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Take a musical journey through some of the 90s finest moments in film music including The Piano by Michael Nyman and John Williams’ Schindler List and Saving Private Ryan.
Think Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, and your mind probably wanders instantly to the sound of Bryan Adams singing 'Everything I Do'. The song was co-written by one Michael Kamen, and went on to dominate the UK charts for weeks and weeks. Kamen also composed a brilliant instrumental score for this incredibly fun adventure from director Kevin Reynolds. Kamen had previously written music for other films with a fantastical streak including The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, and Highlander. He also went on to compose the score for Disney's version of The Three Musketeers in 1993.
One of John Barry's finest ever moments came in Kevin Costner's 1991 epic Dances with Wolves. Barry's sweeping string sounds suited the epic nature of the story’s Sioux-soaked skylines perfectly. As well as the main John Dunbar Theme, the 'Love Theme' is eloquent and ever so slightly haunting; while the music used to accompany 'Two Socks' (the ‘star’ wolf) is both shifting and beautiful. The film cleaned up at awards season, particularly at the Oscars where it picked up seven gongs including for Best Picture and Best Director. John Barry himself got a piece of the action, winning the Oscar for Best Original Score, He also went on to win the 1992 Grammy Award for "Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television.", and was nominated for a BAFTA the same year.
Although he didn't write "Bonny winter's noo awa", the central theme to The Piano, Michael Nyman did write the film's brilliant score. With such classics as "The Heart Asks Pleasure First", "Big My Secret", "The Mood That Passes Through You" and "Silver Fingered Fling", Michael Nyman created one of the defining moments of film music in the 90s. The minimalist composer's soundtrack to Jane Campion's acclaimed film has gone multi-platinum since its release, and won him an Ivor Novello Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA and American Film Institute award.
It’s fair to say that most folk would probably think of Unchained Melody when they think of Ghost. The 1955 hit appears in the this 1990 romantic fantasy in both a modern instrumental version and, in the case of the famous clay-happy scene, the 1965 recording by The Righteous Brothers. But Maurice Jarre's full orchestral score is one of the greatest of his career. It almost won an Oscar as well, but unfortunately it happened to be nominated the same year that John Barry had reached a career-high himself with Dances With Wolves.
Following his work on the TV drama Prime Suspect, composer Stephen Welbeck scored an Oscar win and a BAFTA nomination for his score for Shakespeare in Love. The Oscar was one of many awards received by John Madden's Elizabethan romantic-comedy, which although taking a few artistic licences with the Shakespeare's story, featured a host of characters based on real people and also borrowed many elements from The Bard's plays. Appropriately enough, composer Stephen Welbeck actually started out as a budding thespian before turning his hand to writing music!
Shakespeare in Love had played around with the conventions of the Elizabethan period, but no one altered the world of Shakespeare to the same dramatic effect as Baz Luhrmann did with the Bard's most popular tragedy. Shifting the action from 16th century Italy to the fictional "Verona Beach", Florida, and casting Leonardo Di Caprio and Clare Danes in the leading roles, Luhrmann blasted Romeo and Juliet in to the present day with a fast, dynamic MTV-style makeover. At the centre of all this was an incredible soundtrack that mixed modern pop hits with a swooping score by Luhrmann's long-term collaborator Craig Armstrong, which earned him a BAFTA and an Ivor Novello.
Another Kevin Costner vehicle, Waterworld was a hugely expensive and embarrassingly flop. The film was plagued with problems from the beginning and the soundtrack wasn’t immune. Mark Isham’s original score was deemed too introspective for this watery futuristic would-be blockbuster, and James Newton Howard was drafted in at the last minute to write an emergency soundtrack. Bigger and brasher, Howard’s score was far more in keeping with Hollywood blockbusters, with the high-energy numbers neatly interspersed with slower, atmospheric pieces like "The Bubble". Don’t let the film it accompanied put you off listening to this moving soundtrack.
Arguably Mel Gibson’s finest hour, Braveheart is the epic tale of 13th century Scottish warrior William Wallace (Gibson) who led his nation against the English enemy. James Horner’s soundtrack, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra was one of the stars of the film. Inspired by the setting, Horner’s score is laced with traditional Celtic (Horner used Irish bag pipes) and Scottish music that, in contrast to the violent, testosterone fuelled story, gives these haunting pieces a melodic, softer, gentler, more romantic feel.
Jane Austen’s tale of the Dashwood sisters’, forced into reduced circumstances by the death of their father and some very unfemale friendly 18th century property laws, search for love was scripted by Emma Thompson who also starred as Eleanor in the film. The Patrick Doyle’s score is every bit as charming and delightful as the film, with the composer setting music to poems that date from the 17th century. Jane Eaglen took over vocal duties for standout track ‘Weep You No More Sad Fountains’, originally sung by Kate Winslet as Marianne in the film on this Oscar and BAFTA nominated album.
Steven Spielberg’s heart-wrenching film, adapted from Thomas Kennelly’s Schindler's Ark, tells the story of heroic businessman Oskar Schindler who saved the lives of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland with some very clever paperwork. John Williams’ gorgeous score gave this already hugely moving film, an even greater emotional intensity. Overcome by the movie, Williams originally turned down Spielberg’s request to score the film, telling the direction that he’d “need a better composer than I am for this film” but was swayed by Spielberg brilliant comeback: “I know. But they're all dead!" William plays the piano on the opening Theme from Schindler's List, but it’s Itzhak Perlman’s violin performance that makes gives this haunting, beautiful piece of music such emotional impact. The soundtrack earned Williams his fifth Oscar for Best Original Score.
When John Williams and Steven Spielberg get together the results are only ever stirring, sweep and epic, and Saving Private Ryan was no exception. This second world-war based film followed Tom Hanks as Captain John H. Miller who leads his men on a mission to find the only surviving Ryan brother, James Francis played by Matt Damon. Williams’ score, played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, actually took a bit more of a backseat in Saving Private Ryan than in his previous collaborations with Spielberg, with the director allowing the sounds of war to provide the soundtrack for a lot of the film. But Williams’ is there for the big moments; his “Hymn to the Fallen” is a typical Williams stirring accompaniment to the closing credits. The album won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television and was nominated for an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe.
Robert Redford’s story of unfilled rural romance told the story of Tom Booker (Redford), a man whose gift of being able to ‘talk’ to horses leads him to helping an injured girl and her horse, only to find himself falling in love with the girl’s mother. Thomas Nyman’s score skilfully merged orchestra, guitar and folk to conjure up images of vast prairies but underpinned with a sense of sadness and longing. Nyman wasn’t actually Redford’s first choice; John Barry, no stranger to soundtracking sweeping epics, wrote the original score, but Redford rejected his romantic orchestral work. Barry later released the unused music on his live album ‘The Beyondness of Things."
Stories of space travel need heroic soundtracks, and James Horner’s poignant, almost understated, score was the perfect accompaniment to this story of Apollo 13’s failed mission to the moon. Director Ron Howard used 1960s pop songs alongside Horner’s understatedly patriot score that encapsulated the American spirit of adventure. The 1995 Oscar-nominated album also features solos by vocalist Annie Lennox and Tim Morrison on the trumpet.
This Sam Mendes directed, Kevin Spacey-starring 90s satire on the ‘American Dream’ followed office worker Lester Burnham (Spacey) as he becomes infatuated with the beautiful teenager next door. Thomas Newman’s eclectic, minimalist, spacious score was the perfect accompaniment to this cynical, clever film and helped lift that ‘rose petal scene’ to ironic heights. Like the movie, the soundtrack was a critical and popular success, but missed out on an Oscar – a disappointment Newman found difficult to hide on the night.
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, this film may have had an American playing one of Jane Austen’s most iconic characters, but the score was all down to a Brit - Rachel Portman. Expressive and playful, Portman’s score captured the sweetness and mischievous of the main character as she charmingly, if frustratingly, meddles in her small group of acquaintances. Portman caught the feel and wit of romantic period music and the personality of Austen with oboes and clarinets taking the melodies and violins and cellos creating the light-hearted atmosphere.
The sequel to 1989’s Batman film saw a great many changes; out was Tim Burton and Michael Keaton; in was Joel Schumacher and Jim Carey. Out, also, was composer Danny Elfman who was replaced by the divisive Elliot Goldenthal. Inspired by the hero versus badie theme, Goldenthalt’s score lost much of Elfman’s tragic undertones, and, in line with the film, gave a knowing wink to the original camp fun of the original 1960s series. But Goldenthal lost none of the drama with his score inspired by children humming along to their action figure enactments. The album was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1995.
Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial story of an older man’s infatuation with a 12-year-old girl continues to fascinate cinema-goers, but Adrian Lyne’s 1997 film, starring Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert was still controversial, although largely with those who didn’t think Kubrick’s 60s film could be better. The soundtrack was far less controversial - scored by Italian composer Ennio Morricone who used his trademark mournful strings and choral elements to create an atmosphere of obsessive, claustrophobic longing.
This swashbuckling tale of Zorro, the masked vigilante played by Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas and starring Catherine Zeta-Jones was a sexy, action packed blockbuster underpinned by James Horner’s sizzling soundtrack. Far removed from his Titanic soundtrack, Horner’s lively score has a distinct spicy Latin feel, flavoured with flamenco sounds, exuberant foot stomping and castanets perfectly encapsulated on opening track 'The Plaza of Execution'.