only thing I want to know is... am I the only one who feels this strongly about movie soundtracks?


  1. Oh, no doubt about it, sound tracks can make all the difference, Cathy. And I love the ones you've mentioned. Delighted to see The Sting here, as that's one I especially like.

  2. My husband really liked the soundtrack to the movie Z. We saw the film and bought the soundtrack album. I just listened to the opening track O Adonis on U Tube and it is very stirring. Mikis Theodorakis is the composer.

    1. You know I had to race over to Youtube for a listen. Good one! Thanks for letting me know about it.

  3. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (the first film) has a brilliant thumping score which I love. I play it all the time. JURASSIC PARK is another one I love. I also love the soundtrack for the Matt Damon Jason Bourne movies. Remember LAWRENCE OF ARABIA?? Thrilling. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was impossible to get when the film first came out because the soundtrack was apparently never released. Believe it or not. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - another fabulous soundtrack. ZORRO with Tyrone Power had a great score as well. And I can still hum the main theme from EAST OF EDEN with James Dean. So lovely and sad. Well, at least, I can when my memory cooperates. Ha. A great post, Cathy. I think I'll do one on my blog as well one of these days. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. I once helped organize a get-together of friends who'd met over the internet. Wanting to give everyone souvenirs that were easy to pack yet meaningful, I designed bookmarks. A dear friend came over to help me print, cut, and laminate a few hundred bookmarks, and we did it to "Pirates of the Caribbean." We raced through our tasks! LOL

      I'm glad I could inspire you a bit, Yvette.

    2. Nah, you inspire me a lot, Cathy. I just realized I never gave the composers' names. Old lady ditz gets the blues. :)

    3. When you're talking to a soundtrack junkie like me, names aren't essential. ;-)

  4. Music is completely hardwired into my brain, to the extent that even music without words can capture my attention so completely that I can't write to it. I also can't fall asleep to music, because my attention is focused on the music and I can't relax and sleep.

    I see you have some wonderful composers in your list. I love John Williams' music, among others.

    This isn't apropos to the topic, but my favorite version of the 1812 Overture is the one with Morton Gould as the conductor. It was the one my father played a lot on the stereo when I was growing up. In fact, he mostly played classical music when we kids were growing up. I didn't listen to popular music until I was in my teens and was given a radio.

    1. I once used the 1812 Overture (with cannon) as a bit of revenge for noisy elephantine upstairs neighbors. Hehehe....

  5. What a topic! Never thought about this before.

    I haven't seen all of these movies or programs, but several soundtracks or opening music is in my mind, and I was reminded of them by your post.

    But I don't listen to it now nor did I collect them.

    And we had mostly classical music at our house as our mother was a classical pianist and she played this music all the time, with a little folk music and Broadway show recordings thrown in.

    Then when I got a radio when I was 11, that was it! I listened to it at all hours and knew the words for every top rock-and-roll hit. I listened to that radio while I did homework in high school. Oh, physics textbook reading while the Beatles, Aretha Franklin and the Motown groups played in the background. Nothing like it.

  6. The music from all your choices is excellent. Love The Lust for Gold from The God, The Bad, The Ugly. Also the theme from Exodus and Never on Sunday.

  7. Never on Sunday I do remember, along with the Twilight Zone, The Way We Were, A Summer Place and Pink Panther.

    Melina Mercouri starred in Never on Sunday, and she was married by Jules Dassin. He went to the same high school in the Bronx and lived in the same neighborhood as my mother did, so we knew about him and saw his movies and hers.

    I can't remember The Sting's music, although I should as my great-uncle, George, was a participant in the actual sting on which the movie is based. With his white hair and twinkling blue eyes, he was a charming guy who was a bookie, bootlegger and a scammer.

    He was the guy keeping track of the horse races on the chalk board.

    1. Thanks so much for telling us about your great-uncle. I love the things I've learned through having this blog!

  8. There was even more than meets the eye about my Uncle George Newcomb, but good taste and discretion, as well as keeping some family skeletons in the closet must prevail.

    My father's Irish Catholic family was so honest and strait-laced -- except for Uncle George. My father would not go through a subway turnstile without paying when nobody else was around to notice or care.

    1. My family is the same mix of honest and "outlaw," and I would imagine that most people's are; we just happen to know a bit more about ours.


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