The use of contemporary music as film music – is it a common occurrence?

A lot of people will tell you that it is film music which helped them get familiar with music composed for a real symphony orchestra by a living composer. This is not strange at all, seeing as there are many great composers of film music nowadays. That’s why you should consider it a worthy introduction to the world of contemporary music.

Now, why do these composers mainly compose for films while avoiding the concert stage? I’d say there are various reasons for it. However, I do need to mention that there’s a distinct difference between a film music composer and a regular composer. Obviously, I am referring to the fact they compose for an entirely different medium. Keep in mind that great film music doesn’t necessarily mean great concert music and vice versa. I also believe that many film composers have chosen that career simply because it’s more profitable than traditional concert music. Just imagine coming up with famous film music like the Axel Foley theme or the Star Wars main theme. It will undoubtedly boost your career and earn you money for years to come.

The artistic approach is, of course, another important factor. As a regular composer, you are more or less free to create the music you want. Meanwhile, film music composers must adhere to the film and its format, the vision of the director, and so on.

Examples of contemporary music used as film music

Naturally, there are many examples of great music being composed directly for film. Some of these include Star Wars and its music by John Williams, Gladiator and its music by Hans Zimmer, as well as Godfather and its music by Ennio Morricone.

But, what I want to emphasize here are the hundreds of examples of contemporary music used as film music, too. After all, there are countless great contemporary composers whose music has been used by filmmakers worldwide, simply because it complements their film flawlessly.

Don’t forget that this contemporary music was originally composed for a concert setting.

Some examples include Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Eyes Wide Shut  – both of which used concert music by Ligeti. In Kubrick’s The Shining, we come across music by both Ligeti and Penderecki. Jean-Luc Godard, in La Chinoise, used music by Stockhausen. Various films and programs use Arvo Pärts’ music, too.

Then, we have the regular concert composer who actively composes for films. Philip Glass with The Truman Show, The Hours and many other films comes to mind. Come to think of it, Glass has written more film music than perhaps any other regular concert composer. His portfolio consists of more than 100 contributions to this day! Then, there’s Michael Nyman and his soundtrack for The Piano (and other films), as well as Sofia Gubaidulina. Even though she has written music for lots of films, she mainly saw that as a way to make ends meet in her early career days. Today, writing music for films is definitely a task only the most skilled of professionals are willing to handle.

In conclusion, there aren’t many contemporary composers who actively compose for the film industry. It’s mostly expert film music composers who are in charge of that. Still, it’s normal to see directors use great contemporary concert music to give their movies that little extra “oomph”. You can thank contemporary composers for this.

That’s pretty much it for this week. Do you know of other film music composers or contemporary composers I should have mentioned in this post? Let me know in the comments below!

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