Composer Interviews


Composer Interview - David Hirschfelder

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

David Hirschfelder morning studio selfie in dressing gown!

20 Questions

My name is...David Hirschfelder

I'm aged... mind your own f---ing business! OK, 50 something, that’s my final offer :)

I work from... usually my home studio in Melbourne, but will travel to wherever my collaborators are, anywhere on the planet.

I've been composing for screen for... 31 years (holy shit!)

Professionally, I'm also a... keyboard player, pianist, conductor (but not a good one!), music producer, musical director, arranger, APRA Ambassador, member of AMPAS, BAFTA and AACTA, occasional lecturer, but mostly I just compose now.

I studied music at... the Faculty of Music, University of Melbourne, and attained first year B.Mus.Hons., but became too distracted with gigging (and perhaps a little youthful rebellion) to actually finish my degree, so I dropped out   :(   … a decision I regretted for most of my late 20s and 30s, but now I’m OK with it.

I'm also a qualified... husband, 35+ years; father, 30+ years…

Something people don't know about me is... when I was a teenager, I had aspirations of becoming a lawyer and/or psychologist. Both these personal interests have remained useful throughout my career!

My musical journey involved... avoiding compulsory gym and sports activities at school by taking up more music instruments, and participating in as many extra-curricula music activities as possible. Ironically, I am now a gym junkie!

The instrument I'm best at is... piano

I also play... various keyboards (including organ & accordion), various percussion instruments, clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone, and guitar (not very well)...

I'm best known for my score(s) to... Strictly Ballroom, Shine, Elizabeth, and The Dressmaker

A score I'm proud of but received little recognition is... The Five People You Meet in Heaven, US TV movie (2004) which hardly anyone has heard of. Composed in LA, and recorded in Budapest by the amazing Gerry O’Riordin, a brilliant UK sound engineer who hardly anyone has heard of. Definitely one of the best recordings and mixes of any of my scores. Yet hardly anyone has heard it.

The score I wish I wrote is... The Mission, because Maestro Morricone’s masterpiece is so epic, beautiful, emotional and melodically stunning. It perfectly unites western classical tradition with South American indigenous sonorities, and it stands with or without the film, as a breathtaking masterwork. The power of the music deeply reflects the film’s central theme of humanity ultimately triumphing over religious domination and cultural Imperialism.

The film I wish I scored is... there are so many films I wish I had scored! But one that now randomly comes to mind is, A Beautiful Mind, because I loved the premise of the fragile mathematical genius, and felt that the narrative offered a unique opportunity to create a score to, among other things, articulate the pure language of mathematics, as only music can.

If I wasn't me, the composer I'd love to be is... probably a composite of Miles Davis, Kate Bush, Imogen Heap, Stravinsky, Morricone, and Beethoven.

My composing style is... always aiming for eclecticism, a blend of order and chaos, anywhere between traditional tonality and abstract expressionism, depending on the brief, and/or my mood.

My favourite sample libraries are... the Vienna Symphonic Library and Symphobia for orchestral (solo and ensemble) instruments, SWAM Audio Modelling for brass, saxophones and clarinets, and the recently acquired Spitfire Chamber Strings.

My must have plug¬in is... I have many “must have plug¬ins”, including the above mentioned virtual instruments - too many to mention here - but Omnisphere is definitely a longtime go-to fave, and my master bus always has Kramer Master Tape inserted on it, aiming for a warm analog tape character to all my demos.

My most memorable recording experience is... in LA conducting my score to Diane Keaton’s film Hanging Up. I remember feeling a sense of awe standing on the conductors’ podium of the Sony Scoring Stage, knowing that about 40 years earlier, probably the year I was born, Miklós Rózsa would have been standing right there conducting one of my all-time favourite scores, Ben Hur.

All my scores seem to include... odd time signatures, asymmetrical rhythmic motifs, symmetrical melodic phrases, shifting modal harmonies, atonal moments, string orchestra, tubular bells, percussion, piano, clarinet, surreal textures, and quite often, choral textures.

My workflow is typically... wake up just before dawn with an idea, after thinking about it the previous day(s), and capturing it before breakfast, and/or gym. Then spending many hours and hours fiddling with the original idea.

I compose using... my “old friend”, the all-in-one composers’ toolbox Logic Pro X, and have done since 1995. But I have also been known to scribble musical sketches on scraps of paper in hotel rooms, and sing melodies or motifs (quite badly) into my iPhone Voice Memos app.

My screen composing income is supplemented by... the occasional classical commission, and of course, APRA and publishing royalties are a godsend in between commission fees.

The people that helped me get to where I am now are... my mum and dad, whose love, encouragement and support during my formative years, were all crucial to my confidence and development as a musical human. Also, Baz Luhrmann, in offering me the Strictly Ballroom gig, was instrumental in turbo-charging my career as a screen composer. Then there’s my beloved Debra - ultimately, I couldn’t have “made it” without her love and support. And of course, there’s my manager and dear friend Peter Hoyland, who has seen me through thick and thin for many years!

If I wasn't a screen composer I'd probably be a... lawyer or psychologist

The things I love about my job are... the excitement of making new noises that work together with pictures, hearing musicians finally breathing life into notes that were once hopeful hieroglyphs, that sense of accomplishment when I realise I’ve finally nailed a scene, and seeing the happy faces of my filmmaking collaborators.

The things I dislike about my job are... unreasonable time constraints, and unreasonable budget constraints.

My favourite piece of technology is... my keyboard-based DAW, because it has grown into a vast orchestra-in-box, facilitating so much experimental fun and production power. But let’s not forget the original orchestra-in-box from whence the aforementioned technology evolved, that much-loved composers’ workstation, for centuries … the piano!

My favourite piece of non film¬score music is... without hesitation Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It was instantly mind-blowing when I first heard it as a 16-year-old, and it still mesmerizes and thrills me to the core every time I hear it now.

My favourite film is...Ben Hur. I have to say I am not at all religious, and I was devastated when I learned that Charlton Heston was in fact, a gun-toting right-wing nut-job. Nevertheless, I still love swords-and-sandals biblical epics. But it is Rózsa’s massively emotive score that makes the movie Ben Hur so memorable; truly one of the 20th century great masterworks in screen composition.

To relax I... go walking, preferably along a tree-lined Yarra river bank, on my way to a cafe with great food and coffee.

A day wouldn't be complete without... a cuddle or three from my darling Debra <3…OK, everybody’s cue to throw up now :)

A recent concert I went to was... the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Leonard Bernstein’s stunning score, Westside Story - to picture (!) Not only did the orchestra totally nail the score, thanks to the amazing baton work of Benjamin Northey the sync between live performance and picture was extraordinary. There was no click track, only old-school visual streamers and hole-punches on the conductors’ video monitor. All the onscreen singing and even the off-beat finger-snaps from the onscreen actors were totally in sync with the MSO’s live rendition of all those crazy syncopations. Very cool!

A book that resonated with me was... Noam Chomsky’s “Global Discontents”. Not only do I admittedly share his left-leaning political views, I really admire the way he so truthfully and elegantly analyses and ruminates on pretty much everything. Such enlightening political commentary, fascinating reading, great grist for the mill!

A message to my fellow composers would be... nurture your musical brain daily with walks, maybe by the sea, perhaps a forest, or any open space filled with Mother Nature. It worked for Beethoven!

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