Looking back through history, we are
constantly running across the names of the master composers.
Classical music never enters a conversation without the names of
Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, among many others, being
mentioned. Today though, composing is, in essence, an invisible
profession. The only modern composer that mainstream audiences
might be familiar with is Aaron Copland, only because his
“Fanfare for the Common Man” was the theme song for the
2002 Olympics and his “Rodeo: Hoe-Down” is the theme
used in the beef commercials for the USDA.

Laura Wong

This is not to say though that there are no modern day composers
whose music is known and loved by many. Unlike Mozart and
Beethoven, who composed works for the sheer purpose of being
performed, the masters of today are simply hidden behind the visual
fanfare of the movies.

When you think of movies like “Braveheart,”
“Star Wars,” “The English Patient” and
“The Lord of the Rings,” names like Mel Gibson,
Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchett and
Viggo Mortenson came to mind. Names that are hardly ever mentioned
though, such as James Horner, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Gabriel
Yared and Howard Shore, play a big role in making these movies a
success. Just try to imagine the battle scenes from
“Braveheart” or “Lord of the Rings” without
the epic music in the background, propelling the fighters into the
fray, and you will realize how much the score of a film adds to the
emotional pull. The names that come with the tag “Music
By” are today’s musical masters.

This year, the Academy Awards saw many great composers brought
together under the category of Best Score. Danny Elfman was
recognized for “Big Fish,” Gabriel Yared for
“Cold Mountain,” James Horner for “House of Sand
and Fog” and Howard Shore for “The Lord of the Rings:
Return of the King.” Both James Horner and Gabriel Yared are
no strangers to the Academy Awards, with Horner having won for his
work on “Titanic” and Yared having won for his work on
“The English Patient.” One composer in particular
though, had never held the little golden statue, yet had
demonstrated his musical genius over and over. This man was finally
recognized this year, and that, of course, was Howard Shore.

Hearkening back to the days of Beethoven, Shore is a composer
that not only takes emotions and sets them on a grand level, but
who also gives individual themes to all of the little nuances of
character portrayed in the film. For instance, in “The Lord
of the Rings: The Two Towers,” the people of Rohan were given
a lone violin, rising above the other orchestration and playing a
completely new melody, to serve as their theme.

Also, similar to Beethoven’s “5th Symphony,”
Shore uses heavy brass, percussion and extremely ranging dynamics
to give pieces, such as the one accompanying the destruction of the
ring and Sauron, the grandeur and power necessary to signify such
an event. The audience is left breathless not only due to the
battle waged on screen, but also the gravity of the score.

Today’s composers may not be as public and known as were
the masters of old, but their works are still cherished. Whether
known as “the beef song,” or as “Rodeo:
Hoe-Down,” these modern classics still touch the lives of
many and will continue to do so for years to come. Orchestral music
has been and will always be a large part of any culture; it is just
a matter of whether the music is live, or hidden behind a large
screen.

 

— Sarah still can’t get the theme song from
“Wheel of Fortune” out of her head.  Email her at
petesara@umich.edu.

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