Born in Germany, Zimmer started his composing career in Europe where he was known for work with electronic instruments. For a period he played keyboards with the pop group "The Camera Club", two of whose members went on to form the group called "The Buggles" which brought "Video Killed the Radio Star" to the UK charts. In composing terms Zimmer's career has been a traditional one of working his way up through the ranks, writing jingles for commercials, frequent work on electronic scores (e.g. "The Last Emperor"), and collaborating with established composer Stanley Myers on films such as "Moonlighting" and "My Beautiful Laundrette", and then onto TV work in the US on programmes such as "Miami Vice".
Following earlier success with the incidental music for "The Lion King", "Rain Man" and "Thelma and Louise", Zimmer has now firmly arrived on the Hollywood movie scene with a string of first class film scores over the past decade. Having worked on a variety of different types of movie, he has been able to demonstrate a wide variety of styles. He is particularly adept at blending diverse styles into a musical fusion of classical, pop and world music. His style is very much to create simple thematic material, and then give them the Zimmer treatment to craft them into highly effective pieces of film music embodying the mood of a film, such that music and movie complement perfectly. Given his recent success with "Gladiator", Zimmer is definitely one to watch and Hollywood has chosen him to score Hannibal, the "Mission Impossible" sequel and the blockbuster "Pearl Harbour".
Given Zimmer's adaptability and his penchant for collaboration, it is difficult to characterise his style with a single example. The soundtrack to "True Romance" features only a modest amount of original music. Here Zimmer creates a lilting carefree tune with xylophone and pizzicato string sounds. It might suggest Afro-Caribbean steel bands, but it definitely has a feel of parties and celebtrations. The theme itself and sometimes just the gentle percussive sound recur as suggestions rather than a prominent motif throughout the movie. There is also some atmospheric electronic music for some very violent scenes. The combination of synthesisers and simple repetitive theme suggests Vangelis more than any other influence. However it now transpires that the theme is not original. On youtube here is the theme from True Romance (1993) and here is the theme from Badlands (1973) scored by George Tipton though this and other tracks by Carl Orff.
As another example, his Hannibal is superficially a standard horror soundtrack with various sampled effects and shocks. But at the same time, as well as replaying Bach's Aria from the Goldberg Variations (as previously "aired" in the original "Silence of the Lambs" by Howard Shore, and also incidentally appearing among Gabriel Yared's excellent music for "The English Patient"), Zimmer blends a wide variety of classical styles from plainsong, baroque and classical to the great moving adagios of Wagner and Mahler and even the otherworldly Ligeti. Having mentioned Ligeti (perhaps this is a strange association with the music for 2001), there is a delicious track called "Gourmet Valse Tartare" which is a witty rendition of a Blue Danube type waltz which goes off the rails. Though not composed by Zimmer is a great treat and included on the soundtrack album.
One of Zimmer's more recent file scores is "Black Hawk Down" and the soundtrack is very memorable indeed. The story is set in Somalia and based on a real incident. The soundtrack features a lot of atmospheric ethnic music representing the local region, and this is blended with some hard rock music representing the American soldiers. In places a helicopter sound effect also features in the mix. The credits include many contributions from instrumentalists, singers and other musicians including again the vocal talents of Lisa Gerard. Although some of Zimmer's scores have lacked the sparkle of originality, others stand out firmly from the crowd including "The Last Samurai" which in addition to its combat scenes has a spiritual side. In recent years Zimmer has been well-represented among the summer blockbusters with composer credits for both "King Arthur" and the "Thunderbirds" live action movie. The Pirates of the Caribbean films now number three, with the third CD installment "At World's End" including a substantial booklet - see these links for more information: Amazon.co.uk in the UK, or Amazon.com in the US.
Zimmer scored the romantic comedy called The Holiday where Jack Black plays the part of a film composer. This allowed the movie to include a number of film score references, and we can't help wondering if these reflect some of the films and composers who have influenced Hans Zimmer. There are a few references to the themes of John Williams for example, but Ennio Morricone's music for "Cinema Paradiso" seems especially well-represented and Zimmer seems to hint at this in the score itself. We also highly recommend Zimmer's fun score for Sherlock Holmes, and his atypical but ground-breaking score for the film Inception.
For the 4th "Pirates of the Caribbean" film "On Stranger Tides" Zimmer worked closely with Guitar Duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela. While the familiar Pirates themes are still included, they don't dominate the film to the same extent and the guitar playing gives an exciting extra dimension to the music. The film has now been on general release and the soundtrack CD (with some interesting dance-style "remixes") can be found via these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. To give you a flavour of the score here is a link where you can hear preview snippets of All the Tracks. Previews of Zimmer's latest score, for "The Dark Knight Rises" have been posted and are sounding very good - try this link at Empire Magazine for example. Also in comic-book hero mode, Zimmer has also scored "Man of Steel".
Zimmer has also contributed to the world of Video Game Music by composing the themes for "Crysis 2". Other than the themes, the soundtrack credits say music by Borislav Slavov, Tilman Sillescu, Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe. The original game score for "Crysis" was composed by Inon Zur.
Check out the soundtrack to "The Thin Red Line" or "Gladiator" as good introductions to Zimmer's work. We also highly recommend the recording of a live concert of Zimmer's music given at the Flanders International Film Festival known as Wings of a Film. Hans Zimmer's former film music company "Mediaventures" which gave training and experience to many of today's film composers no longer exists under this name, though a new film music venture called "Remote Control Productions" is involved in similar activities. There is an official web-site which currently says "coming soon" at HansZimmer.com.
There is quite a variety of Hans Zimmer sheet music available. We concentrate here on piano sheet music, but you will find sheet music for other instruments and bands available. We have also seen the theme from "Driving Miss Daisy" in a collection.
Here are two CD covers, one signed by Hans Zimmer and one signed by Klaus Badelt. 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.