Music has been in Rachel Portman's blood from an early age. Born in England, she learned how to play the piano and violin and was composing by the age of 13. She went on to study at Oxford University where she composed the music for a student film "Privileged" starring Hugh Grant. This film had a small theatrical release and with that early success, a career as a film composer was in little doubt but it took a few years to become established in that role. Before her now extensive film work, Portman performed some sterling work for Television such as the "Living with Dinosaurs" series and the BBC Drama "Oranges are Not the Only Fruit". The director of that latter series, Beeban Kidron, went on to make some Hollywood films and thus helped to give Portman some further big screen experience starting with "Used People". Although no stranger to awards for her Television work, Rachel Portman now has the distinction of being the first female composer to win an oscar for her music for "Emma". Since then, she has been nominated for a further two Academy Awards for "The Cider House Rules" and "Chocolat" (both for director Lasse Halstrom).
Portman writes for conventional orchestral forces (in many cases orchestrating her own work), in what might be described as a light and airy manner, with lush passages for the strings and bouncy rhythms for the woodwinds. These are supplemented with tuned percussion, harp and frequently piano. The nature of her film music may be due in part to the romantic or character-driven nature of the films she has worked on, since so far she has managed to avoid the noisy requirements of the action genre. In those character-based dramas, Portman seems to have a keen eye for the complexities of relationships, and is able summarise and realise those intertwined feelings in music with charm and wit. In most cases there is an overriding mood of humour, happiness and hope. A good example is "Smoke" whose story threads unfold at a relaxed pace with plenty time for character development and audience reflection. The music is there as a casual participant, not forceful or judgemental, but supporting the impression that every life is full of interesting stories. Portman is married to the film producer Uberto Pasolini, and despite a full career has brought three children into the world. Although her main output has been for the cinema, she has recently completed an opera called "The Little Prince".
Among Portman's available soundtracks, we can suggest:
Although not available on Amazon, there is also a compilation album "Rachel Portman - Soundtracks" consisting of 23 film tracks chosen by the composer herself.
Rachel Portman was commissioned to write a piece for the BBC Proms in 2007, and the result was "The Water Diviner's Tale" which received its world premiere on August 27th at the Royal Albert Hall. Portman's orchestration for "The Duchess" is quite typical of costume dramas being based on strings with main theme presented on solo cello plus some harp and piano, but it also has its darker emotional side. The main theme is flexible in nature, and Portman alters its character to suggest a classical nobility, the rural landscape and a rollercoaster emotional ride.
For "Never Let Me Go" based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Portman has crafted an excellent score which suits the film excellently. We don't want to give away any plot spoilers, but the score starts off innocently with little elements of strangeness and darkness, becoming very wistful and emotional. The composer now has an official website at www.RachelPortman.co.uk where you can listen to a number of tracks from her movie scores. Rachel Portman was also the first composer in the "Conversations with Composers" series launched in 2012 and held in the Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall. On mfiles we have also published an Interview with Rachel Portman by author John Caps with a focus on her music for both Stage and Screen.
Here are some CD covers signed by Rachel Portman. Our thanks to Petr Kocanda for permission to use his collection of autographed CDs. Click on any thumbnail below to see the image full size in a separate window.