Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Sunday night Oscar win completed her clean sweep of top show-biz awards over the past five months.
The Icelandic-born, Berlin-based cellist-composer won for her dark and disturbing “Joker” score. She also won the BAFTA on Feb. 2, the Critics Choice award on Jan. 12, the inaugural Society of Composers & Lyricists award Jan. 7, and the Golden Globe on Jan. 5, all for “Joker.”
She preceded those with an Emmy for the HBO miniseries “Chernobyl” on Sept. 15 and a Grammy for the soundtrack of that score on Jan. 26.
“It’s been overwhelming at times, I’m not going to lie,” she told SCL Oscar reception attendees on Saturday, just hours before her Academy Award victory.
Such a sweep may be unprecedented for a film and television composer. Michael Giacchino appears to come the closest, with an Oscar, Grammy, BAFTA and Critics Choice award for “Up” all in less than two months in early 2010. He has an Emmy, too — for “Lost” — but that came six years earlier.
It comes at a propitious time for women composers who, like many of their below-the-line counterparts in film and TV crafts, are struggling for visibility and representation. Five other women scored various films in the documentary feature, documentary short subject, and animated short categories, but their contributions were largely unheralded by comparison with Guðnadóttir’s accomplishment.
She is the third woman to win an Oscar for composing an original instrumental score. English composers Rachel Portman and Anne Dudley preceded her with music for “Emma” and “The Full Monty” in 1996 and 1997 respectively. (Marilyn Bergman won for the song score of 1983’s “Yentl” but she is a songwriter, not an orchestral composer.)
“Joker” director Todd Phillips hired her early, prior to shooting, and she wrote music based on a reading of the script. Phillips played some of her early demos on the set for star Joaquin Phoenix, who began dancing to it, and Academy voters clearly took notice.
Similarly, her unusual musical approach to “Chernobyl” — she visited the decommissioned Lithuanian nuclear power plant where the miniseries was filmed, recorded the sounds inside and then adapted them into a dramatic score — was much talked about and clearly impressed Emmy and Grammy voters.
Now 37, she is weighing offers for future film and television projects. She is expected to participate in a series of live-to-picture concerts of her “Joker” music beginning April 30 in London, and she continues to compose for the classical field (her most recent commission debuted in New York on Jan. 28).
As she said in her Oscar speech: “To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within, please speak up. We need to hear your voices.”