Since George Fenton has scored both US and UK made films his range truly spans the Atlantic. More recently his work is more likely to be associated with life beneath the waves - about which more later. He had an early success with "Gandhi" which received an oscar nomination, and has established a good working relationship with Gandhi's director Richard Attenborough who went on to use Fenton's composing skills again in both "Cry Freedom" and "Shadowlands". On Gandhi Fenton mostly kept his orchestration transparent to blend better with the India elements provided by Ravi Shankar. Fenton has also composed for a number of theatre and stage productions. In the UK some of Fenton's best-known work is for the small screen, having provided the theme tunes for some very successful TV series including the theme tune for the cult detective series "Bergerac" based on the Channel Island of Jersey.
Among his most celebrated television commissions are several examples from BBC television's natural history series, including "The Trials of Life" and "Life in the Freezer". Most prominent among these collaborations is the wonderfully atmospheric music for "The Blue Planet", a series narrated by David Attenborough (coincidentally the brother of Richard). Among many wonderful tracks on the album, there are the exciting "Sardine Run", the "Spinning Dolphins" in the form of a Greek Dance, and the majestic and powerful "Blue Whale". This album contains some exceptional music and is highly recommended. Fenton has since turned this award-winning music into a concert piece accompanied with footage from the series on large screens. There was a performance in London's Hyde Park on 15th September 2003 and further performances around the world. The concept has not stopped there, since BBC Worldwide released a new feature-length film called Deep Blue which opened in the UK in June 2004 and was broadcast on BBC1 in September 2005. This film is narrated by the actor Michael Gambon and accompanied by George Fenton's music performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The music is in the same engaging style, with some thematic references to the original series.
The soundtrack to "Groundhog Day" (which term may soon enter the English language to mean any repetitive rehearsal activity) is illustrative of Fenton's light romantic comedy style (albeit with a darker more philosophical side) and a main title speaking eloquently of small town band with clarinets and brass. Bill Murray learns to play the piano, including in his repertoire Mozart's Sonata in C and the well-known variation from Rachmaninoff's masterpiece based on the Paginini Theme. And who wouldn't have suicidal tendencies if played "I've Got You Babe" every morning at 6am! The soundtrack album does have a few of these other tracks and songs, but also several of Fenton's.
Like Groundhog Day, many of Fenton's more recent scores are examples of song-driven soundtracks where much of the background music consists of pre-recorded songs put together by the Music Supervisor. The composer's job is then to stitch the whole thing together "seemlessly" and make it work. An example might be "You've Got Mail" where the composer has created short comedic and romantic interludes to bridge the subtly changing moods and work with the song material. Although George Fenton is an accomplished composer in his own right, he proves himself very able in these circumstances to come up with the goods, nicely rounding off a soundtrack which might otherwise be episodic.
The latest natural history series from the BBC is called "Planet Earth" and again the programme makers have sought the services of George Fenton to realise the musical atmosphere to accompany this series which takes natural photography to new heights. The series will be split into two blocks of programmes, and a feature film release is also planned as happened with "The Blue Planet" and "Deep Blue". Although the series has only just started its initial broadcasts, it is already clear that the series has used a combination of new technology and a lot of patience to put together some of the most stunning footage ever shot of wildlife on planet earth. It is an important task to bring music to this footage and convey the appropriate levels of humility, inspiration and awe in the face of this spectacle.
George Fenton presented a series about film music on BBC Radio 2, called "You Heard it at the Movies". He also appeared in 2009 at London's Barbican with the LSO performing a concert of his music for film and Television. In the same way that audiences expect the voice of David Attenborough to present wildlife series on TV, George Fenton's skills seem indispensable for the soundtrack. The two were paired again on the BBC series "Life" and most recently on "Frozen Planet" which again includes some truly specactular wildlife photography. The range of habitats in the sea and the air, below and on ice flows and ice bergs, and in the interior of earth's frozen wastelands give Fenton lots of scope for his involving orchestral music.
George Fenton has recently leant his support to "The Mozart Project", an interactive e-Book now available from iTunes. There are 10 chapters compiled by various distinguish music authors dedicated to different aspects of Mozart's life and work, with audio-visual content and over 3 hours of musical extracts and examples.
Fenton's music from "Frozen Planet", "The Blue Planet" and "Planet Earth" has now been arranged for piano and the sheet music for these arrangements is available from these links at The Music Room and at Sheet Music Plus.
If you'd like to sample Fenton's music in CD form, there is much to chose from depending on your personal tastes, favourite movies and TV series. If you haven't done so already listened to the CDs from his BBC natural history programmes, then check out our review of teh soundtrack from the BBC film Deep Blue, and we think you'll enjoy the following:
Here is a CD cover signed by George Fenton. Our thanks to Petr Kocanda for permission to use his collection of autographed CDs. Click any thumbnail below to see the image full size in a separate window.