The Music of Composer Carter Burwell

In this exclusive SoundWorks Collection sound profile Jon Burlingame talks with Composer Carter Burwell about his work on the film: Carol, Mr. Holmes, Anomalisa, Legend and Hail, Caesar!


Carter Burwell has composed the music for more than 80 feature films, including Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Rob Roy, Fargo, The Spanish Prisoner, Gods and Monsters, Velvet Goldmine, The General’s Daughter, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (BAFTA Nominee for Film Music), Before Night Falls, A Knight’s Tale, The Rookie, Adaptation, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, No Country for Old Men, In Bruges, Burn After Reading, Twilight, Where the Wild Things Are (Golden Globe Nominee for Best Original Score), A Serious Man, The Blind Side, The Kids Are All Right, True Grit, Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 & 2, and The Fifth Estate.

Burwell most recently wrote the music for the mystery drama MR. HOLMES starring Ian McKellen directed by Bill Condon, the true crime thriller Legend directed by Brian Helgeland opening October 2. Carol marks Burwell’s third collaboration with Todd Haynes having previously worked together on VELVET GOLDMINE and HBO’s mini-series MILDRED PIERCE starring Kate Winslet in which Burwell was nominated for two Emmy Awards, winning for his work in the category of Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie or Special (Original Dramatic Score).

Other upcoming film projects for Burwell include Charlie Kaufman’s first-stop motion film Anomalisa, the ocean thriller The Finest Hours starring Chris Pine and Casey Affleck directed by Craig Gillespie, the Nicole Kidman-Jason Bateman drama The Family Fang, and Hail, Caesar! written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen.

His theater work includes the chamber opera The Celestial Alphabet Event and the Mabou Mines productions Mother and Lucia’s Chapters of Coming Forth by Day.

In 2005 he developed a concert work for text and music titled Theater of the New Ear, presented in New York, London and Los Angeles. The text, by Joel and Ethan Coen and Charlie Kaufman, was performed by a dozen actors including Meryl Streep, Steve Buscemi, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hope Davis, Peter Dinklage, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The music was performed by the 8-member Parabola Ensemble, conducted by Mr. Burwell.

Burwell’s dance compositions include the pieces The Return of Lot's Wife, choreographed by Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig, and RABL, choreographed by Patrice Regnier. He has performed around the world with his own ensembles as well as others, such as The Harmonic Choir.

His writing includes the essay "Music at Six: Scoring the News Then and Now," published in the inaugural issue of Esopus magazine in 2003 and reprinted in Harper's Magazine in 2004, and the essay “No Country For Old Music” in the 2013 Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics.

Burwell has taught and lectured at The Sundance Institute, New York University, Columbia University, and Harvard University.