One of our favorite composers, Jóhann Jóhannsson, passed away on Friday in Berlin at the age of 48, and we already miss him. In addition to producing some of the finest music of our time, he was also a wonderful conductor and humble performer. His notes speak directly to the heart, which is why our hearts are particularly affected by this news.
Many have been sharing their memories online, with beautiful posts coming from ‘Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter, Deutsche Grammophon and more. The fan posts have been particularly touching. Joe Muggs of The Guardian recalls the words of director Aaron Moorehead, who once said, “it’s like he wrote his own requiem.”
I’m listening to Jóhannsson’s music now, and the music brings back memories. Listening again to Virðulegu Forsetar, I remember the beauty of those quarter-hour compositions, organ and brass notes stretching into eternity, and the accompanying wonder that something so simple could seem so elegant. This was not music that one could zip through or comprehend at a single play. Albums such as this led us to found this very site, based on the idea of listening closely over multiple spins. To play the album again is to recall that it was never a simple album in the first place; Jóhannsson made the complex accessible.
Then there’s And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees, the first film score I purchased by Jóhannsson ~ but it wasn’t easy to do at the time because the physical edition was limited and the Internet wasn’t running efficiently yet. Fortunately I tracked it down at one of his shows, and was able to meet the composer ~ who already knew who I was! Suffice it to say that we had a great conversation in which I likely came across as the least objective reviewer of all time. And that’s why I’m writing this today ~ because music can make an astonishing impression on a person, but meeting a musician will push one’s appreciation in one direction or another. Is it too banal to say that I really liked him?
The Miner’s Hymns is another one of my favorites ~ I had been given a pass to a film festival screening, and afterwards was walking down Fifth Avenue, explaining to my friend how much I’d loved the movie about miners, only to wonder why so many people were giving me strange looks. Turns out passers-by thought I was talking about minors. Oh, the English language. Sometime later in Reykjavik, I hoped to meet Jóhannsson again, but he was out of town that week. I did, however, get to speak with his friends at Kitchen Motors and 12 Tónar, who all had wonderful things to say about the hometown lad who was now touring the world.
Okay, so how good is Jóhannsson’s music? I’ll provide one example that hopefully sums up the rest. Sure, he’s a Golden Globe winner, and has been honored in recent years for many film scores that in some cases were better than the actual films. But his music is also used in many film trailers, and by their very nature makes the films worth seeing. Here’s the one that stands out:
I hope that I’m not ruffling any feathers by saying that “Battle: Los Angeles” was not a very good movie. But I ignored the critics and saw it on the basis of this trailer; and after watching the trailer again today, I want to see the movie again, even though I know I didn’t like it. That’s the power of a great composer. I remember where I was when I first heard Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music (Other Music on 4th Street in the East Village) and where I was when I heard about his death (at church this morning). And I keep going back to Virðulegu Forsetar, and those notes that stretch into eternity. Now the memory of this great composer, and his substantial legacy of sublime music, will do so as well. (Richard Allen)