Hans Zimmer is my Beethoven: The Music of Movies, TV and Video Games
I don’t know if I would classify myself as a fan of “classical” music. I enjoy it, for sure, but I admit my knowledge of the classical genre prior to working for the Houston Symphony was less than accurate and expansive. Pretty sad, actually. I now know that I dig Gershwin and can name concertos by Mahler, Beethoven and Mozart that I recognized by sound before, but never by name. And I just saw Amadeus. Like two weeks ago. Yeah, I know. Way behind.
What I have enjoyed since I was quite young and am an avid fan of is instrumental music (yes, in the sense of a more general genre). It was a love that was always there, a natural interest like my ardent fondness for drawing, writing and sleeping.
The day I said to myself “Oh hey, I really like instrumental music…” was when I looked at my iTunes and realized a good 70% of my library was composed of video game soundtracks, scores from movies and television, jazz and a genre of instrumental hip-hop that is fused with orchestral inspirations. No lyrics. No vocals. Just pure orchestral and/or synthesized sounds.
I’ve always lamented that contemporary instrumental music isn’t as acclaimed as instrumental classical music. And I know there is more to it than just an overshadowing presence of cookie-cutter pop and rap that dominates current music trends. There is a definite lack of admiration for the genre, despite the fact that it is ever present in the most popular of entertainment forms, specifically movies, TV and video games.
Instrumental music in the entertainment industry serves to accomplish what most classical pieces did for their accompanying operas back in the day: to further add emotion to a visual scene. I am sure most classical enthusiasts would balk at the idea of a song written for the Pixar animated movie Up to be on par with Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Yet arguably, contemporary composers that lend their talents to create the soundtracks to visually stunning and inspiring movies can be considered just as talented and integral to the current entertainment art forms. Not to mention, through awards like the Oscars® and the popularity of purchasable soundtracks, there is definitely a strong appreciation for movie music. The Houston Symphony has seen a large, positive response to concerts such as The Music of Star Trek and More Sci-fi and Red Carpet Oscar Party, which featured music from past and recent Oscar® hopefuls. Still, music composers don’t receive as many accolades for their work as the producers of the movies. I mean, are not John Williams and Hans Zimmer the Mozarts of our era? I would bet most people wouldn’t remember ALL the details of ALL the Star Wars movies, but they could hum the theme song on cue if asked. Duuuuun-duuun-dun-dun-dun-duuuuuuuuuun dun–!
And then there is video game music, practically ignored by the masses as a fine art. While most probably still think of game music as the bleeping, blooping polyphonic sounds of 80s and 90s titles like Frogger and Super Mario Bros., current titles boast expansive, amazing scores as impressive as their ever evolving visuals. Nobuo Uematsu, composer and arranger for the renowned Final Fantasy series, has a cult following of fans dedicated to his music and was named one of the “Innovators” in Time Magazine‘s “Time 100: The Next Wave — Music” feature. There are symphonic concerts that focus solely on game music; for three seasons, Houston Symphony presented Video Games Live, a concert that presented segments of the most well known pieces from classic and current games. Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy is currently being performed all over to the world from Stockholm to San Francisco, most if not all of the shows sold out. There’s obviously much more to this genre than bleeps and bloops (just take a listen to these amazing pieces from Echochrome, or this rousing battle song from World of Warcraft). If only more of the music-loving public would look past the stereotypes and stigmas of video games and see that.
Despite my biases, I don’t know how current instrumental music measures up against classical music. A hundred years from now, will music lovers celebrate the scores written for movies like Avatar or soundtracks of artistic, genre changing video games like Shadow of the Colossus? Will the “new” classical be dominated by pieces written to supplement other art forms like movies, television and games? Maybe. Maybe not. Classical music has a degree of celebrated antiquity to it that current instrumental genres and pieces may never acquire.
All the same, contemporary forms of instrumental music in movies, TV shows and video games can be as beautiful and emotionally evocative as their classical predecessors. I would sacrifice a large chunk of my salary to hear some of John Williams’s work from Indiana Jones or Harry Potter in a salon in Vienna. Probably will never happen, but it’d still be kind of cool.