In honor of today being the birthday of the greatest film composer of all time (John Williams, who else?) I decided I would grace you, my harmonious readers, with my list of the five greatest film composers of all time.
So many of his scores have made their way into the mainstream, easily recognizable to everyone, even if they don't know what the music is from or who wrote it. His scores are immensely hummable, and while he is best known for his grand, orchestrally epic scores, he has also dabbled in jazz (Catch Me if You Can), Japanese style (Memoirs of a Geisha), a stripped down, harmonica-heavy sound (Sugarland Express), and of course the simple yet heart-wrenchingly beautiful (Schindler's List). Signature Scores: the Star Wars films (of course), Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, and Harry Potter.
If John Williams is the best of the current cinema, Max Steiner is the best film composer from the early sound era. He helped to define what a score entails, and is one of the first to really go all out with the music and using music throughout the whole film. The sounds of his epic scores are still being imitated today, and I wonder where John Williams (or any of today's great film composers) would be if it wasn't for Max Steiner. Signature Scores: Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, and King Kong.
So many of his scores are just so downright fun to listen to. Much like John Williams, he has also got a varied resume, with westerns (True Grit), epics (The Ten Commandments), and comedies (Airplane!). (He also did the score to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 film Robot Monster.) Signature Scores: To Kill a Mockingbird (featuring John Williams on piano), The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, and Ghost Busters.
It is impossible to talk about Bernard Herrmann without mentioning his partnership with Alfred Hitchcock. After all, he scored 8 films for Hitchcock (if you count the experimental soundtrack of The Birds a score), and also scored two films heavily influenced by Hitchcock (Cape Fear and Obsession). He also wrote the score for the world's most infamous radio broadcast: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds. Signature Scores: Psycho, Vertigo, Citizen Kane, and (though not to my liking, but others love it) Taxi Driver.
So for my final entry, I wanted to go with something a little unorthodox, and Carl Stalling fits that to a T. Though he never scored a major motion picture, he was very prolific, highly influential, and had a very unique sound. With the Loony Toons, he almost single-handedly defined what cartoon music should sound like. Also, how many of you out there got your first taste of classical music while watching Bugs Bunny cartoons? Signature Scores: it's hard to pick a few out, but Rhapsody Rabbit is a good example of his use of classical music.
Thomas Newman - He definitely has a unique style, but he is still fairly new on the scene, and he lacks signature pieces.
Danny Elfman - He has a signature sound and has several memorable scores, but his stuff still largely sounds like variations of the same five themes.
Ennio Morricone - He has a very unique sound, but is too much out of the mainstream to make the final cut (though he almost made the list).
Hans Zimmer - Very prolific, but too much of his stuff sounds the same, and he lacks individual memorable pieces.