Elliot Goldenthal (born May 2, 1954) is an American composer of contemporary classical music and film and theatrical scores. A student of Aaron Copland and John Corigliano, he is best known for his distinctive style and ability to blend various musical styles and techniques in original and inventive ways. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 2002 for his score to the motion picture Frida, directed by his longtime partner Julie Taymor.
Early life and education
Goldenthal was born on May 2, 1954, 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.
Goldenthal has written works for concert hall, theater, dance and film. His work includes music for films such as Pet Sematary, 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 two 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.
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.
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 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.