An Introduction to the Great Movie Music Composers

During my years on public radio I played many types of music.  One of my favorite genres was movie music – not the songs that people sang in musicals, but the mood-setting instrumental music that, often subliminally, gave a movie its charm and its “feel.”  Consider, for instance, Jaws without John Williams’ ominous sounding music at the beginning of the film that telegraphs the idea – more than the photography – that something horrible is about to happen to the girl who is swimming in the ocean, or The Magnificent Seven without Elmer Bernstein’s majestic score.  Without it, would the seven seem magnificent as they ride to save the Mexican peasants from the bad guys?

I recently came across several videos on YouTube that I consider an excellent introduction to the music of many of the greatest movie music composers of all time.  All of the videos are done by the same person – he identifies himself only as benydebney.  I don’t know how he made the videos, but the selections in each – thumbnail sketches so to speak – give you an excellent idea of how diverse the movies and the music were for each composer.  For instance, it is hard to imagine that Elmer Bernstein who composed the music for The Magnificent Seven also composed the sort of goofy sounding music in Ghostbusters and the jazz-oriented score for The Man with the Golden Arm, or that Maurice Jarre, who composed the music for many of director David Leans epics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago also composed the music for No Way Out, The Tin Drum, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.  But they did.  Movie music composers have to be flexible.  Those who aren’t don’t last long.

Some of the movie music composers featured in these videos – like Max Steiner and Dimitri Tiomkin – were pioneers in the early days of movie music, while others – such as James Horner, John Williams (the dean of movie music composers), and Hans Zimmer – are still alive and active.

Below are a few of my favorite videos from the benydebney collection.  I encourage you to go here to find and enjoy the others.

Elmer Bernstein

Max Steiner

John Williams

James Horner

Maurice Jarre

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