Why The Lion King’s Oscar-winning theme song ended so abruptly

Sometimes that’s how you get rewarded. A documentary about a film composer did not immediately interest me on Tuesday evening, even though the man is world famous and won an Oscar twice for the film music of The Lion King and Dune. I should have known that film music is no frills, an extra if the budget allows it. Just listen to what is by far the most often played on pianos in station halls: the title song of Frozen. Sometimes only the first bars or a chorus tune. You hear it and the Disney movie about ice princess Elsa automatically appears in your mind. Sometimes music sticks even better than images.

In Hans Zimmer – Hollywood rebel (NTR) tell famous directors of famous films (RainMan, Pirates of the Caribbean, Batman, 12 Years a Slave) about the genius that is Hans Zimmer. Born in 1957, in a Jewish family, in Frankfurt. A little boy who lost his father, a week before his sixth birthday, on a Friday. His mother then asked him if he wanted to take piano lessons. He wanted to, he says, because the only moments his mother still smiled were when he played the piano. He himself found the lessons rather disappointing, he had hoped that what he heard in his head would flow from his fingers as if by magic. And a “German teacher” who corrected him for every mistake spoiled the fun completely. He dropped out of piano lessons after two weeks, and sheet music still makes his head spin, even now that he’s the most in-demand film score composer in the world.

Big words are not spent on Hans Zimmer. Hear how simple, light and small he explains what he actually does. In his American studio he is working on a soundtrack for a nature documentary for the BBC, Frozen Planet II, voiced by Sir David Attenborough. He sits behind a huge box of electronic sliders and buttons, looking for something that sounds “frozen.” He conjures up a piece of sound from his machine. “I’m making it a little more tundra-like.” And damn, you hear tundra. “Here comes the wind, rattling through.” He listens as a sommelier tastes wine. “Cool. That can be even cooler.” Now you hear freezing cold. He listens with his eyes closed. “Wind on the tundra sounds like frying bacon.” Sure, if he says so.

To create a feeling

From this moment on he had me. This man who does with sound what others can do with words or images. Tell a story, write a poem, evoke a feeling, or no, let a feeling arise. And he can talk about it in such a way that someone like me, who isn’t overly auditory, kind of understands it. I think I learned more about sound in fifty minutes than I had spent all those years scratching my childhood violin.

Take the tapping you hear from him in many film scores, if you pay attention. “No rhythm, no accents, just tapping. Each tap announces the next measure or scene. Like a river that flows and takes you.” Of course the film music rocks and rocks Pirates of the Caribbean. “Ship and rum provide shaky rhythms.”

Hans Zimmer speaks a language I didn’t know yet, but which I seem to understand. With a few piano keys he sketches his interpretation of the character of Jack Sparrow, the main character in the film. One note up for his innocent hope. A wrong chord, because he is good-natured. A diabolical interval for his boldness, then another key for one second. I can hardly tell the story, but when I heard Hans Zimmer tell it, it seemed like cut cake.

We now also know why the Oscar-winning title song by The Lion King ends so abruptly. “The producer was already in the studio, but I wasn’t ready yet.” One drum roll, and the song seemed finished. “Bink.” It sounds like an exclamation mark.