Nicholas Britell’s Strongest Musical Scores Leave a Lasting Impact

There’s something immediately captivating and immersive about the music of Nicholas Britel. A three-time Oscar-nominated New York composer, Britell’s work tends to sound less like tunes entering your ears and more like waves of water soaking your body. His tracks invite listeners to block out the rest of the world and wrap themselves in the emotions his works evoke. This is particularly true of his scores for Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, who communicate such painful longing in unforgettable musical form. With this quality alone, it’s no wonder that Britell has become one of the most beloved film composers of the modern era. This status becomes especially apparent once one breaks down one’s high scores.

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Most famous for his recurring collaborations with Adam McKay and Barry Jenkins, Britell is a relatively new figure on the film music scene having started composing music for films regularly from 2015 (he only did a handful of titles, like new york i love you, before this date). Over that time, Britell has already established a reputation for creating scores that people can’t help but talk about for both the big and small screen. This includes music from the beloved HBO program Succession. The saga of the wealthy and scheming Roy family is a grand thread, and Britell provides a musical accompaniment to their relentless mayhem that is equally explosive.

To translate these exacerbated tendencies, Britell relies on a genre to which he often turns in his works: classical music. Track names like “Furioso in F Minor” make it clear what kind of tracks Britell channels with the majority of his Succession tracks. This inspiration is darkly fun in terms of contrast. Some of these pieces look like they might have been performed in symphony halls centuries ago, but now they’re being used to guide the story of media moguls and people who accidentally send pictures of their genitals to the wrong people. But the dissonance works and rightly communicates the great significance of every move and mistake made by this family.


This underlying meaning translates into an often propulsive and intense score. Even hearing some of these tracks out of context is enough to make your fingers curl up. Britell’s extensive use of pianos in the show’s score is a wonderful touch, especially since this instrument is so often associated with ‘high society’. A detail usually used to indicate extravagant wealth is here repurposed by Britell to musically reflect the inner insecurities of characters like Shiv (Sarah Snook) or Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong). Britell’s magnum opus in Succession score is, of course, its musical theme. Sometimes it takes an academic article to explain why a piece of music is good. Sometimes, as in the case of Succession theme music, just knowing that it makes your head bob and your toes tap is enough to realize that a melody is an all-time masterpiece.


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Let’s move on to the world of cinema, The big court deserves mention not only for being Britell’s first high-profile film music assignment, but also for establishing his gifts for unique instrumental arrangements beyond classical music inspirations. The 48-second piece “Mouseclick Symphony Mvmt 1”, for example, is composed entirely of computer mouse click sounds, the noises becoming more and more numerous and intense as the track progresses. There are never any traditional instruments here, but an intense atmosphere is nevertheless imparted that conveys the idea of ​​a bunch of Wall Street guys banging away at their computers, making money and robbing ordinary workers.


There’s quite a bit of variety in Britell’s music throughout. The big court, from “The Dopeness,” which makes the Wii’s home screen sound like defiant elevator music, to “Jamie & Charlie & the SEC Girl,” whose quiet, retained give the impression that it is being played in the distance, in “New Century”, which evokes a strange rarity punctuated by sudden noises. The volatile unpredictability that accompanied the economic crash of 2008 (the focal point of The big court like a movie) is musically captured in Britell’s compositions here. It was the first time he had created the score for a theatrical release film. Considering the quality of his music here, it wouldn’t be the last.

But the soundtrack that put Britell on the map as a composer (and earned him his first Oscar nod) was his work on the 2016 masterpiece. Moonlight. Britell’s compositions are simply exceptional and constitute his greatest work as a composer. Among the countless ingenious details he incorporated here was the use of slightly dissonant classical instruments. In the tracks “Little’s Theme” and “Ride Home”, instruments like trumpets and violins moan and scream, they communicate a jagged sound, not polished. Accompanying the scenes of teenage Chiron right after a harrowing encounter with bullies, these songs capture the inner emotions of a child who has learned to keep his troubles to himself. He may not talk about his problems, but Britell’s score captures the inner angst.

by Britell Moonlight However, the score doesn’t just function as a means of musically communicating pain. A later track like “Chef’s Special” opens with a playful quality with the way the strings are plucked as it eventually settles into an aura that conveys romantic longing. The closing piece “Who Is You?” masterfully fuses light piano playing with the sound of waves crashing on a beach to capture a moment of intimate acceptance and bonding. These soft yet powerful sounds show a delicate touch and a sense of confidence that a sober approach can still speak volumes about a character’s state of mind. Following this route allows “Who are you?” and all of Britell Moonlight compositions to become his greatest work.

But that doesn’t mean everything went downhill for Britell afterwards. Moonlight. On the contrary, his second collaboration with Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talkresulted in a collection of music that would be Britell’s crowning achievement as a composer if Moonlight did not exist. Tasked with telling a story that relies heavily on flashbacks of a passionate romance, Britell’s music combines melancholic reflection with sounds that evoke the dizzying sensation of being in love. Just listen to “Agape,” which features dark strings and piano music reflecting the sadness of loss. However, he also wields a swinging trumpet that blasts with all the energy of someone whose heart is filled with affection.

Once again in a film score, Beale employs a restraint that can still pack a powerful emotional punch. Look no further for proof of this on the Beale Street soundtrack than “Requiem”, which devotes its first 35 seconds to piano keys being played one by one, with noticeable pauses between each note. In these interstices, we feel the pain Clémentine (KiKi Layne) feels to have her lover, Alonzo (Stephan James) being stuck in jail. The pauses between wailing trumpets on the closing track “Philia” have an equally percussive quality and convey an aura of mourning. Even in the silent parts of his pieces, Britell always leaves an impact on the listener.

Britell’s self-proclaimed decision to employ a large amount of bass in the score of Beale Street here gives even more distinctive identity to his music, ditto the weaving of instruments associated with mid-twentieth-century jazz. The use of these tools lends Beale Street remarkable sound that captures a cavalcade of complicated emotions, a perfect companion to the experiences of the characters in the film. Just as there is joy for an impending child even amidst the unspeakable pain of innocent Alonzo locked up in prison, Britell’s score communicates both angst and longing longing often in the same piece. The masterful blending of so many different feelings is just one of countless unforgettable elements of his work here.

These productions feature the most impactful score of Britell’s career, with Succession, Moonlightand Beale Street undoubtedly among his best achievements as a composer while The big court deserves mention as a breakthrough project that has rightly put him on the map as a musician to watch. Of course, those aren’t the only standout scores Britell has delivered in his career. For example, although his tracks are often overwhelmed with the needle drops of the film era, Britell still delivered a solid job in the score of Cruel. The film’s more outlandish, traditional nature allowed Britell to indulge in enjoyable bursts of maximalist musical sensibilities while using some of his signature instruments, like the piano. Meanwhile, while the movie itself isn’t particularly noteworthy, Britell still did a solid job on it. The king. This feature is particularly noteworthy as it allowed him to apply his classical musical sensibilities not as a contrast to a modern thread, but as a period-appropriate extension of a story set in the 15th century.


Still, Succession, Moonlightand Beale Street represent the pinnacle of what Britell is capable of as a composer. Not only do they feature the kind of sounds and instruments he likes, but they often demonstrate his gift for combining past and present in musical form. Britell is unafraid to embrace modern technology or current hip-hop flagships in his music, while his fascination with classical music helps him find new ways to explore the inner worlds of 21st century characters. . Some musicians may only look to the here and now or the past, but Britell sees the value of both eras and their combination. In the process of merging these sensibilities so harmoniously, Britell concocts the kind of compositions that will undoubtedly stand the test of time.