Keeping score: the good, the better and the fabulous

As you start to take in the scale of Hans Zimmer's discography, a library of Hollywood film scores perhaps unequalled in size, you begin to realise how much his body of work serves as the soundtrack to our lives.

It spans My Beautiful Laundrette, Rain Man and Driving Miss Daisy in the 1980s, and Thelma & Louise, The Power of One, A League of Their Own and The Lion King in the 1990s, to blockbusters such as Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Christopher Nolan's Batman films, the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Iron Man and Interstellar.

Legendary film composer Hans Zimmer.Credit:AP

Those films, which between them account for an extraordinary $US11.7 billion ($17 billion) in box-office revenue, are merely the tip of the creative and commercial iceberg, cherry-picked from the more than 140 film scores that Zimmer has personally composed, and some 70 more films he has produced.

When I suggest to Zimmer that his music has been the soundtrack of my life, he laughs and gently corrects me. "Well, it's my life, actually. And there is a shape to it."

He pauses. "I am hesitating, do I want to talk about this? When I first came to Hollywood, one of the first movies I did was Driving Miss Daisy and the publicity person, Ronni Chasen, saw me and said, 'Hey, you're good, I want to do something with you'. She became like my mum, she was there by my side throughout my whole career."

Chasen, one of Hollywood's legendary publicists and the mastermind behind many successful Oscar campaigns, was shot and killed in Los Angeles in 2010, the victim of a drive-by shooting. The subject is clearly a difficult one for Zimmer, who counted her among his closest friends.

One of Hans Zimmer’s most-loved works, The Lion King.Credit:Disney

In assembling the music for his show, Hans Zimmer Live, the 62-year-old Grammy, Golden Globe and Oscar-winning composer says the setlist inevitably signposts the journey "through all those years with Ronni. The first thing she had me playing was Driving Miss Daisy, the last thing was Inception.

"I don't really like to talk about it [but] I will play at the end to say goodbye to her, to remember her," Zimmer says, tenderly. "And I will do a very long version of Dark Knight, because I want people to remember Heath Ledger. They are just moments, because a lot of stuff has happened in that time, in all those years."

Growing up in Germany in the 1960s, Zimmer was thrown out of a succession of piano schools and ended up teaching himself. It was, he says, a "strict diet of Mozart and Beethoven and related composers, there was nothing else that was as emotionally poignant and satisfying. There was nothing that could move you as much."

Zimmer's father, engineer (and inventor) Hans Joachim Zimmer, died when the composer was a boy and to some extent, Zimmer says, he used music to escape his grief.

Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard with their Golden Globe for best original score for Gladiator. Credit:AP

"In The Lion King, which seems to be a current movie again, it is the story of the death of the father," he says. "It is really where I figure [it] out, and sometimes the only way I can be honest with the death of my own father.

"I see music as a way of opening the door, so the listener can have an experience," Zimmer adds. "I'm not going to tell you what the experience is, but you have to open the door and let the audience have an emotional experience, so they feel something."

His first pay cheque as a composer came from George Martin, the man behind the Beatles, who had commissioned him to write a composition for him. "As soon as you say that, I can see the cheque in front of me. It was a blue cheque, made out for £35 only," Zimmer says. "Funniest thing is, I can't remember what the job was, but that's beside the point. All I knew was I was on my way and it was good, it was really good.

"The important thing is, I didn't know anything," Zimmer adds, wryly. "They asked me if I could do whatever it was they wanted, whatever was required. I had never done it before, but I said yes, of course I can.

"I just figured it out. What I learned was, the important thing is to say yes. You'll figure out the rest as you go."

One of Hans Zimmer’s greatest influences, the Morricone masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West.Credit:AFP

Zimmer was fascinated by film. The scores of the celebrated Italian composer Ennio Morricone, particularly Once Upon a Time in the West, were thrilling to the young classicist, who found in them a bridge from the world of Mendelssohn to movies. The composer Stanley Myers became a mentor, which led Zimmer to one of his first films, 1985's groundbreaking My Beautiful Laundrette.

His collaborations are passionate. He talks lovingly of clashes with Gore Verbinski, Terrence Malick and Ridley Scott, and such collaborations (and others, including with Penny Marshall, Ron Howard, Zack Snyder and John Woo) have produced extraordinary work from both the filmmakers and the composer.

From the roaring African choirs of The Power of One and The Lion King, the duduk (an ancient Armenian double reed woodwind) and yangqin (a Chinese hammered dulcimer) used in The Gladiator, and the pastiche of cellos and a boy choir for the dark, melancholy Batman Begins, Zimmer's musical suite is both eclectic and exquisite.

Each is carefully crafted and, says the father of the modern soundtrack, there are favourites.

"Absolutely, completely, and that's why I didn't pick the tracks [for the live show], because I knew I was going to get into trouble," Zimmer says, laughing. "So I just said to the band, what do you want to play and they made a list."

That said, Zimmer did have two requests: he didn't want to do either The Lion King or Gladiator. "And they basically told me I was a complete idiot," he says, laughing. "They spent a long time telling me. It's amazing how many words they found to tell me what an idiot I was."

Of The Lion King, whose opening track, Nants' Ingonyama (Circle of Life) is now a much-loved classic, he says simply: "What am I going to do with a kid's movie?" And Gladiator he describes as "the most undisciplined thing I ever wrote, it's all over the place, I didn't know how to get it into shape."

The band won both standoffs, and both iconic soundtracks are included in the show. "I didn't know how to solve it but the great thing about being the band and not being the composer is that you know they will just figure it out," Zimmer says.

The staging for the show comes from Tony Award-winning stage designer Derek McLane, whose credits include the Broadway shows Beautiful, The Carole King Musical, Anything Goes and 33 Variations, for which he won a Tony Award in 2009, and the live television musical productions of The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, and The Wiz.

And in a way that perhaps only Hans Zimmer could, he says he asked McLane "can you just knock something up for this?"

"I've got to sort of do something relatively fabulous but very simple because, again, everybody is aware it's going to be about the musicians," Zimmer says. "I am in the spotlight but it's really about all the other players, you know, who have been amazing over the years, it's about the music and I've got 40 tonnes of lights and Pink Floyd's lighting designer."

Zimmer is equal parts artist and showman. And plainly he revels in the idea of dazzling his audience. But he also wants to challenge them. And surprise them.

When The Lion King was first released in 1994, he notes, it was the first film produced by the Disney studio that opened with a voice from Africa. "It was just an idea, to say, 'Come along on this journey, it's going to be different'," Zimmer says. " 'You're not going to have a fairytale princess in this one, it's going to be different'.

"I don't think music is there to answer questions, it's there to ask questions. The questions are always more interesting than the answers."

Hans Zimmer Live tours Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne in October. Tickets mjrpresents.com

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