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Danny Elfman is a composer of film and television musical scores. Since the 1980s, he’s scored over 50 films, the most famous being his score for Batman. His style has often been described as Wagneresque, though Danny Elfman acknowledges he is more influenced by Hermann. His scores often echo the deep Romantic tones of the 19th and early 20th century composers.
Danny Elfman began his career as a performer in the avant-garde theatrical group formed by his brother Richard, called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo-Boingo. As Richard went on to work on films, Danny Elfman distilled the group into a rock band in the late 1970s.
The newly named new wave group, Oingo Boingo, enjoyed some popularity. However, the band was primarily a cult favorite. Only the much later song “Deadman’s Party,” ever reached the top 40 listings for rock bands.
Danny Elfman shared composition rights with his partner and lead guitarist, Steve Bartek, who now orchestrates many of Elfman’s scores. Danny Elfman was lead singer, back-up guitarist and lyricist for Oingo Boingo. His lyrics contribute to the band’s cult popularity, as they are frequently funnily dark, mocking topics like death and insanity.
The band drew influence from ska, and featured a horn section. Elfman is also a gifted trombonist. The music was unlike other new wave by emphasizing live performance rather than digitalizing most of their music as many of the 1980s bands did. Live performances were thrilling since they were unpredictable and unique.
Oingo Boingo disbanded in the early 90s, as Danny Elfman began to produce more scores for films. Later concerts clearly evidenced that the band was not practicing regularly. As a composer for films, Danny Elfman first scored his brother Richard’s film The Forbidden Zone, which is now considered by many Oingo Boingo fans to be a cult classic. In 1985, he also scored Black Beauty, but it was his pairing with Tim Burton that would bring him international notice as film composer.
Tim Burton, an avid Oingo Boingo fan, wanted Danny Elfman to score for his movies. Their first two films, Peewee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, were modestly successful. Burton was tapped to direct Batman, and the result was that both director and composer got considerable notice, with Danny Elfman winning a Grammy for best original theme from a film.
Since that time, Elfman has scored virtually all of Burton’s films, receiving an Oscar nomination for his score of Big Fish. The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, feature both composition and vocal performances by Danny Elfman. His gift as a lyricist is also evident in his wonderful and weird songs for the recent Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.
Elfman is also known for his pairing with Sam Raimi, who directed the Spider Man series. Not all of his work focuses on action or horror films, and some scores represent his range as a composer, including those for the films Charlotte’s Web, and Milk. Elfman’s TV scores represent diversity too, as evidenced by two of his most popular themes from The Simpsons and Desperate Housewives.
The prolific composer has sometimes been considered an outsider in the film composition world, though this is changing. Still, Elfman has often stated that he has no desire to compose a symphony. Unlike many other composers, he has no formal training, but is a fan of classical music, citing Hermann and Prokofiev as favorites. Elfman’s vast catalog of works, which continues to expand, is likely to remain a strong influence in the music and film worlds.