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Theremin, Harp, and Shaky Strings: The Golden Globe Winning Music of “First Man”

A scene from “First Man” | Photo by Universal Pictures

Justin Hurwitz’s won the 2019 Golden Globe for Best Original Score for his work on First Man. In honor of the award, we’re bringing back a blog by contributor Tim Greiving, written upon the film’s release.

Director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz are each only 33-years-old—but they already have three Oscars between them. They were good friends, bandmates, and roommates in college at Harvard, and after a few short projects they came out swinging in 2014 with their first feature collaboration, Whiplash, which starred Miles Teller as a drummer running through the gauntlet in an elite and incredibly intense jazz school.

They kept the jazz theme going, but in a much brighter key, with La La Land—the smash hit technicolor musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Hurwitz composed all of the songs (with lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), including the Oscar-winning “City of Stars.” He also wrote the candy-colored, retro score.

For their third big outing, Chazelle and Hurwitz decided to fling far away from jazz and into outer space. First Man stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the pioneer pilot who took humanity to the moon, but whom most of us know almost nothing about.

Hurwitz got involved at the earliest stages, and it shows. His score, a masterpiece of melody that features unconventional instruments (for modern film music) like solo harp and theremin, is woven deeply into the way the story unfolds. Ryan Gosling used it as inspiration on set, Chazelle edited sequences to it… and the result is one of the very best scores of the year.

Damien Chazelle, KUSC’s Tim Greiving, and Justin Hurwitz

Justin Hurwitz’s original score for First Man is available on CD and streaming online.

Written by:
Tim Greiving
Tim Greiving
Published on 04.01.2019

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