Few film composers have the range and scope of Hans Zimmer. As comfortable scoring epic, atmospheric soundtracks for moody blockbusters (The Dark Knight, Inception) and kaleidoscopic wonders for peak-era Disney classics (The Lion King) as he is small-scale motifs for leftfield romantic thrillers (True Romance), his soundtracks are like no other. Even when it came to seasonal romcoms The Holiday, his unique ability to weave drama and intimacy resulted in a score that deserves to be better known.
A transatlantic affair in which Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz swap houses for the holidays, only to find their love lives upended by Jack Black and Jude Law, The Holiday demanded several things at once from Hans Zimmer’s score: Christmas warmth, relationship drama, and emotional payoff. From the opening five notes of the soundtrack album, it’s clear that Zimmer handled the first challenge with ease. Alert listeners will hear a five-note refrain that subtly references The Pogues’ perennial Christmas classic, “Fairytale Of New York.” Stick on the opening cue, “The Maestro,” and quietly sing “It was Christmas Eve, babe” along with Zimmer’s piano, and it won’t be long before you hear the reference weave its way through other cues, like “Kayak For One” and “The Musketeers.” Not that Zimmer needs to rely on other people’s songs to conjure a Christmas feeling. “Dream Kitchen” shimmers with sleigh bells, staccato melodies, and oven-side warmth suitable for cozy nights at home with loved ones.
The score is rife with relationship drama and emotional payoff, too: Zimmer, along with collaborators – Brazilian composer Heitor Pereia, Latin/jazz trumpeter Herb Alpert and electropop singer-songwriter Imogen Heap among them – created a work that ranges from intimate jazzy guitar runs to mini-epic string swells, as if tracing the ebbs and flows of burgeoning relationships and the complications that can befall them.
Released in time for the 2006 holidays, The Holiday was the box office money-raker you would expect from its big-name cast, and fans continue to revisit it every Yuletide season. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, however, is a life-affirming score that isn’t just for Christmas.
From moving to London in the ’80s, to scoring Blue Planet II, Zimmer discusses highlights from his career. “I’m still hunting down the great tune I’ve never written… I just know I could do better,” he says.
In collaboration with Hans Zimmer and her brother, Finneas, Billie Eilish became the youngest artist in history to write a James Bond theme when she penned “No Time to Die.” “I just loved it from the moment I heard it,” Zimmer reveals.
From big-hitters like The Lion King and The Dark Knight, to his often-forgotten score for True Romance, the classical-music experts give their opinion on Zimmer’s greatest works.
DEEP CUTS WE LOVE…
“Kayak For One” - A light-hearted 90-second interlude in which gentle bossa nova is punctuated by subtle vocals and underpinned by soft electronic babbles, “Kayak For One” is the only Holiday cue scored by Ryeland Allison. Listen for a nylon-stringed guitar picking out that five-note Pogues nod.
“Anything Can Happen” - Co-created by Zimmer and Heitor Pereia, at just 48 seconds, “Anything Can Happen” is the shortest cue on The Holiday, but it packs a wealth of emotion into the dreamy rise and fall of its strings. Zimmer’s piano and some barely-there synth washes slowly transform the piece, underlining the title’s suggestion that new discoveries are just around the corner.
“Verso E Prosa” - Pereia takes the reins on this, one of only two vocal cues on The Holiday’s soundtrack album. Back to the bossa nova themes that surface throughout, it’s an alluring piece enhanced by playful trumpet.
“Cry” - Credited to Zimmer, Pereia and the Emmy-nominated Lorne Balfe, “Cry” provides the emotional payoff The Holiday’s score inevitably builds to. A tasteful inclusion of electric guitars gives the cue a bit of extra heft, before that recurring motif is picked out one last time, on solo piano.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Hans Zimmer is an entirely self-taught musician (he has said he was “thrown out of eight schools”).
- Ennio Morricone’s score for Once Upon a Time in the West inspired him to become a composer.
- Zimmer worked with the Buggles in the late 70s and made a cameo appearance in the promo clip for their UK No.1 hit, “Video Killed the Radio Star.”
- He also produced a song for goth-punks the Damned, “The History of the World (Part 1),” earning himself an “Over-Produced by Hans Zimmer” credit in the process.
- Zimmer won an Oscar for his work on Disney’s The Lion King, and to date has been nominated for 11 Academy Awards, receiving at least one nod in each decade since the ’80s.
Listen to The Holiday: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack in its entirety on your preferred streaming platform or purchase on wax below.
Words: Jason Draper