Recently, Maggie and I got to talking about modern music – specifically, beautiful modern melodies. We agreed that film scores have greatly contributed to the “melody” world – and then there are the pieces that have pretty melodies but sound “film-y”.
A couple relatively modern composers have written beautiful melodies – Charles Ives and Samuel Barber, to name a couple. But what about in the last 50 years? What pieces have been composed recently that keep playing in your head, hours after you’ve heard them?
I set out to discover beautiful pieces that have been written recently – this post is a list of what I found. You’ll see that I kept within the classical-y genre; I didn’t do a lot of research in rap. I heard the rappers are writing some beautiful melodies these days, though!
Before we look at the pieces, I’d like to point out a couple things that make these pieces different from what Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven wrote.
As time has gone by, composers have enlisted the use of modern technology to enhance their works. For example, in the Chariots of Fire theme, you will hear electronic drumming echoes.
The instruments composers are adding to their works get more interesting every day! Here are two videos that show just how innovative composers can be (and I think the videos will explain themselves).
Also, with the help of software, producers can enhance their music – adding man-made crescendos, for example.
The second thing you might bear in mind is the instrument pairings of these pieces. In the days of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, instrument pairings (I think we can safely say) fit into three categories.
The first category is solo pieces. For example, solo instrument works for piano, organ, and harpsichord. You could put orchestral works with no soloist into this group too.
The second category is chamber works like string quartets and piano trios.
The third category is instrument solos with accompaniment – such as violin sonatas with piano accompaniment and violin or piano concertos played in front of an orchestra.
These points made, let’s recognize the pairings in the pieces below. Some of them use “classic” pairings. The Schindler’s List and Gabriel’s Oboe themes both feature soloists with an orchestra. You’ll notice, however, that the two Secret Garden pieces feature a soloist(s) with a keyboard, orchestra, band instruments, and voice backup in the case of Nocturne.
As time moves on, composers will find more instrument pairings – they get more interesting with every composition these days! But enough analysis, let’s take a look at the pieces.
Schindler’s List Theme – John Williams
Where to start? The Schindler’s List movie score has enraptured audiences around the world. It was an instant success in 1993, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score, the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music, and to top it off, the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media! The violin theme, recorded by Itzhak Perlman, has made its way into the modern violinist’s repertoire. Nicola Benedetti has also made the theme popular with her album, The Silver Violin, and her performance at the Classical Brit Awards.
Gabriel’s Oboe – Ennio Morricone
If you ask 10 people if this tune sounds familiar to them, I think 9 of them would say it does. The hauntingly beautiful melody has been played on every instrument imaginable – but personally, I don’t think any instrument can sound as beautiful as the oboe in this piece. Two voice transcriptions have been made; the first by Sarah Brightman, Nella Fantasia, is in Italian and is a popular crossover piece for classical singers. The second is an English transcription by Haley Westenra, Whispers in a Dream.
Nocturne – Rolf Lovland
Nocturne is the piece that made the group Secret Garden famous. After Nocturne won the Eurovision Melody Grand Prix Contest in 1995, Secret Garden’s first album sold over a million copies. The group continues to tour around the world, and you can bet that Nocturne is on their program.
You Raise Me Up – Rolf Lovland and Brendan Graham (lyrics)
By far, You Raise Me Up is the most popular melody that Rolf Lovland ever wrote! The song has been recorded over one-hundred-twenty-five times. Two of the most popular recordings were by Josh Groban and Celtic Woman. Groban’s version was high on the charts, staying at #1 on the 2004 US Adult Contemporary List for six weeks!
Adagio – Rolf Lovland
Another popular piece by Lovland – with a gorgeous melody!
Chariots of Fire
“Titles” of the movie Chariots of Fire simply became known as “Chariots of Fire” within months of its release. The melody stuck in the minds of its listeners and eventually reached number one on multiple US billboard charts. Because of the piece’s association with the Olympics, it has been featured in multiple Olympic events, including the BBC’s coverage of the 2012 Olympics. Here are two videos – one of the original movie score and a skit performed at the 2012 Olympics.
My Heart Will Go On – James Horner
Another timeless classic. Released by Celine Dion in 1997, the song soared to the number one spot on charts around the world. It was the world’s most popular single hit of 1997 and remains Dion’s most popular song to this day. I’ve posted two videos – one of Celine Dion, and an instrumental version I love.
River Flows in You – Yiruma
All of the pieces I’ve listed so far (excluding the pieces by Rolf Lovland) have been featured in a film. Well, here’s a piece by a modern composer that is not famous because of a film: River Flows in You by Yiruma (or Lee Ru-ma). To be honest, I rarely listen to contemporary classical music, but when I heard this piece, and the next piece on my list, I was drawn in by their “simple” melodies.
The Druid’s Prayer – Michele McLaughlin
Michele McLaughlin has written many beautiful pieces (which you’ll especially appreciate if you’re modern composer yourself). She has a way of combining her beautiful melodies with a twist on the accompaniment of the left hand.
Fiddler on the Roof – Jerry Bock
I know this last piece doesn’t exactly come to mind as a beautiful melody – but I couldn’t not mention this film score on my list. The technique of Isaac Stern in the opening cadenza is too amazing not to share with you.
That concludes my list! Tell us what your favorite modern melodies are in the comments section.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. As a bonus, here are two of Maggie’s favorite modern melodies.