Jonny Greenwood had long achieved worldwide fame, as the lead guitarist of Radiohead, when he ventured into film composition almost 20 years ago. To some it seemed like a side activity at first, something to keep Greenwood busy between albums and tours.
But in the last decade in particular, it has become clear that this is not the case. With 11 scores to his credit, including two – for Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” and Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer” – which could feature in this year’s Oscar race, what was once a side-line career now rivals. for preeminence with Greenwood’s day job.
As he turned to film, he also gained notoriety as an orchestral composer, with his concert music often feeding into his soundtracks. In a recent interview with The New Yorker’s Alex Ross, Greenwood described some of his sustainable strategies, including the use of octatonic scales, which he says can give “a nice, tight acidity amid all the sweetness” ‘a scene. .
But while some of his inspirations have remained constant – modernist composers like Olivier Messiaen and Krzysztof Penderecki remaining a constant fascination – he has also evolved over time. Here are some highlights from his last two decades of writing for orchestras and films.
Greenwood’s soundtrack debut effort is modest in its ambitions but confident in its execution. He does not offer full vocal orchestral material and does not directly invoke Messiaen or Penderecki. Instead, he’s more closely associated with the electronic avant-garde of “Kid A” and “Amnesiac,” the Radiohead albums just before. Still, “Bodysong” is an effective and catchy album. And some tracks are early models when it comes to Greenwood’s skill in fusing disparate styles, such as when the sound of the opening jazz combo of “Milky Drops from Heaven” is overtaken by swirling tendrils of music. electronic.
‘Popcorn Superhet Receiver’ (2005)
This work heralded Greenwood’s leap into classical music – with clusters of tightly coiled strings inspired by Penderecki. But Greenwood’s own melodic style, both swooning and uneasy, is there too. This is the piece that inspired director Paul Thomas Anderson to first contact Greenwood, and by hearing “Popcorn” in its entirety, you understand Anderson’s early confidence in this composer’s abilities.
What you should know about “The power of the dog”
“The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion’s quivering Western drama based on a 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, is currently airing on Netflix.
“There will be blood” (2007)
This was the project Anderson wanted Greenwood for. It uses parts of “Popcorn Superhet Receiver”, making it ineligible for an Oscar, but adds new music that helps make the film’s pressure cooker feel like something alluring. Like “Prospectors Arrive”, with piano, strings and Martenot waves in a sumptuous mix of instrumental colors. The Copenhagen Philharmonic later recorded a string orchestral suite from the soundtrack.
“48 responses to polymorphism” (2011)
The original incarnations of “Overtones” and “Baton Sparks”, from Anderson’s 2012 film “The Master”, can be heard in this orchestral work. This self-borrowing resulted in another round of Oscar ineligibility, despite the soundtrack’s excellent original tracks, such as the “Alethia” harp. And again, the original orchestral piece is impressive on its own. Taking as a starting point the lush final chord of Penderecki’s “Polymorphia”, Greenwood plunges into more romantic territory than in “There Will Be Blood”. (Don’t worry, though: there’s still a lot of string noise.)
“Inherent vice” (2014)
Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s noir novel gave Greenwood the opportunity to broaden his range of film music. The song “Spooks” has its roots in a previously unreleased Radiohead track, but the most winning feature for the guitar here is “Amethyst” – a piece that combines folkloric and buzzing background chords for an ultimately joyful effect. It goes with a part of the ending that is legitimately happy – not a regular feature of Anderson or Pynchon’s work.
This orchestral work goes well with the score of “Inherent Vice”. You can hear familiar scalar patterns from songs like “The Golden Fang”. Yet this 14-minute piece (for an unusually equipped string orchestra, comprising flutes, Martenot waves and a tambura) is on its own, perhaps due to inspiration from various traditions of Indian classical music in which Greenwood was immersed in at that time. After what amounts to a slow ‘alap’ development section familiar to some styles of raga, we get a whirlwind tour through Greenwood’s overall melodic conception.
‘Phantom Thread’ (2017)
In an interview with former New York Times classical music critic Anthony Tommasini, Greenwood described drawing inspiration from a wide variety of sources – including Benjamin Britten and Bill Evans – for the score for this Anderson film, set in the 1950s. But although the music lacks some of the obvious avant-garde touches of Greenwood’s past work, it is still imbued with some of his signatures. A cascading piano riff from “The House of Woodcock”, for example, is somewhat familiar compared to the piano from the second half of “Prospectors Arrive” from “There Will Be Blood”. But the more nicely arranged version here gives it an entirely new character.
“You Were Never Really There” (2017)
If the score for “Phantom Thread” was unusually gallant, here’s a return to electronic, sometimes jarring, music the second time Greenwood has worked with director Lynne Ramsay. Much like Joaquin Phoenix’s character stumbles through the plot without a full understanding of what he’s getting himself into, Greenwood’s score also keeps the listener off-balance – thanks to rhythmic feints in quasi-dance pieces like “Nausea”. But all is not mysterious: “Tree Strings” and “Tree Synthesizers” contribute to give to the final act its surprising effect of liberation from a trauma.
“The power of the dog” (2021)
A setting in the American West of yesteryear? Threatening, buzzing strings? Is this soundtrack to Campion’s first film in 12 years some sort of retreading of Greenwood’s neo-western work on “There Will Be Blood”? Not at all. The touches here are particular to the awakened surrealism of Campion’s project. “Detuned Mechanical Piano” is a little too refined (in the miniature of Gyorgy Ligeti) to really be the work of a broken mechanical piano. And the strummed locomotion of “25 Years” is a callback to Greenwood’s guitar chops, which were heard on his score for “Norwegian Wood” (2010).
Larraín’s film, starring Kristen Stewart, is not a conventional biopic about Princess Diana. As Diana hallucinates her way through various royal obligations, Greenwood’s score rejoices in how the film approaches her point of view. A piece like “The Pearls” begins as a plausible imitation of decorum, with a string quartet displayed on screen in the entrance to a dining room. But as Diana loses her temper, the musical material also extends beyond propriety. (Sure enough, the on-screen quartet responds to the endless dinner with thunderous accents.) The combination of improvisational jazz textures with the escape from court life is especially well done on tracks like “Arrival.”