Obituary, Jóhann Jóhannsson
The Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson has died aged 48; best known for his work on film-scores including James Marsh’s 2014 biopic of Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything (which was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe), his work combined elements of electronica and minimalism with an elegiac lyricism that occasionally echoed the musical language of composers such as Arvo Pärt, Michael Nyman and Kryzsztof Penderecki.
Jóhannsson was born in Reykjavik on 19th September 1969 and spent his early musical career on the Icelandic rock and metal scene, working with bands such as HAM and Daisy Hill Puppy Farm and producing albums for artists including Marc Almond. From the early 2000s he began to work on a larger orchestral canvas, with the 2006 album IBM 1401: A User’s Manual (inspired in part by his father’s career as a software engineer) attracting widespread acclaim: Pitchfork applauded its depiction of ‘aching nostalgia of a future imagined in the recent past', whilst Sputnik described it as ‘undeniably mesmerising’. He also wrote extensively for TV and cinema, with credits including the soundtracks for Bill Morrison’s 2011 documentary The Miners’ Hymns (a bleak but beautiful elegy on the decline of the coal industry in the north of England), and several films by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve – most notably the science fiction drama Arrival (2016), and the thrillers Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015). (His score for the latter was nominated for an Oscar, but pipped to the post by Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for The Hateful Eight).
Jóhannsson signed to Deutsche Grammophon in 2016; his first (and sadly only) full-length album for the label was inspired by the myth of Orpheus (though he emphasised that the music, which had been some seven years in the gestation, ‘didn’t start out with a conceptual or narrative theme binding the music together’); it was praised by The Guardian for its ‘stately and sombre storytelling’ and described by NPR as ‘the score to a move that only Jóhannsson knows, but you could imagine it’. 2018 will see the release of his soundtracks for Garth Davis’s Mary Magdalene (starring Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor), Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy (with Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough), and James Marsh’s The Mercy, which was released the day before Jóhannsson’s death.
Air Lyndhurst String Orchestra, Anthony Weeden, Jóhann Jóhannsson (programming)
'Jóhannsson’s storytelling is stately and sombre. He does lush, spacious things with piano, organ, solo cello, string quartet, string orchestra, voices and crackling electronics, and the arrangements are sensitively done.' (The Guardian)
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