Composers I Don’t Know

Because I write about film music for a living, you’d think I’d be able to rattle off anecdotes about most any composer and be able to discuss their music in intimate detail. There are some composers I can do that with and many, many more than I cannot. And after recent meetings with new film score friends, it’s obvious just how woefully inadequate my film music knowledge can be at times.

For whatever reason(s), there are numerous film composers I’m unfamiliar with. I own their scores (or at least one) but have either never listened to them or did it so long ago that I’ve completely forgotten them. Here’s a very small, embarrassing sampling of composers I don’t know:

  • David Amram
  • David Arnold
  • Georges Auric
  • Klaus Badelt
  • Richard Band
  • Tyler Bates
  • Jeff Beal
  • Christophe Beck
  • Charles Bernstein
  • Howard Blake
  • George S. Clinton
  • Don Davis
  • Ramin Djawadi
  • Randy Edelman
  • Cliff Eidelman
  • Gerald Fried
  • John Frizzell
  • Rupert Gregson-Williams
  • Lee Holdridge
  • Steve Jablonsky
  • Trevor Jones
  • Michael Kamen
  • Fred Karlin
  • Clint Mansell
  • Gil Melle
  • Michael Nyman
  • John Ottman
  • Stu Phillips
  • Trevor Rabin
  • John Scott
  • Theodore Shapiro
  • Toru Takemitsu
  • Mikis Theodorakis
  • Brian Tyler
  • Shirley Walker

The above list is by no means complete, which makes it even more embarrassing. Recommendations in the comments section would be greatly appreciated. Let the heckling begin…

  1. Unsubscribing from this blog. The author obviously has no business writing about film music.

    P.S. I note the absence of Monty Norman from the list. Which must mean you are intimately familiar with his awesomely massive oeuvre…

      1. Okay, in all seriousness now, I’m pleased to have at least a passing familiarity with most of the folks on your list. One, though – Ramin Djawadi – I’ve never heard of before.

        One of the things this list makes clear is your continued failure as a sci-fi nerd. But that’s okay, we love you for that.

        1. I watched the latest STAR TREK again last night and have read a lot of Ray Bradbury lately. I still have my sci-fi nerd moments. They’re just not as consistent as they were when I was a teen.

          P.S. I’m glad I’m loved for some reason. LOL

  2. Don’t be ashamed. There any many composers you do know. If it wasn’t for your excellent review I would never have bought Dragonslayer, which sparked my interest in Alex North, one of the composers I didn’t know.

    1. Well here are some recommendations anyway. I limited myself to the three composers I know the best and picked 2 or 3 scores from each of them (their best scores IMO, of the scores I know ofcourse).

      Richard Band: From Beyond and Troll
      Trevor Jones: Dark Crystal, Cliffhanger, Thirteen Days…okay one more because I really like Jones…Merlin
      Brian Tyler: Frailty and Children of Dune

      1. Thanks for the recommendations, Erik. I’ll have to see if these have fallen into the black hole of my external hard drive. I may have one or two of them, but not sure.

    2. If this blog does nothing else than convert one reader to Alex North, then I’ll be happy. :) Challenging music? Definitely. But well worth your time. Hope you’ve been enjoying it.

      1. Very much. Since Dragonslayer I bought Cleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Les Miserables (got lucky for once on Ebay). All great scores! Next on my list is Viva Zapata!

        Already had 2001 and The Agony and the Ecstasy…never really listened to them. So they are on my playlist as well.

  3. Sadly, I’m not much into current film music and composers myself – many on your list – but some composers appear that are definite golden and silver age masters. I strongly recommend the following when you get some time:

    DAVID AMRAM-THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (very representative of his entire body of work)

    GEORGES AURIC-LOLA MONTES (known for lush, lilting melodies for many a French period picture, this Jean Renoir film was recently restored in CinemaScope and 0riginal 3-track stereophonic sound for theatrical release and Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray)

    GERALD FRIED-TOO LATE THE HERO and THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (He did some great stuff for Robert Aldrich and these two are the most notable)

    LEE HOLDRIDGE-THE BEASTMASTER (something of a symphonic cult classic soundtrack)

    FRED KARLIN-THE STERILE CUCKOO (Come Saturday Morning-one of the great movie montage songs) and UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE (witty and poignant)

    GIL MELLE-THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (avant garde electronics – unique, and in the style that was defined by FORBIDDEN PLANET and THE BIRDS)

    STU PHILLIPS-BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (Amazing pop trash that no collection should be without)

    JOHN SCOTT-ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA (an epic masterpiece fully realized in an almost 10-minute overture) and YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (adventure music extraordinaire)

    TORU TAKEMITSU-RAN (The essential Kurosawa score)

    MIKIS THEODORAKIS-ZORBA THE GREEK (iconic) and Z (mesmerizing)

    DAVID ARNOLD: I must say he does an exceptional job on the 007 films, admirably taking up where Barry left off.

    RICHARD BAND-RE-ANIMATOR (a Herrmann pastiche that defines his jokey approach to film scoring)

    1. You know, I think I have most of these. I forgot about Scott’s ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. Beautiful score, not such a great movie. I’ll have to dig through the hard drive to see where they are.

  4. I would add, or rather move to the top, of any David Amram list Young Savages (John Frankenheimer and Burt Lancaster), a great jazz score with a main title that in my opinion easily equals the best of Bernstein (either one) or Waxman. It was rleased on LP at the time; too bad its not available.

    1. Thanks for that recommendation Roger. After I did the Jazz Score articles for FSMO last year (or was it the year before…), I really upped my appreciation for jazz. Since then I’ve found myself returning to great jazz scores like Miles Davis’s ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS, Quincy Jones’s THE PAWNBROKER, and many more. I’ll definitely check this one out…somehow.

  5. I’m quite unfamiliar with many of these composers too.

    Michael Kamen’s music to HBO’s “Band of Brothers” series is incredible. I recently fell in love with this soundtrack again, the main theme is a real tearjerker!

    I’ve been too busy with work to post recently Jim so I’m having a catch-up tonight and reading the last few months’ articles as I sip my green tea and listen to the gorgeous “Princess Mononoke Suite” by Joe Hisaishi :)

    1. Anything by Hisaishi is a good thing. I love his music.

      I’ll give BAND OF BROTHERS a listen. I think I did when the series was out years ago, but I don’t remember. Kamen’s music is still something I’m trying to warm up to. Maybe this is the one.

  6. Within the list, I would say that the following are worth your time (none are “blood and thunder” scores);

    Amram: “The Arrangement”: This score for the Elia Kazan film reveals a greater range than his often noted “The Manchurian Candidate.” Unfortunately, I don’t believe any company has produced a cd. While FSM has produced several score cd’s from the Warner-Seven Arts archives, this one has yet to register on their radar (I’ve even made a request for consideration).

    Beal: his score for “Pollock” is exceptional; his work for television (Carnivale and Monk) is not.

    John Scott: his score for “The Shooting Party” is one of the most elegant (and musically eloquent) film scores ever written. It is available through his own label JOS (I believe that SAE has it). The disc also contains a brief score from a BBC production, “Birds and Planes.” Truly great scoring for both.

    Auric: Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast”

    1. I think I definitely have all of those. I’ll have to look.

      I forgot about Beal’s work on POLLOCK. I remember when I saw the movie, I was more drawn to the music, and that was hard to do with the excellent performances of Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden staring me in the face. But the score is truly wonderful.

  7. Haven’t watched or heard “Band of Brothers” but I’ll have to check it out after reading Wendell’s recommendation above.

    I second Gary’s nod to Lee Holdridge’s BEASTMASTER, and would add the composer’s SPLASH – well the Love Theme anyway which I have instrumentally from an anthology disc and which is also a grand romantic vocal entitled “Love Came for Me” by Placido Domingo. I don’t remember much noticing the score when I saw the movie (very unusual for me – it may have been mixed low?) but if it contains variations on this theme it’s worth a listen.

    David Arnold’s score for STARGATE is the first of his that caught my ear and the only one I have: it’s mainly variations on a couple of themes, but what variations. Caution: may cause the onset of sci-fi nerd syndrome and give That Neil Guy one less thing to rib you about.

    I know Georges Auric’s BONJOUR TRISTESSE score: turbulent, romantic, French, existential (my big sister had the recording and played it to, well, you get the idea). Warning, the vocal rendition of the title tune is very high on Debbie Downer’s Top Ten of All Time (but it’s a pip). You’ve probably heard the main theme from his score for John Huston’s MOULIN ROUGE, kind of a classic from I think the 1950s, and, again, the vocal (“Where Is Your Heart?” might be the title, unless it’s just “Love Song from MOULIN ROUGE”) most recommended when you’re in the mood for a weeping wallow.

    Now, when you want to bring yourself out of that wallow, TOPKAPI by by Mikis Theodorakis will do it if anything will. As great and iconic as ZORBA THE GREEK indisputably is, this is the one that’s really infectious for me (just try not moving to the Main Title). Not only that, I highly recommend the film, directed by Jules Dassin: my favorite heist movie and a must-see – Peter Ustinov (his second Oscar), Melina Mercouri (sp?), Maximillian Schell, and Oscar Homolka – lol funny and edge of your seat suspenseful.

    I think it was Stu Phillips who did some very nice scoring for the original, short-lived “Battlestar Gallactica” tv series of the late 1970s or early 80s and I’ve heard some things by a few of the others on your list, but nothing really stands out in my memory except:

    A score by the man who leads Gary’s list and gets a second well-deserved mention from Roger: I wish David Amram’a filmography were longer, much longer, but what there is is special. My own favorite never had a soundtrack release that I’m aware of (an omission that could eventually be corrected), but in the meantime I have a recording of his theme from SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS that captures outstandingly most of the variety of coloration it had in the score (film also highly recommended).

    I’ll send you the MP3. You’ll hear what I mean.

    I’m off now to deliver the e-mail. Neither rain, nor snow, nor heat, nor dark of night, and so on…

    1. I know Phillips’s main theme to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. A fond memory of late 70’s trash TV (though it was high-tech for the day). I’m also fond of TOPKAPI. Haven’t seen the movie in years but I remember it being a total joy. There never was anyone like Melina Mercouri.

      That SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS theme is beautiful. I’ve never made it through the movie. Perhaps I should give it another shot if the rest of the score is that good.

  8. Glad you enjoyed David Amram’s theme; had a hunch you would. Also I guess I assumed you’d never seen the film or you’d have remembered it, which got me thinking. I heard that theme long before I ever saw Kazan’s movie: I think it was considered kind of scandalous in its day: the 1950s were barely over and here was a story about the repression of hormonally fueled young love. In America’s Heartland! Ironic, but predictable, that it provoked the same Puritanical attitudes the lead characters had to face. Anyway I was too young for it but still vaguely aware there was something forbidden and hot there, so I stifled my curiosity until I learned what the something was and could watch SPLENDOR on television. All this is by way of explaining that the heat, longing, and aching sadness I heard in the music as I was growing up kind of primed me to connect with the film. I’ll have to see it again myself, but my recollection is that the theme is used sparingly and the score is generally grimmer in tone than the full-throated romantic ruefulness that pours from the arrangement I sent you (which is also of longer duration than similar cues in the score). For me, in a way, when I finally got around to it, I saw a movie based on music I’d loved for years, and loved it also as a result.

    Then again, maybe I was just in the mood.

    Wanted to mention after reading Bill’s posting above that I’m sure I recently saw something about Amram’s score for THE ARRANGEMENT, because I was tempted to acquire it. I tabled the idea because that’s a movie (about hormonally fueled middle-aged love, if memory serves) that I didn’t really enjoy. I should give it another look now that I am middle-aged. I don’t want to generate false hope – don’t know if it was a bootleg or what – but I think there was cover art, because I realized I’d forgotten the movie unit I came across it wherever (speaking of repression). I’ll try and retrace my steps and come up with something more specific. But I thought he’d want to know.

    Also wanted to thank Wendell for pointing me towards Michael Kamen’s BAND OF BROTHERS. Have only heard the theme so far and it’s beautifully done: history, loyalty, heroism, and then with a single progression that goes right to the heart – sacrifice. I plan to return to watch and listen more.

    Finally, I enjoyed TOPKAPI again just a couple of years ago myself, but after recommending the score to you I started to doubt my attribution of it to Mikis Theodorakis, and to have a nagging suspicion that it was written by Manos Hadjidakis. So I decided to comment further, and if I was lucky enough not to have been corrected by someone else yet, fact check it right now and do the humbling but necessary thing by correcting myself. So here goes…Hadjidakis it is! Could that nagging have been Manos’ spirit whispering, “All the times I fed you moussaka at my restaurant, and this is how you repay me?!” I’m sorry, Manos. I’ll have to admit: for one brief moment it was all Greek to me.

    Now I’ll have to watch Z again. I don’t want Theodorakis on my case too.

    1. I should have caught the TOPKAPI typo. If I had I would have saved you your mea culpa. :) But I get Hadjidakis and Theodorakis mixed up all the time, even though they sound nothing alike.

      As for SPLENDOR, that theme is so good it makes me want to see the movie just to see how it fits in. I just checked the TCM site and it’s due to air again in August, even though it’s Natalie Wood month (I probably missed the earlier airing). Or I could just Netflix it.

    2. Dave,

      I hope that you are right. There are themes that are still in my head. I waited decades for cd’s of “Klute” and “Petulia” (would have bought it w/out “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), so maybe there is still a chance.

      Thanks for the acknowledgement.


      1. No problem, Bill, except for the fact that I haven’t been able to retrace my steps, so far; and damn it, I was private browsing (no history) so the trail is tangled and could take a while to duplicate, if ever. It was one of those situations where you’re looking for something else and you get a surprise (in this case, I remember thinking, “Didn’t know that existed,” which is why I’m pretty sure I’m not hallucinating), but you return to your original quest figuring you’ll get back to the surprise later. Famous last thoughts. Sorry, cause I know how frustrating it is, with everything that’s available now, not to be able to enjoy a vintage favorite.

        And Jim, while unsuccessfully trying to find whatever page I’d wound up on re THE ARRANGEMENT, I discovered SPLENDOR on YouTube – in 12 parts, but with high quality original aspect ratio image and very good sound – much better than my tape copy). So you could even watch it in serial form if that fits your hectic schedule better right now.

          1. Great, Jim, because I tried following my own suggestion, and there’s a significant gap between parts 4 and 5 – Bud’s fight with his sister and the start of the whole “I think we should see other people” section. What I did manage to watch remains compelling for me.

  9. WOW! Can’t believe you are unfamiliar with the following 5 works…

    * Klaus Badelt – PotC: Curse of the Black Pearl
    * Randy Edelman – Dragonheart
    * Trevor Jones – The Dark Crystal
    * Michael Kamen – The Adventures of Munchhausen
    * Stu Phillips – Battlestar Galactica

    I strongly suggest listening to better than the next!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Dr. M. I’ve seen DARK CRYSTAL and MUNCHHAUSEN but wasn’t impressed by them and don’t remember the music at all. Never saw DRAGONHEART or that particular PotC. The first one was enough for me. I loved the 70s BG and I certainly remember Phillips’s main title music very well. I’ll have to go back and rediscover the rest of it. And just because I don’t care for those particular films (or in some cases their genres), I’ll give the scores a try on your recommendation. :)

  10. i highly recommend you listen to Clint Mansell’s score for Black Swan. Probably one of my favorites of the year.

      1. wow i just saw it today too… wouldn’t it be very funny/weird if we were at the same showing

  11. Jim! Trying to stay awake over here, and ended up doing a long overdue perusing of FSCT. You’ve had a year and change to rectify these confessed holes, but in case you still need prodding:

    Clint Mansell — please check this man out. Scores all of Aronofsky’s films (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain), recently did Moon, often works with the Kronos Quartet. Indie badass, often found in temp scores of aspiring directors.

    The Remote Gang — Klaus Badelt, Ramin Djawadi, Steve Jablonsky, Trevor Rabin — you’ve heard their music somewhere (Pirates, Transformers, video games, TV). Klaus is one of Zimmer’s contemporaries, no longer with the studio.

    Chris Beck — little series called Buffy, little film called The Hangover, etc.

    Don Davis — little film score called The Matrix.

    John Frizzell — does a lot of horror now, but famous for Office Space and Beavis and Butthead Do America.

    Theodore “Teddy” Shapiro — scored most major comedies of the 2000’s after hitching up with MTV’s The State.

    John Ottman — little films like The Usual Suspects, X-Men, Superman, etc.


  12. Why not add Elie Siegmeister, who composed a great score for a single film, “They Came to Cordura”. He later re-worked his score into a four-movement concert work titled “Theatre Set”. Two selections have been recently uploaded on YouTube.

  13. Clint Mansell was one of my heroes throughout hs and college and while I could still spend hours elaborating on his great moments, I have seen him perform live and was somewhat uninspired. Especially considering I have seen Jon Brion at the same venue and was blown away.

    But more recently, Ramin Djwadi omgomgomg I listen to the Game of Thrones theme ON REPEAT

    def going to use this post/comments to work thru gaps in my knowledge as well :0

  14. Geoff Zanelli (One of the Remote Control guys) delivered a really charming and uniquely orchestrated score for “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” this year – it’s rather whimsical and fun. Strikes me as a lighter side of “Ruby Sparks” almost. Worth listening to in any case!

  15. Howard Blake’s “The Avengers” (1969): It is very good television music with a variety of bizarre styles and some jazz elements.

    Charles Bernstein’s “White Lightening” (1973) and “Mr. Majestyc” (1974): Seventies funky rural action-packed scores.

    Gerald Fried’s “The Killing” (1956): a superb tragic Film Noir score.

    Gil Melle’s “Starship Invasions” (1977): a heavy jazz-funk score for a sci-fi film. Powerful.

  16. I think you do a rather swell overview of modern film music. Everyone has their favorites. I’m more of a Herrmann guy, and hitched to the romantic European composers of the 50s 60s 70s and 80s. I enjoy your blog. Brings me up to date.

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