NPR's resident film music buff Andy Trudeau picks his top ten movie scores of all-time.
Batman (Danny Elfman, 1989) A score in the grand symphonic manner that pays homage to past film music masters and at the same time, announces there is a new composer in town. Elfman's manipulation of the Batman theme is a wonder.
Hear 'Roof Flight' from 'Batman'
Battle of the Bulge (Benjamin Frankel, 1965) This is the quintessential epic war-film score, evoking all the heroism, chaos, and tragedy of conflict. Frankel, a vastly underrated composer of symphonies, deftly handles a rich selection of original themes in a collection of cues that have the feel of a large-scale symphonic poem.
Hear 'The Massacre of the American Prisoners' from 'The Battle of the Bulge'
King Kong (Max Steiner, 1933) This is the score that first truly established the dramatic and emotional power of music fused to image. Inspired by the Viennese tradition of Richard Strauss tone poems, Steiner pulls out all the stops to embrace the film’s exotic locales, its gigantic title subject, and the powerful emotions at the core of the tale.
Hear 'Entrance of Kong' from 'King Kong'
Jaws (John Williams, 1975) A classic case of "less is more." Working within the limits of a chamber orchestra, Williams creates an unforgettable gallery of cues, encompassing both our deepest held fears of the primeval beast and the exaltation of a nautical adventure. The cue for Chrissie's death piles sound after sound into a demonic scherzo.
Hear 'Chrissie's Death' from 'Jaws'
Planet of the Apes (Jerry Goldsmith, 1968): A triumphant application of contemporary music language to a science-fiction classic. Goldsmith's use of prepared piano, avant-garde instrumental playing techniques, and ancient instruments creates an unforgettable soundscape. The cue titled "The Hunt" may be one of the greatest musical sequences in all film music.
Hear 'The Hunt' from 'Planet of the Apes'
Psycho (Bernard Herrmann, 1960) This is the creative climax of the composer's long association with director Alfred Hitchcock. Using a strings-only sound palette, Herrmann takes us on an unparalleled journey into worlds of suspense, terror and violence. The CD recommendation goes to conductor Joel McNeely's remake, which features faster and more authentic tempos than those Herrmann used for his own recording of the score.
Hear 'Prelude' from 'Psycho'
Silverado(Bruce Broughton, 1985) Propelled by brilliant orchestration and a tip of the hat to Aaron Copland's Rodeo, Broughton redefines the soundtrack western on an epic scale. No cookie cutters here! Each succeeding cue is as vivid and ear catching as the one that precedes it.
Hear 'The Getaway/Riding as One/Silverado'
Spartacus (Alex North, 1960) The premier modern take on a film epic, a score that is both neo-classic in sound, yet emotional in its impact. North's generally spare compositional style was never used to greater effect than here.
Hear 'Main Theme' from 'Spartacus'
The Sea Hawk(Erich Wolfgang Korngold, 1940) This is the score that defines "swashbuckler" in music. Rich in orchestral color and driven by strong themes, Korngold's music provides a glorious symphonic amplification of the broad sweeping canvas of the Errol Flynn classic.
Hear 'Jungle March and Battle' from 'The Sea Hawk'
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (David Shire, 1974): A hard driving big band score written in the twelve-tone manner. Shire proves that any compositional style can communicate emotionally and viscerally when handled by a composer serving the film's dramatic needs.
Hear 'Main Title' from 'The Taking of Pelham One Two Three'