6 female film composers you should know about

6 important female composers who have written stunning music for the big screen.

6 female film composers you should know about

Music is a highly male-dominated industry. However, many female composers have been responsible for some iconic pieces of music that you or may not have known a woman was responsible for. Here are six important female composers who have written stunning music for the big screen. 


Rachel Portman

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In 87, years just three women have won the Academy Award for ‘Best Original Score’. The first of those was Rachel Portman in 1997 for the score of Emma, starring Gwenyth Paltrow. With over 100 credits to her name, Portman has a very distinctive writing style, bringing the nostalgically classical structure of music to the 21st Century. Her writing style brings a charm to the films that she writes for, establishing recognisable themes for characters and situations in a beautifully subtle way.

Other notable films Portman has composed for are Chocolat, The Duchess, Oliver Twist, The Cider House Rules, and Mona Lisa Smile.


Anne Dudley

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Anne Dudley was the second woman to win the Oscar for her original score. She won ‘Best Original Musical or Comedy Score’ in 1997 for her work on The Full Monty, with James Horner taking home ‘Best Original Dramatic’ Score for Titanic that year. Dudley has also worked on many successful TV scores, including the 2015 BBC series Poldark, the music of which was nominated for a BAFTA. However, her career is not restricted to TV and Film. She has created string and orchestral arrangements for numerous popular artists, such as Elton John, Robbie Williams, Rick Astley, Cher, Paul McCartney and George Michael.


Delia Derbyshire

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Born in 1937, Delia Darbyshire grew up in England during a pivotal time of music-making. Her fascination with both music and mathematics earned her scholarship to Cambridge. She had a deep interest and passion for electronic music and hoped to create her own work. However, she was rejected by Decca Records for the sole reason that she was a woman. Upon looking elsewhere, she accepted a position at the BBC as a Trainee Assistant Studio Manager. Her inventive skills transformed Ron Grainer’s original composition into what we now know as the Doctor Who theme tune.

Find out more about her influence on electronic music here: https://www.bbc.com/historyofthebbc/100-voices/pioneering-women/women-of-the-workshop/delia-derbyshire

https://www.sparkmuseum.org/who-really-created-the-doctor-who-theme-song/


Wendy Carlos

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Another woman with a keen enthusiasm for electronic musical creation was Wendy Carlos, born in the USA in 1939. Wendy Carlos, born Walter Carlos, was a revolutionary musical mind who became an important role model for women and the LGBT+ community in male-dominated fields. 

She was the first to create an entire recording of synthesised classical music, with her album “Switched on Bach”. Her great musical innovation created the soundtracks for The Shining, TRON and A Clockwork Orange.

Find out more about her influence in electronic music here: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/nov/11/she-made-music-jump-into-3d-wendy-carlos-the-reclusive-synth-genius


Angela Morley

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Another key role model for the LGBT+ community was Angela Morley, formerly known as Wally Scott. A number of works were published under the name of Scott before the composer lived publicly as Angela Morley. As Morley, she contributed to music of The Little Prince (1974), with the film being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music. In 1978, Morley contributed her work to the film Watership Down, arranging Mike Batt’s song ‘Bright Eyes’, turning it into an iconic song recognised even now. She was uncredited in the film.


Hildur Guðnadóttir

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Holding the most recent title of Oscar winner is Hildur Guonadottir, born in Iceland in 1982. The award was for her work on the music of the 2019 film Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix. Her film music career started around 2007, with her rustic and atmospheric music enhancing thrillers such as Sicario, The Oath and, more recently, Chernobyl (2019), which won her a Primetime Emmy Award for ‘Outstanding Music Composition’. It seemed that Guðnadóttir took a break in 2020, as much of the world did, but promptly returned to writing music, with her first work for a video game (Battlefield 2042) and two films currently in post-production.

Header Image Credit: Amy Clewlow

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Rosalie Amos

Rosalie Amos Contributor

Music and Drama graduate from the University of Manchester.
Member of the Incorporated Society of Musicians.
Soprano in The Bach Choir.

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