Johnny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood soundtrack

The film is picking up awards, but don't overlook the music to There Will Be Blood, says Stuart

Paul Thomas Anderson’s critically acclaimed There Will Be Blood is in the process of being nominated for every award going (Oscars included), but it is Jonny Greenwood, the man behind the movie’s score, who proves to be the most unusual piece of this puzzle.

Jonny Greenwood is better known as the guitarist in Radiohead, but where most members of successful bands form crappy side projects to fulfil their song-writing ego, Greenwood has been busy writing and composing classical pieces. A trained classical musician, having been playing the viola and piano from a young age, Greenwood has always strayed from the image of a typical lead guitarist, creating his own unique style of playing while also writing brilliant string and piano parts. And it is mainly his influence that has allowed Radiohead to continually be at the forefront of popular music.

It was with this in mind that Greenwood’s first project outside of Radiohead was the soundtrack to award winning documentary Bodysong (2003). Based around director Simon Pummell’s original idea of using library footage of the past 100 years to tell the story of an archetypal human life, Greenwood wrote the score first to allow the documentary to be cut around his music. It gave the score a life of its own outside of the documentary, while also beautifully underscoring the piece.

Following this project, and with Radiohead on a break from recording and touring, Greenwood was hired by the BBC as its composer in residence in May 2004, and has since written pieces that have been performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra and the London Sinfonietta including Popcorn Superhet Receiver, which won the Radio 3 Listener’s Award and also drew the attention of P T Anderson.

Ad – content continues below

A brilliant piece that drew influence from Gyorgy Ligeti, whose pieces were, unknown to him, used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Ligeti didn’t know his music was so heavily used in the movie until he saw 2001 at the cinema) and Krystof Pendrecki’s Threndoy for the victims of Hiroshima. Both pieces use dissonant chords (‘unstable’ sounds that do not resolve to a ‘home’ key) to powerful effect, with Ligeti turning the orchestra into an almost electronic instrument, and Pendrecki uses the string section to represent the screams of the victims of Hiroshima.

Greenwood’s score is clearly a homage to these composers but also a very individual composition, being both beautiful and haunting while also clearly representing the themes of the movie. His score is very untypical for such a epic movie, with no concurrent themes running throughout the whole piece. Greenwood has already avoided the easy option, letting these pieces both stand on their own while also fitting together as a whole.

With There Will Be Blood, Greenwood has created a unique and remarkable score, showing that he has the potential to be one of the great contemporary composers of the 21st century, and, at least, one of the most original.