Elliot Goldenthal (born May 2, 1954) is an American composer of film scores and contemporary classical music. He was a student of Aaron Copland and John Corigliano, and is best known for his distinctive style and ability to blend various musical styles and techniques in original and inventive ways. He is also a film-music composer, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 2002 for his score to the motion picture Frida, directed by his long-time partner Julie Taymor.
Life and career
Goldenthal was born on May 2, 1954, as the youngest son of a Jewish housepainter father and a Catholic seamstress mother in Brooklyn, New York City, where he was influenced from an early age by music from all cultures and genres. Both pairs of Goldenthal's grandparents emigrated to the United States from Bucharest and Iași, Romania. Goldenthal lived in a multi-cultural part of town, and this is reflected in his works. He attended John Dewey High School in Brooklyn where, at the age of 14, he had his very first ballet Variations on Early Glimpses performed; he continued to display his eclectic musical range, performing with rock bands in the seventies.
He then studied music full-time at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with composer John Corigliano (whom he greatly admired), to earn his Bachelor of Music degree (1977) and Master of Music degree (1979) in musical composition. He lives in New York City "happily unmarried", as he once put it, with his partner Julie Taymor, whom he met in 1980 through a mutual acquaintance, who told him, "I know a person whose work is just as grotesque as yours"; they have an office/apartment where they both live and work. Goldenthal has written works for concert hall, theater, dance and film. His work includes music for films such as Alien 3, Michael Collins, Batman Forever, Heat and the Academy Award-winning score for Julie Taymor's Frida, a movie in which Goldenthal had a small acting part as a "Newsreel Reporter". Incidentally he also had a small part in the stage show Juan Darièn as a "Circus Barker / Streetsinger".
The Tony-Award-winning Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass (1988/'96) and The Green Bird (1999), based on a story by Carlo Gozzi, are a few of the composer's theatre works. In 2006, Goldenthal completed his original three-act opera with Taymor entitled Grendel an adaptation of the John Gardner novel of the same name which told the story of Beowulf from the monster Grendel's point of view. It had its world premiere in early June 2006 at the Los Angeles Opera, the role of Grendel performed by Eric Owens, with an audience that included John Williams and Emmy Rossum; the opus was added to the Los Angeles Opera's permanent repertoire and earned Goldenthal a nomination in April 2007 for the Pulitzer Prize for Music. In 2008 Goldenthal reunited with Michael Mann to score 1930s gangster movie Public Enemies and in 2009 he scored another Julie Taymor Shakespeare adaptation, The Tempest. He cites Japanese composer Tōru Takemitsu as an influence and someone he styles his own career on; Goldenthal has said that the lines between traditional concert music and orchestral film score have become more blurred which is the way he thinks it should be. He has also collaborated four times with Irish director Neil Jordan, including on his films Interview with the Vampire and In Dreams.
Elliot Goldenthal has been called the "thinking man's composer" by film-music collectors and a generally more cerebral choice for film makers and lovers of film music. He is known for his experimentation, nuances and willingness to try unconventional techniques. He has scored films in almost every genre from horror to action to Shakespeare adaptations. He has not yet scored comedy, but he has composed comedic motifs for several films such as Demolition Man and the Batman series. His eclectic output has gained him a great deal of respect in the music and film communities and with fans. He is widely appreciated for his musical abilities and distinctive style, although some find his work to be too experimental or inaccessible. His action music is brutal and atonal. Sometimes, in underscore, he uses very fast French horn passages with bending tones and whining. Goldenthal has said that he doesn't "hear" atonal and tonal, rather, "I either hear melody or I hear sonority".
Goldenthal often works with a team he assembled after the soundtrack for Drugstore Cowboy: Teese Gohl as supervising producer, Robert Elhai as orchestrator, Joel Iwataki and Steve McLaughlin as sound engineers and Richard Martinez as electronic music producer. According to Martinez, "a lot of composers want to focus on writing their music, and that's what [his] team allows Elliot to do." At the website filmscoremonthly.com, a former classmate of Goldenthal's commented on an article on the Sphere score from 1998 which stated that when he and Elliot were both studying at the Manhattan School of Music in the '70s, Elliot was already experimenting with unusual techniques. Once, when studying trumpet, Elliot had asked him to "buzz into the wrong end of the mouthpiece and sing into it as well". He thought he was crazy but, looking back after a decade or so of Goldenthal's film and concert music, he "was just way ahead of the rest of us," he said.
Lists of works (not for films)
Concert music works
- 1974 – Three Pieces for Piano
- 1977 – Requiem Mass (un-premiered)
- 1979 – Sonata for Double Bass and Piano (recorded by Tim Cobb & Stephen Gosling)
- 1979 – Los Heraldos Negros - a song cycle for singer and percussion (un-premiered)
- 1979 – Brass Quintet No. 1
- 1980 – Brass Quintet No. 2 (recorded by the Extension ensemble)
- 1979 – Jabberwocky for Woodwind Quartet (set to the poem by Lewis Caroll)(also arranged for two bassoons and winds)
- 1988 – Pastime Variations - a memorial for Ebbets Field for saxophone and chamber orchestra
- 1990 – Shadow Play Scherzo for orchestra celebrating Leonard Bernstein's 70th birthday
- 1996 – Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio (recorded in 1995 by Pacific Symphony Orchestra, featuring Yo Yo Ma)
- 2013 – String Quartet No. 1 "The Stone Cutters" (premiered by the Flux Quartet in 2015)
- 2013 – Adagietto Doloroso for orchestra - Premiered at the Ghent Film Music Festival conducted by Dirk Brossé
- 2014 – Symphony in G# Minor (premiered on May 8, 2014 at Pacific Symphony Orchestra, European premiere with the Bruckner Rochester Linz under Dennis Russell Davies 2015, Romanian Premiere Enescu Fest 2017)
- 2014 – Grand Gothic Suite (inspired by Goldenthal's Batman scores, premiered at Fimucite 2014 in Tenerife July 12, 2014)
- 2015 – Lyric Suite: The Floods of Avon for string orchestra and piano (premiered at Le Poisson Rouge by the MCS Ensemble conducted by Ward Stare, New York City January 2015)
- 2017 – Waltz & Agitato "Pravda" for orchestra, premiered by the Rochester Philharmonic conducted by Ward Stare
- 2017 – For Trumpet & Strings - a concerto premiered by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, conducted by Dirk Brossé with trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth
- 1984 – Play, "The King Stag" (production of Carlo Gozzi's play by Andrei Serban)
- 1985 – Musical, "Liberty's Taken" (an original musical co-created with David Suehsdorf and Julie Taymor)
- 1986 – Musical, "The Transposed Heads" (adapted by Sidney Goldfarb and Julie Taymor from the novel by Thomas Mann)
- 1988 – Play (Commedia), "The Serpent Woman" (production of Carlo Gozzi's Commedia)
- 1988 – Musical, "Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass" (off-Broadway, reworked and recorded for Broadway in 1996; Co-bookwriter, lyricist, arranger of the Latin text.)
- 1997 – Ballet, "Othello" (a ballet with choreography by Lar Lubovitch)
- 1999 – Musical "The Green Bird" (on Broadway production of Carlo Gozzi's work)
Stage director: Julie Taymor
- 2006 – Opera, "Grendel" (opened June at Los Angeles Opera; not released on CD yet as of October 2012)
Libretto: Julie Taymor and J D. McClatchy, after the novel Grendel by John Gardner, and the poem Beowulf
Stage director: Julie Taymor
- 2013 – Play, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (directed by Julie Taymor, written for the Theatre for a new audience production of the Shakespeare play which opened the new Polansky Theater in Brooklyn)
- 2015 – "Grounded" a one-woman play starring Anne Hathaway, premiered at the Public Theatre in New York
- 2017 – "M.Butterfly" music for the play by David Henry Hwang, in a new production directed by Julie Taymor starring Clive Owen