Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Film Scores of Thomas Newman

I have to say that Thomas Newman is one of my favorite film composers. From the moment I first saw Scent of a Woman (1992), I knew this man had a gift when it came to capturing true human emotion and conveying it musically.

Newman comes from a family of successful film composers including his father, Alfred Newman, who worked for years as the music director at 20th-Century Fox and composed their theme. Alfred is known to have worked alongside major names including George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin.

Though Thomas Newman originally sought work on Broadway (Stephen Sondheim was his mentor), he sort of fell into film when offered the chance to score the 1984 drama Reckless. Since then, he has many major film scores to his credit including Wall-E (2008), Erin Brockovich (2000), The Green Mile (1999), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Finding Nemo (2003) and Saving Mr. Banks (2013).

Working from his father’s studio at his childhood home in Los Angeles, Newman has developed the skill of creating a score that adds to a motion picture without getting in the way. The Shawshank Redemption, for instance, contains deep visual emotion. Rather than competing with it, Newman created music that enhances it.

Newman’s compositional style varies somewhat depending on the film he is working on. Some films, like Little Women, use a 19th-century-sounding orchestra. Other films, such as Unstrung Heroes, use unique instruments such as the zither, hurdy-gurdy, psaltery, and hammered dulcimer.

Some of his scores reflect the film’s geographical location such as the sounds of the south in The Green Mile while others sound more minimalistic like American Beauty:

Despite these variances, I believe all of Newman’s work equally shares his ability to capture the deepest of emotions for the listener. Do you have a favorite Thomas Newman soundtrack that you find especially moving?

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