The name Henry Mancini is synonymous with legendary film music: like hardly any other film composer before him, he changed the world of film music.
His music moves the audience of famous films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s or The Pink Panther to this day. During his career as a film composer, Mancini composed numerous works that became classics of film music.
Mancini was born in Ohio in 1924 to Italian parents from Abruzzo: he came from a simple family. Mancini became enthusiastic about music at a young age: at the age of eight, Mancini began learning to play the piccolo.
After Mancini studied piano and orchestral arranging, he wrote his first arrangements: among others, he wrote arrangements for the well-known jazz bandleader Benny Goodman.
In 1946, Henry Mancini’s work for the music industry began: he became arranger and composer for the newly established Glenn Miller Orchestra. Here Mancini proved for the first time that he could meet the musical taste of the time and fascinate people with his jazz and swing compositions.
To this day, Henry Mancini is credited with introducing new musical styles to the genre of film music: Before Mancini, hardly any elements of jazz music were found in film music. From 1952, Henry Mancini worked for Universal Studios. There he worked on numerous compositions for film and television programs. Between 1952 and 1958, Henry Mancini contributed music for over 100 films.
Among the most famous film scores composed by Henry Mancini during this period are The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and Touch of Evil (1958).
The score for Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil bore traits of Latin jazz: it was one of the first film scores with Latin American music.
In 1958, Henry Mancini left Universal Studios to work as a freelance composer for film and television projects. His collaboration with film director Blake Edwards is considered crucial to the development of his musical style: the two began working together on the crime series Peter Gunn (1958–1961).
Mancini’s soundtrack to Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), starring Audrey Hepburn, became one of his most famous works: the title song Moon River is still one of the most famous songs from a Hollywood film, covered countless times.
Another successful collaboration between Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini was the film The Days of Wine and Roses (1962) with the theme song of the same name.
The Pink Panther
The sixties were the most successful decade in Henry Mancini’s career: He, like no other film composer of his time, understood how to replace the previous late romantic orientation of Hollywood film music with a contemporary swing and jazz sound. With Henry Mancini, the world of film music became more diverse.
Mancini immortalized himself with his music for the film series The Pink Panther (Part One: 1963). He composed the music for the first and second parts of the film series. The film series around Inspector Clouseau, who merely played a supporting role in the first part, enjoys cult status today: thus also Mancini’s Pink Panther Theme.
Henry Mancini also composed the film music for Charade (1963), starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.
Henry Mancini was different from most film composers working in Hollywood at the time: On the one hand, he used jazz and swing components, on the other hand, he found inspiration in the sound culture of the French impressionists Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). By doing this, he created a balance between contemporary music and classical music. Despite the various musical genres that found their way into his compositions, Mancini’s pieces remained simple and uncomplicated – another reason why his compositions enjoy such great popularity to this day.
Composer, arranger, conductor
In the course of his career, Henry Mancini created over 480 film and television compositions.
His collaboration with director Blake Edwards is considered one of his most productive periods – Edwards gave Mancini the creative freedom to realize his musical ideas. Mancini also composed for director Howard Hawks: his Baby Elephant Walk for the film Hatari! (1962), starring John Wayne, is among his best-known works.
Mancini was not only a composer: in addition to his work as a composer, he conducted numerous orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
In the eighties, Henry Mancini collaborated with the tenor Luciano Pavarotti: Both musicians put together a record in which Henry Mancini arranged Italian songs and conducted an orchestra from Bologna.
Henry Mancini died in Los Angeles in June 1994: He revolutionized the world of Hollywood film music like no one before him. Before Mancini influenced the world of movie soundtracks, film music was primarily characterized by classical music – Mancini introduced jazz and swing music into films and equipped numerous Hollywood movies with a captivating soundtrack.
Songs such as Moon River enjoy great popularity to this day and are a reminder of the legacy of composer Henry Mancini.
Main sources: The official Henry Mancini website and numerous records with recordings by Henry Mancini