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by Seth Colter Walls

April 1, 2014

Jonny Greenwood: Classical Composer

by Seth Colter Walls  |  April 1, 2014

Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's classical catalog can be difficult to get one's head around -- mostly because he's been commissioned to write works for various orchestras that have then been carved up to serve popular film scores. As many Radiohead fans know, director Paul Thomas Anderson asked Greenwood to score 2007's beloved There Will Be Blood.

For that flick, Greenwood used some of his pre-existing orchestral music -- specifically, bits of a piece called Popcorn Superhet Receiver -- which disqualified him for an Oscar that many people (including me) felt he deserved. (The music's just too good!) But the score for Blood also featured brand-new Greenwood chamber music. Likewise, Greenwood's score for Anderson's following film, The Master, included new music, as well as licks adapted from another large composition, 48 Responses to Polymorphia.

After several years of confusion on these matters, we're steadily getting a complete discography together. With the winter 2014 release of a suite of orchestral music from There Will Be Blood -- and 2013 releases of Popcorn and Polymorphia in their original versions -- it's now relatively easy to hear the best of Greenwood's oeuvre. Click play on our mix, and you'll start with that new, six-movement suite of original symphonic music for There Will Be Blood. We follow it up with some chamber pieces original to The Master. Then we dip into Popcorn Superhet Receiver in its entirety, another Greenwood soundtrack (for the film Norwegian Wood), and then move on to Polymorphia.

Heard in full, 48 Responses to Polymorphia hits many of the high points of Greenwood's orchestral sound: Dreamy tonal moments are driven to alarming points of disintegration via squealing glissandos and overtone overload. But he's not just a color-by-numbers modernist, either, as some of the incidental Blood music proves. One of the last cuts here is from Greenwood's 2003 solo album, Bodysong. Despite its status as a miniature, it still reveals the skill that has since been put to work in the guitarist's big symphonic gestures. At this point, it's fair to say that some people (ahem, me) are looking forward more to future Greenwood works for orchestra than to additional Radiohead albums proper. (Though I'll take those, too, of course!)

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