You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Zimmer’s Tale of Two Scores

Composer contrasts music of 'Rush,' '12 Years'

Hans Zimmer’s two late-2013 films couldn’t possibly be more different: “Rush,” a driving, in-your-face rock score for a competing pair of 1970s Formula One race car drivers, and “12 Years a Slave,” a quiet, melancholy string accompaniment for the tale of an educated, free African-American forced to endure the brutality of slavery in the antebellum South.

“‘12 Years’ was very privately and carefully thought about, while ‘Rush’ was really about adrenaline, a rock ’n’ roll attitude, let’s just go to a scene and see what happens,” says the nine-time Oscar nominee (and winner for “The Lion King”) in his Santa Monica studio.

Ron Howard’s “Rush” took Zimmer back to his late-1970s roots as a synth programmer and keyboard player in England (you can glimpse him in the background of the Buggles’ 1979 “Video Killed the Radio Star” video). “I wasn’t trying to ape ’70s rock, but there’s a sound, a spirit,” he says. “I was after the spirit.”

So he threw guitarists Michael Brook, Bryce Jacobs and Stephen Lipson in with drummer Satnam Ramgotra, asked one-time Brit pop star Peter Asher to consult, and added cellist Martin Tillman at key emotional moments. “I love the state of chaos that I usually operate in,” says Zimmer. “It’s really nice to throw ideas around and have somebody like Peter or Lipson say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, play that phrase again!’”

Recalls director Howard: “He kept writing and rewriting and trying to find ways to sustain the intensity, yet be very sensitive to who these guys were.” Howard was fascinated by Zimmer’s interest in racer James Hunt’s obsession with budgerigars (parakeets, in U.S. parlance). Notes Zimmer: “This wild guy could never form a proper relationship, but the one thing he was enamored with were these birds that needed true companionship.”

As for “12 Years a Slave,” Zimmer concedes, “It’s basically a cello and violin score. It felt appropriate to keep it as small and as specific as possible. We have a lot of period source music, and one of the things I wanted to do was to be anachronistic, but not in an overt way. I wanted to be the secret little bridge that would take the story from the past and move it into the present.”

Cellist Tristan Schulze and violinist Ann Marie Calhoun performed, although there are more strings and occasional percussion throughout. “It was not just getting inside the characters,” Zimmer says, “it was getting outside the characters and finding a bridge to the audience.”

Director Steve McQueen liked Zimmer’s moody music for “The Thin Red Line,” which became a starting point for discussion.

Most of the 38-minute score “creates a stillness, or a tension through the stillness, using very minimal means,” he adds, although the riverboat ride offers a briefly avant-garde musical contrast, including woodwinds and an unusual use of piano.

Says McQueen: “He was my refuge when I was in L.A. The first two meetings were about five hours each. Then I think we had three two-hour conversations on the phone. And not a musical note was played. After that, he said, ‘I think I’ve got something.’ Somehow, through the talking, he captured the atmosphere of the film.”

More Music

  • R. Kelly

    R. Kelly Accusers Detail Abuse, Reveal Evidence on 'Dateline'

    The continuing controversy surrounding R. Kelly, including allegations of sexual abuse by a number of women over three decades, was the focus of Friday’s episode of “Dateline.” Speaking to accusers Sparkle, Jerhonda Pace and parents Tim and Jonjelyn Savage, among others, NBC’s Andrea Canning heard more harrowing tales of abduction and sexual misconduct on the part [...]

  • Huey Lewis

    BMG Signs Huey Lewis and the News

    Huey Lewis and the News, the band that soundtracked much of the 1980s, will return with a new album in 2019. The group has signed with BMG, the company announced today (Jan. 18), setting the stage for the tenth studio album and the first time they’re releasing original music in 18 years. Formed by Lewis [...]

  • Jordan Feldstein

    Roc Nation Seeks $11 Million From Insurer in Jordan Feldstein's Death

    Roc Nation filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking $11 million from its insurance carrier following the death of Maroon 5 manager Jordan Feldstein. Roc Nation, a joint venture of Jay-Z and Live Nation Entertainment, partnered with Feldstein’s Career Artist Management in 2016. At the time, Roc Nation says it took out a “key man” life [...]

  • mike-posner

    Album Review: Mike Posner's 'A Real Good Kid'

    From the tone of such hits as his 2010 debut “Cooler Than Me” and 2015’s  “I Took A Pill In Ibiza,” singing, songwriting pop-hop beardo Mike Posner had a seemingly breezy take on life, love and responsibility. If you could have squeezed together the two Justins — Timberlake and Bieber (Posner has written for the latter) [...]

  • neyla pekarek

    Neyla Pekarek on Leaving the Lumineers and Her 'Women-Empowering' Solo Debut

    “I feel really liberated to be releasing my own record and my own music,” says cellist and singer Neyla Pekarek, who, in October, announced her departure from folk band the Lumineers. Now signed to S-Curve Records as a solo artist, her debut album “Rattlesnake” drops Friday. “I would definitely call this record a feminist record, a [...]

  • Fyre Festival Documentaries: The 10 Most

    Fyre Festival Documentaries: The 10 Most Outrageous Moments

    It is perhaps only fitting that two documentaries about the disastrous Fyre Festival, one of the most high-profile fraudulent failures in history, would arrive during the same week — a fitting cap on a tragicomedy of errors that, as both films outline in excruciating detail, unfolded like a slow-motion plane crash in the spring of [...]

  • Oscars Predictions 2018 Illustration

    Academy Awards: Final Oscar Predictions in All Categories

    Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 22. Below are In Contention’s final predictions in all 24 categories. Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” lead the way with 10 expected nominations apiece, while we forecast eight for Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” and seven each for Damien [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content