Alexandre Desplat is a French-born composer who has scored for more than 150 films. His work has a very wide range, that mixes beautifully romantic scores for films like The Kings Speech and The Imitation Game, with his more quirky, humorous scores in collaboration with Wes Anderson.
Born in Paris in 1961, Desplat began playing the piano at the age of five and as a cinema lover he always wanted to compose for films. His career began in the 1980’s, but his first major film scores were for French films in the early 1990’s. His first English language score was for a 1998 British comedy titled ‘Sweet Revenge’, but he achieved his big break with 2003’s ‘The Girl with The Pearl Earring’, for which he achieved his first major award nominations. His success continued with more nominations for his scores for ‘The Queen’, ‘The Painted Vail’ (which won the Golden Globe for best score) and ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’.
Alexandre Desplat has scored for a very wide range of genres, from dramas like ‘Argo’ and ‘The Danish Girl’, to blockbusters like ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Godzilla’. His musical ability and knowledge of a wide range of unique instruments has enabled him to inject humour, emotion or intensity, depending on what the film requires. The stark difference between the beautifully emotive score for ‘The Imitation Game’, compared with the huge blockbuster sound of ‘Godzilla’, shows how diverse his skills as a composer are.
In 2009, Desplat scored for Wes Andersons ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ and since then has worked on every Wes Anderson film, including the up-and-coming Isle of Dogs. His quirkier scores have come to define Andersons films and are prominent in many parodies of his work. The Anderson scores focus more on unique instrumentations, and stray away from the more traditional orchestral set up of Desplat’s other scores. These use a smaller scale of musicians and will often use ethnic choirs, bells and upbeat tempo’s to create a more unique sound.
In 2014, he scored for Andersons 8th film, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, and in my mind it’s his greatest score to date. Just like the film, the score was wonderfully quirky and timeless, providing a fantastically ethnic feeling to the film. In an interview in the Grand Budapest book, he stated that he took inspiration from Hungarian Gypsy music, as well as the elegance of Mozart’s music. However, he didn’t want the score to sound pristine or crystal clear, and this is why he chose to use an eclectic mix of European instruments such as the Zither, Balalaika, Alpen Horn and Cimbalom, alongside several ethnic choirs, organs and even whistlers. It was this bizarre mix of sounds that helped make the film so unique, and it deservingly won him his first Academy Award for Best Original Score.
Alexandre Desplat won the Oscar again this year with his score for ‘The Shape of Water’, another beautiful score with some tingling themes. Desplat’s varied scores have given a huge variety of moods to various films, and with no signs of slowing, I’m sure we are promised many more glowing scores in the future.
If you’re interested, here are my Top 10 favourite Alexandre Desplat scores (as well as a key track from each that I recommend):
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (“The Cold-Blooded Murder of Deputy Vilmos Kovacs”)
- Godzilla (“Godzilla!”)
- The Imitation Game (“Alan Turing’s Legacy”)
- The Secret Life of Pets (“Meet the Pets”)
- The Shape of Water (‘The Shape of Water”)
- Fantastic Mr. Fox (“Jimmy Squirrel and Co.”)
- Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 (“Showdown”)
- The Danish Girl (“Lili’s Dream”)
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (“The Swings Of Central Park”)
- The Girl With The Pearl Earing (“Griet’s Theme”)