Influences of the Biggest Film Composers

Sep 11, 2023Film Composing

Top influences of the biggest film composers of all time

Famous film composers often draw inspiration from various sources and artists. Here are some influences of the biggest film composers, starting with a composer who influences MANY modern composers today:

John Williams

The maestro of movies incorporates elements of Romanticism, orchestral grandeur, and memorable melodies in his compositions, has been very open with his influences, which includes classical composers like Gustav Holst, Igor Stravinsky, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Richard Wagner. He’s also stated he’s been greatly Inspired by the film scores of Max Steiner and Bernard Herrmann.

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer is one of the other biggest influences for current composers, is Influenced by electronic music pioneers such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, along with minimalist composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Known for his innovative use of synthesizers, unique instrumentation and hybrid orchestral/electronic sound, Zimmer is one of the most prolific and influential composers of the 2000’s.

Ennio Morricone

Ennio Morricone was influenced by classical music, particularly the works of Gustav Mahler and Claude Debussy, along with the American West and spaghetti Western films. He became know for his iconic use of whistling, choral arrangements, and unique instrumentation. The obvious one is his work on The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, as this one takes many cues from his influences of the American Westerns.

Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann was inspired by late Romantic composers such as Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler. Similar to John Williams/Steven Spielberg, Hermann was known for his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, developed a signature suspenseful sound and experimented with unconventional orchestrations and dissonant harmonies, and rightfully his technique influences some of the biggest film composers today.

Jerry Goldsmith

Jerry Goldsmith, similar to John Williams, found inspiration in composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland. Goldsmith was known for his versatility across different genres, including action, horror, and science fiction, ranging from movies like Hoosiers, Planet of the Apes, Alien, The Mummy, and Star Trek, plus TV shows like The Waltons. Jerry was one of the pioneers of the use of unconventional instrumentation and experimental techniques, and actually his work influences the biggest modern film composers when it comes to this style of composing.

Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman is one of the weirder and more unconventional composers, and got much of his style from classical composers like Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev. This is the third major composer on this list influenced by Igor Stravinsky! His quirkiness is inspired by the music of Oingo Boingo, the band he co-founded in the 1970’s. Known for his whimsical and darkly comedic style, and often collaborating with director Tim Burton, but also creates scores for other projects such as Midnight Run, Spider-man, Men In Black, Mission: Impossible, and Joss Whedon’s Justice League.

Alexandre Desplat

Alexandre Desplat, a French film composer himself, looked up to French film composers such as Georges Delerue and Maurice Jarre, along with other classical composers such as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Desplat is an expert at sophisticated orchestrations, nuanced melodies, and emotional depth. Working with many Wes Anderson pictures, along with incredible scores like The Shape of Water, some of the Harry Potter films, and The King’s Speech. A lot of his films are period pieces that fit his old-school classical style.

Thomas Newman

Thomas Newman is one of the other successful composers in his family, beginning with his father Alfred Newman (creator of the 20th Century Fox fanfare), along with older brother David Newman and cousin Randy Newman. Thomas is inspired by minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and known for his atmospheric and introspective sound, often incorporating dissonant piano sustains and use of dorian and lydian modes.

Max Richter

Max Richter is a British-German composer, really enjoyed the works of composers Johann Sebastian Bach and Gustav Mahler. From a more modern perspective, he is inspired by electronic music and ambient artists such as Brian Eno and Philip Glass, along with British bands. Max is mostly known for his fusion of classical and electronic elements, creating atmospheric and emotionally evocative scores.

Nino Rota

Nino Rota is known for his work on The Godfather, Casanova, Romeo & Juliet, and other classic films, and was inspired by Italian opera and classical music He’s also known for his collaborations with director Federico Fellini, creating nostalgic and expressive scores. Rota blends traditional Italian melodies with innovative orchestrations.

In Conclusion

As a composer, it is common for artists to draw inspiration from various sources and musical traditions. Many composers have been influenced by the works of other musicians and composers throughout their careers. However, it is important to note that inspiration and borrowing ideas are different from outright copying or stealing. 

John Williams is known for his ability to create original and distinctive compositions that capture the essence of the films they accompany. While he and other film composers may incorporate elements from different musical styles or pay homage to certain composers, they do so in a way that adds their own unique voice and artistic interpretation. 

It is a common practice for composers to study the works of others, learn from them, and build upon that knowledge to create their own music. This process often involves blending influences, experimenting with different techniques, and putting a personal touch on the final composition. 

In the creative field, influence and inspiration are important aspects that contribute to the evolution of artistic expression, and that’s no different when it comes to influences of the biggest film composers. The key is creating something memorable and creative but also somewhat familiar.

About the Author

Adam Robert Galloway

Adam Robert Galloway

Film Composer

Adam is a content creator for Compozly and a fellow music composer. He has been scoring films since 2012 and releasing original & cover songs as Muzikm4n since 2017. Despite no formal training in composition, Adam has spent many years learning how to produce and compose music that provides filmmakers with effective and unique scores.

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