Elliot Goldenthal is perhaps best known as a composer of musical scores for Hollywood films such as Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins, Titus, Alien 3, Batman Forever, and many others. He has received numerous honors, including an Oscar in 2003 for his score for the film Frida. Goldenthal is also an award-winning composer of operas, ballets, and music for theater. He is married to Julie Taymor, a highly regarded film director. Goldenthal has written music for films and shows directed by Taymor. These have included the films Titus and Frida and the Broadway show The Green Bird.
Elliot Goldenthal was born in New York City on May 2, 1954. He was raised in Brooklyn, New York, surrounded by the sounds of blues, jazz, classical, Latin, and Caribbean musical styles—all of which would later inform his work as a composer. After graduating from high school he received formal training in music composition, earning bachelor's and master's degrees from the Manhattan School of Music. While at the school, he studied with the great American composer Aaron Copland as well as with renowned composer John Corigliano, both of whom he greatly admired.
Goldenthal first gained recognition as an outstanding composer with his score for a work for the theater, Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass, directed by Julie Taymor. Goldenthal won the prestigious Obie Award in 1988 for the score. In 1989 he scored his first feature film, Drug Store Cowboy, directed by Gus Van Sant. The work was well received, and Goldenthal's standing as a composer for both stage and film was assured. He has continued to work in both film and theater throughout his career.
Following his work on Drug Store Cowboy, Goldenthal received a commission in 1990 to compose a piece which he called Shadow Play Scherzo, to honor the 70th birthday of the celebrated American conductor Leonard Bernstein. The same year also saw the premier of his Pastime Variations, a work he composed for the Haydn-Mozart Chamber Orchestra in honor of the 75th anniversary of the construction of Brooklyn's Ebbets Field baseball stadium. This piece had its first performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Goldenthal's next major work for Hollywood was the score for Alien 3, which was directed by David Fincher and released in 1992. Goldenthal then began a collaboration with film director Neil Jordan that would continue for many years. He composed the score for Jordan's film Interview with the Vampire, which was released in 1994 and earned Goldenthal his first Oscar nomination for best original score. More scores for Neil Jordan-directed films followed, including those for Michael Collins (1996), The Butcher Boy (1998), and In Dreams (1999).
Goldenthal's scores for Michael Collins and Interview with the Vampire also earned the composer Golden Globe nominations. Goldenthal also received Grammy Award nominations for his scores for the 1995 film Batman Forever and for 1996's A Time to Kill, and he won an L.A. Film Critics Award for his score for The Butcher Boy.
But while Goldenthal's highest profile work was that of his film scores, perhaps his most accomplished work has remained that of his works for public performance. One of these, an oratorio, or choral work, titled Fire Paper Water, was commissioned by the Pacific Symphony Orchestra to mark the 20th anniversary of the ending of the Vietnam War.
Fire Paper Water proved to be one of Goldenthal's most challenging pieces to write, and the scope of the subject seemed overwhelming to him at first. His initial reaction when approached to write the piece was, as he recalled to Chris Pasles in the Los Angeles Times, "My God, how can I ever write anything like that?" The piece took the composer fully two years to write, and he needed much of this time to conduct research for the project. Goldenthal met with Vietnamese musicians and interviewed veterans and victims of the war. Other inspirations for the piece included the writings of Vietnamese war veterans, the Bible, the Requiem Mass, and ancient Vietnamese texts.
The finished work was a resounding success. After its 1995 debut at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in California, the piece was also performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at New York's Carnegie Hall and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. A recording of Fire Paper Water, featuring the acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma as a soloist, was released on the Sony Classical label.
Also in the mid 1990s, Goldenthal teamed with Julie Taymor, composing the score for her Broadway adaptation of an eighteenth-century play called The Green Bird. In 1997 Goldenthal received a commission from the American Ballet Theatre to compose the music for a ballet based on William Shakespeare's Othello. The work was debuted by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. As the 1990s came to a close, Goldenthal again worked with Taymor, composing the score for Titus, Taymor's directorial film debut. Based on a play by Shakespeare and starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange, the film was released in 1999.
In 2003 Goldenthal was awarded both a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar for Best Original Score for his music for the film Frida. Directed by Taymor, the film is about the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Goldenthal was nominated for two Oscars for his work on Frida; the second was shared with Taymor, who co-wrote a song featured in the film called "Burn It Blue."
The Frida score is, by many accounts, one of Goldenthal's most powerful works. Dominated by guitar music, the score, according to Goldenthal, was inspired by the fact that the movie's main character is confined to a bed throughout much of the film. As Goldenthal told Billboard 's Carla Hay, "I wanted the score to be like another character in the bed." The single guitar motif that is featured most prominently throughout the film creates a delicate feeling of intimacy.
Goldenthal expressed surprise at the Oscar nomination for "Burn It Blue," but he praised the Academy for recognizing that the song was an integral part of the film score, and not, as he put it to Hay, "just to sell records." With words in both English and Spanish, the song was intended by Goldenthal and Taymor to function as a kind of musical bridge between cultures.
For the Record …
Born on May 2, 1954, in New York, NY; married to Julie Taymor (a film director). Education: Manhattan School of Music, bachelor of fine arts degree, master of fine arts degree, both in music composition.
Scored first feature film, Drug Store Cowboy, 1989; composed Shadow Play Scherzo, 1990; composed Pastime Variations, 1990; composed scores for numerous Hollywood films, including Alien 3, Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins, The Butcher Boy, In Dreams, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, 1990-2000s; premiered oratorio called Fire Paper Water, 1995; composed music for Broadway production of The Green Bird, mid-1990s; composed ballet music for Othello, produced by New York's Metropolitan Opera, 1997; scored film Titus, 1999.
Awards: Obie Award for music in theater production of Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass, 1988; Los Angeles Film Critics Award, Best Original Score for The Butcher Boy, 1998; Golden Globe Award, Best Original Score for Frida, 2002; Academy Award, Best Original Score for Frida, 2003.
Addresses: Agent—Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency, 1345 Riverside Dr., Ste. 450, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423. Website—Elliot Goldenthal Official Website: http://goldenthal.filmmusic.com.
Goldenthal lives with Julie Taymor in New York City, where he has continued to write music for film and for the stage.
Drugstore Cowboy, BMG, 1989.
Pet Sematary, Varese Sarabande, 1989.
Alien 3, MCAD, 1992.
Golden Gate, Varese Sarabande, 1993.
Demolition Man, Varese Sarabande, 1993.
Interview with the Vampire, Geffen, 1994.
Cobb, Sony Classical, 1994.
Batman Forever, Atlantic, 1995.
Heat, Warner Bros., 1995.
A Time to Kill, Atlantic Classics, 1996.
Michael Collins, Atlantic Classics, 1996.
Batman and Robin, 1997.
Sphere, Varese Sarabande, 1998.
The Butcher Boy, Edel America, 1998.
In Dreams, Varese Sarabande, 1999.
Titus, Sony Classical, 2000.
Final Fantasy, Sony Classical, 2001.
Frida, Deutsche Gramaphon, 2002.
The Good Thief, Island, 2002.
S.W.A.T., Varese Sarabande, 2003.
Concert and stage compositions
Juan Darien: A Carnival Mass, Sony Classical, 1996.
The Green Bird, DRG, 1996.
Fire Water Paper, Sony Classical, 1996.
Othello, Varese Sarabande, 1997.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 24, 2003, p. C1.
Billboard, September 2, 2000, p. 41; March 1, 2003, p. 13.
Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1995, p. 1.
New York Times, March 23, 2003.
Town & Country, September 2003, p. 152.
"Elliot Goldenthal," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 25, 2004).
Elliot Goldenthal Official Website, http://goldenthal.filmmusic.com (April 24, 2004).
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