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Hans Zimmer Draws on a Long History to Craft ‘Widows’ Score

Oscar winner Hans Zimmer has a long history with “Widows,” the heist thriller starring Viola Davis. Director Steve McQueen’s film is actually a remake of a 1983 British TV series scored by Zimmer’s London mentor, composer Stanley Myers. “I was making tea for Stanley,” he recalls. “I remember at the time being astonished by Lynda LaPlante’s writing. For me it wasn’t so much about the strong women as about the casual brutality that women suffer on a daily basis.”

Thirty-five years later, Zimmer’s collaborator on “12 Years a Slave” has turned it into a movie addressing themes of politics, race, class, money and more. “This is a Steve McQueen movie,” Zimmer adds. “The picture itself was the melody, and my job was to do a little bit of orchestration. The moviemaking and the performances are so strong, you don’t want to clutter it up uselessly with music.”

He recruited bassist Andy Pask, percussionist Luis Jardim and keyboardist Steve Mazzaro and told them: “I have an idea for a rhythm pattern.” Together, they created a score that relies heavily on prepared piano, using the strings inside the piano, the bass itself as a percussion instrument, all making unique sounds. He added a small string ensemble but recorded them in a small studio “to maintain an acidic quality.”

It’s all acoustic, Zimmer says proudly: “Strings and piano and delays.”

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