John Barry (film composer)

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John Barry (2006)

John Barry OBE (born November 3, 1933 in York , England as John Barry Prendergast ; rarely used pseudonym Michael Angelo ; † January 30, 2011 in Glen Cove , NY, USA) was one of the most successful film composers and arrangers of the 20th century and promoter Numerous film awards, including five Oscars (two for Born Free - Queen of the Wild , one each for The Lion in Winter , Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves ). His compositions for the James Bond film series achieved particular popularity .


John Barry's mother, Doris Prendergast (nee Wilkinson), was a pianist. His father, Jack Xavier Prendergast (nickname: JX), owned eight cinemas in the north of England. His brother Patrick was born in 1923 and his sister in June 1928.

1959 married John Barry and Barbara Pickard, the divorce took place in 1963. From 1965 to 1968 he was married to Jane Birkin , with Jane Sidey from 1969 to 1978. Since January 3, 1978 he was married to Laurie Barry. John Barry had four children: Susan (with Barbara Pickard), Sian (with Ulla Larsson), Kate Barry (1967-2013; with Jane Birkin) and Jonpatrick (born 1994; with Laurie Barry).

The early years

Barry was a student at the Bar Convent Catholic Junior School in central York. The discipline and order that prevailed there were quickly hated by him and at the same time remained formative for a lifetime. The bombing raids by the German Air Force in World War II , when he had to witness death and destruction first hand, were decisive experiences .

At the age of eleven, Barry entered a higher, Protestant-run private school (St. Peter's public school in York ). There he took piano lessons. He discovered his musical inclination earlier and the desire to become a musician grew over the years. Since his father ran a cinema chain, it was natural for the boy to watch the films that were currently being played over and over again. Barry later also rated this experience of seeing films in front of a paying audience as actually the best training for a film composer. With Francis Jackson, the Master of Music at York Cathedral , he enjoyed a musical education as a teenager .

After the end of the war, Barry fell into jazz fever. His brother Patrick introduced him to this music. Barry's hitherto classical music horizon was expanded to include light music.

He took trumpet lessons from George Swift in the early 1950s and began to compose the first smaller pieces. At the time, Barry was using correspondence to study the compositional technique according to the rigorous Schillinger system (see also: Joseph Schillinger , as well as Weblink), which was also used by the arrangers in the Stan-Kenton-Band and is based on strict mathematical calculations. Barry greatly admired Stan Kenton's music .

Army service

Like every able-bodied Brit back then, John Barry was drafted into the army . From 1952 he spent three years in the military as a member of an army band. After a few weeks in Richmond , he was transferred to Egypt , where the Suez crisis entered its critical phase. His unit was later moved to Cyprus , where the political situation was also tense.

During his service, Barry had the opportunity, thanks to his division in an army band, to test and improve his musical skills every day. He also completed a correspondence course from Cyprus again. This time with Bill Russo, who was considered the real inventor of the Stan Kenton sound. As a result, Barry acquired knowledge of arranging for big bands .

The John Barry Seven

After the army, Barry founded the rock 'n' roll and jazz band "The John Barry Seven" in 1957 , with which he became very successful in England. The band members included Barry Les Reed , Vic Flick , Mike Peters, Jimmy Stead , Dennis King and Doug Wright . At first, Barry tried his hand at being a lead singer, but because of his vocal limitations, he quickly switched to playing instrumental pieces. As John Barry And The Seven , the first single Zip Zip was created on October 4, 1957 in Abbey Road Studios under music producer Norman Newell , under the band name John Barry Seven , the single Big Guitar was created again on June 3, 1958 with producer Newell . He had to wait until 1960 for hit parade successes when his band called itself John Barry Seven Plus Four . This time with producer John Burgess, the single Hit And Miss was created on January 14, 1960 , which reached the highest ranking of its singles with 10th place on the British charts.

After appearances on television, especially on the shows 6.5 Special and Oh Boy! the BBC , successful record sales and thanks to the skillful hand of Barry's manager, Eve Taylor, he managed to enter the long-awaited film business. In 1960 he was commissioned to write the soundtrack for the film Beat Girl (German: hot on naked stones ), which was released in England on October 28, 1960. Rock 'n' roll played a major role in this. The film also served as a vehicle to make the singer Adam Faith even better known.

James Bond

The big breakthrough as a film composer finally came for Barry in the wake of the beginning James Bond wave of success that began in 1962. From January 9, 1962, the film producer United Artists made pressure that a theme song had to be found that would make James Bond identifiable during the planned film series. Monty Norman was supposed to deliver a score , but did not compose a new song in a hurry, but suggested his composition Bad Sign, Good Sign , written in the summer of 1961 , which had never been published; it was felt to be inappropriate. Everyone involved suggested Barry as arranger . On June 9, 1962, Norman and Barry met for the first time. On June 21, 1962 the first recording date of the song, now dubbed the James Bond Theme, was in the Cine-Tele Sound Studios (CTS, London) with John Barry Seven & Orchestra , the rest was on 25/26. Recorded in London's Denham Film Studios on June 6, 1962 . The single was released in September 1962 and reached number 13 in the UK charts in November 1962. In the Bond movie James Bond - 007, Dr. No , the subject first appeared at the premiere at the London Palladium on October 5, 1962.

Legally, the functions were clear, as the composer was Monty Norman, the music producer John Burgess and the arranger John Barry. However, this had claimed on October 12, 1997 in the Sunday Times that he was the composer of the film music. Norman felt defamed by the newspaper article and filed a lawsuit. Between 1976 and 1999, Norman Royaltys raised £ 485,000. In March 2001, the copyright lawsuit reached the London High Court , where the 60 bars of the melody were analyzed in depth. The opening bass line ("vamp"), the following guitar riff and the bebop phrases of the bridge in the big band style were arranged by Barry. The reviewer was of the opinion that the guitar riff was the basic idea of ​​the song, which came from Normans Bad Sign, Good Sign . Most of it was due to Monty Norman as a composer. On March 19, 2001, the court ruled in favor of Norman, who received £ 30,000 in damages for defamation. The theme was modified since then and used until 1981.

It is undisputed that Barry changed and expanded the Bond theme very much with his arrangement from 1962. The court, however, considered his compositional parts to be too low, as it only allowed Barry 10 of the 60 bars. Nevertheless, it was not Norman but John Barry who was then obliged to compose the music for the following James Bond films. For Goldfinger (1964), Barry was also responsible for the prestigious title song , which he wrote in collaboration with lyricists Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse . Shirley Bassey sang it, making it the biggest hit of her career. Barry brought her back in front of the microphone for Diamantenfieber (1971) and Moonraker (1979). He worked intermittently for the Bond people until 1987. After The Living Daylights he turned his back on the series. Attempts to get him back were unsuccessful. In various interviews in recent years, Barry made it clear that the chapter "James Bond" was closed for him.

In the late 1990s, the cover of On Her Majesty's Secret Service , released by the Propellerheads on their debut album Decksandrumsandrockandroll , drew renewed attention to Barry's Bond music.

Moved to the USA

With the success of Bond, Barry gained a foothold in Hollywood. In the mid-1970s, not least because of difficulties with the British treasury, he moved to the USA , first to Hollywood , then to the east coast , to Oyster Bay on Long Island outside New York , where he and his wife and son became increasingly withdrawn Lived life in semi-retirement.

The most interesting film scores were composed by John Barry between 1962 and 1974. It may not be a coincidence that the move to the United States was accompanied by a stylistic change in Barry's music. His music became more string-heavy and markedly slower than before. The unusual arrangements, as we knew them in advance from his work around 1964–1969, became rarer. In the second half of his career in particular, the composer was often criticized for lack of ideas.

Barry suffered an esophageal rupture in 1988 . The exact circumstances are unclear. His health remained very serious for a long time. It was not until 1990 that he had recovered to the point where he could go back to work when Kevin Costner brought him in for the film Dances With Wolves . The music earned Barry his fifth and final Oscar .

In the 1990s, a change in mentality manifested itself in Hollywood, which should not remain without consequences for Barry's work. Many of his film scores were rejected (see chapter Failed film music projects ). A fate that he shared with Maurice Jarre or Elmer Bernstein and many others. Barry responded by partially withdrawing from the business. In 2003 he was supposed to write the music for The Incredibles ( The Incredibles ), but because of differences of opinion he left the project after a short time, and Michael Giacchino moved up. Barry's last completed film score for Enigma (2001), like some of his later works, no longer achieved the freshness and ingenuity of earlier compositions.


In 2004, Barry tried again on a musical project that he had wanted to realize for over 40 years. The piece, entitled Brighton Rock, is based on Graham Greene 's novel of the same name (Eng. The Abyss of Life ). Barry completed the work with his longtime collaborator and songwriter Don Black . The premiere took place in London's Almeida Theater in autumn 2004. But Brighton Rock flopped. The reviews were mostly negative and the piece disappeared from the stage after a few performances. Plans to start the show again outside of London came to nothing. Barry's most successful musical thus remained Billy, which he had written with Don Black in 1974 and helped lead actor Michael Crawford to breakthrough as a musical star. Otherwise, Barry was less successful with his theatrical works than with his music for films.

In August / September 2006 an album by the Australian singer formation The Ten Tenors was released under the title Here's To The Heroes. Among other things, there are eight songs by Barry, which he wrote in collaboration with the lyricist Don Black. The melody for the theme song was taken from the Dances with Wolf Soundtrack, where it was published under "Farewell / the End". He was also an executive producer on the album. A tribute concert in honor of Barry's music at the Royal Albert Hall on September 28, 2006 only filled about two-thirds of the seats.

On 16./17. In November 2007 the 8th International Musique & Cinéma D'Auxerre Festival was dedicated to Barry's work. In Auxerre , the composer was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture. During the festival there was also a panel discussion with the composer and a concert, at which Barry only appeared briefly; The main conductor was Nicholas Dodd .

Barry was sporadically seen on other tribute occasions; for example in Dublin on June 20, 2008, where a concert with his most famous works was given in his honor. Because of Barry's health problems, it was recently no longer possible for him to personally take part in honors for his life's work in Vienna (2009) and Ghent (2010) and to receive the award there.

Barry wrote the song Our Time Is Now with Don Black for Shirley Bassey in 2009 for their album The Performance . It would be Barry's last new composition, which was released on CD while he was still alive.

In the last few years of his life, John Barry's health deteriorated more and more. He died on January 30, 2011 in a hospital in Glen Cove of complications from a heart attack.


For his film music, Barry received five Oscars , among many other prizes , two for Born Free - Queen of the Wilderness (in the categories of Best Song and Best Score ) and one each for the best score for The Lion in Winter , Out of Africa and The One with the Wolf is dancing . He won four Grammys . He was also nominated three times for a Golden Raspberry and received it for the worst film music for Legend Of The Lone Ranger (1981) (for a detailed list of the awards see the corresponding web link below).



  • Hot on bare stones (Beat Girl)



  • What a Whopper!
  • Ratted (A Matter of WHO)
  • Falling in love
  • Girl on a roof



  • It's all happening
  • James Bond 007 - From Russia with Love , 2nd film in the James Bond series, title song From Russia with Love written by Lionel Bart , sung by Matt Monro , Barry composed the orchestral score.
  • The Human Jungle
  • The Party's Over
  • Elizabeth Taylor in London










  • Alice in Wonderland (Alice's Adventures In Wonderland , Musical)
  • Gene Bradley on a secret mission ( The Adventurer television episode Return To Sender, subject)


  • A Doll's House (A Doll's House)
  • Orson Welles' Great Mysteries (TV series, Theme)
  • Love at dusk (Love Among the Ruins , TV movie)
  • The Glass Menagerie (The Glass Menagerie , TV movie)


  • The circumnavigation (The Dove)
  • James Bond 007 - The Man with the Golden Gun (The Man with the Golden Gun, 9th film in the James Bond series, theme song The Man with the Golden Gun sung by Lulu )
  • The fruit of the tropical tree (The Tamarind Seed)




  • The White Buffalo (The White Buffalo)
  • First love
  • The Clan (The Betsy)
  • Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years (TV Miniseries)
  • The War Between the Tates (TV Movie)
  • The Gathering (TV Movie)
  • The Forgotten Kennedy (Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy , Movie made for TV)


  • Bruce Lee - My Last Fight (The Game of Death)
  • Star Crash - Stars in a duel (Starcrash)
  • The grain is green (The Corn Is Green , TV movie)
  • Going Home Again
  • St. Joan










  • James Bond 007 - The Living Daylights (The Living Daylights, 15th film in the James Bond series, theme song The Living Daylights sung by A-ha )
  • Hearts of Fire







  • The Scarlet Letter (The Scarlet Letter)
  • New York 3-D (Across the Sea of ​​Time)
  • Cry, the Beloved Country




Failed film music projects (selection)

These are films for which Barry composed music, but which were rejected. Sometimes there were only individual topics for demonstration purposes, but sometimes also completely recorded scores. As a rule, the persons concerned are reluctant to provide information about how such rejections came about.


  • 1965: Passion Flower Hotel
  • 1971: Lolita My Love
  • 1974: Billy
  • 1981: The Little Prince and the Aviator (the project was canceled only days before the premiere due to financial problems)
  • 2004: Brighton Rock

Concept albums (selection)

  • 1961: Stringbeat
  • 1975: Americans
  • 1988: The Beyondness Of Things (contains some pieces from Barry's rejected score for The Horse Whisperer )
  • 2001: Eternal Echoes (contains a piece from the rejected soundtrack to Goodbye Lover)
  • 2006: Here's To The Heroes (Barry contributed three new songs together with Don Black and was involved as executive producer, the artistic design, adaptation and arrangements of the pieces were provided by the 10 tenors , the conductor Nicholas Dodd and the group's producer at the time , Simon Franglen)

Discography (selection)

Only official CD editions are listed, stating the best in each case, i. H. most complete edition. New recordings will be taken into account if the original recordings are incomplete or not accessible.


  • Billy (Columbia 472818 2 - musical)
  • Body Heat (Soundtrack Collector's Special Edition SCSE CD-1)
  • Born Free (Film Score Monthly FSMCD Vol. 7, No. 10)
  • The Chase (Columbia / Legacy 515133 2)
  • Dances with Wolves (Epic / Legacy EK 63555) (UK: silversilver)
  • Deadfall (Retrograde / FSM Records FSM 80124-2)
  • The Deep (Intrada Special Collection Volume 143 - double CD)
  • Diamonds Are Forever (Capitol / EMI Records 72435-41420-2-4)
  • Frances (Label X LXSACD 1001)
  • From Russia with Love (Capitol / EMI Records 72435-80588-2-6)
  • Goldfinger (Capitol / EMI Records 72435-80891-2-7)
  • Hanover Street (Varèse Sarabande CD Club VCL 0309 1090)
  • High Road To China (BSX Records BSXCD 8864)
  • The Ipcress File (Silva Screen FILMCD 605)
  • The Knack ... And How To Get It (Rykodisc RCD 10718)
  • The Last Valley (Intrada Special Collection Volume 46)
  • The Lion In Winter (Columbia / Legacy 502388 2)
  • The Living Daylights (Rykodisc RCD 10725)
  • Mary Queen Of Scots (Intrada Special Collection Volume 59)
  • Midnight Cowboy (EMI Manhattan DP 7484092)
  • On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Capitol / EMI Records 72435-41419-2-8)
  • Out Of Africa (MCA Records MCLD 19092 - UK edition with additional song The Music Of Goodbye (Love Theme from “Out Of Africa”))
  • Petulia (Film Score Monthly FSMCD Vol. 8, No. 20)
  • Playing by Heart (Decca 466 275-2)
  • Raise The Titanic (Silva Screen Records FILMCD 319 - new recording of the film music)
  • Robin And Marian Prometheus Records PCR 522
  • Somewhere in Time (MCA Records MCAD-10954 - 24 Karat Gold Disc)
  • Thunderball (Capitol / EMI Records 72435-80589-2-5)
  • Until September (Intrada Special Collection Volume 90)
  • Walkabout (Silva Screen FILMCD 339 - new recording of the film music with additional topics)
  • You Only Live Twice (Capitol / EMI Records 72435-41418-2-9)
  • Zulu (Silva Screen FILMCD 022)

Concept albums

  • Americans (Universal France 531 340 5)
  • The Beyondness Of Things (London Classics 460 009-2) (UK:goldgold)
  • Eternal Echoes (Decca Records 466 765-2)
  • Stringbeat (Play it again PLAY 001 - coupled with the Beat Girl soundtrack )


  • The Collection: 40 Years Of Film Music (Silva Screen FILMXCD 349 - 4-CD set with new recordings of numerous soundtrack suites)
  • The Hits & The Misses (Play It Again PLAY 007 - double CD with early Barry works)
  • John Barry Revisited (Fantastic Voyage FVQD034 - 4 CD set with early Barry works)
  • Themependium (Sony / BMG 88697079502 - 4-CD set, mainly original recordings conducted by Barry himself, in addition to well-known works, some pieces were published here for the first time on CD)
  • Zulu (Silva Screen FILMXCD 305 - double CD with the new recording of the complete soundtrack of the same name, supplemented with suites for other films set to music by Barry)
  • The Best Of - Themeology (UK:goldgold)



  • Eddi Fiegel: John Barry. A sixties theme. From James Bond To Midnight Cowboy. Constable, London 1998, ISBN 0-09-478530-9 (English, the author examines the life and work of Barry from 1958 to 1969)
  • Geoff Leonard, Pete Walker and Gareth Bramley: John Barry. A Life In Music. Bristol 1998 (English), ISBN 1-900178-86-9
  • Geoff Leonard, Pete Walker and Gareth Bramley: John Barry. The Man With The Midas Touch. Bristol 2008, ISBN 978-1-904537-77-9 (English, updated and greatly expanded new edition by John Barry. A Life In Music )
  • Foreign Composers. In: William Darby and Jack Du Bois: American Film Music. Major Composers, Techniques, Trends, 1915-1990. McFarland, Jefferson 1990, ISBN 0-7864-0753-0 , pp. 390–392 (English, brief overview-like considerations with sheet music samples from Barry's film music in the context of this chapter, which is dedicated to the non-Americans who made film music in Hollywood )
  • Barry, Black and “Born Free”. In: James Inverne: Wrestling With Elephants. The Authorized Biography Of Don Black. Foreword by John Barry. Sanctuary, London 2003, ISBN 1-86074-468-0 , pp. 42–53 (English, the book also contains noteworthy information on the person of John Barry scattered in other chapters)
  • Siegfried Tesche: Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The history of the James Bond film scores . Schott, Mainz, 2006, ISBN 978-3-7957-0567-1 (attempt to portray James Bond music history taking into account Barry's work; the publication is not free of factual inaccuracies and should therefore be treated with a certain degree of caution)

Articles in periodicals

Web links


Commons : John Barry  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  • Reviews from Best of James Bond, Body Heat, Born Free (Talgorn / Varèse), Diamonds Are Forever (expanded), Enigma, Eternal Echoes, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, High Road to China, James Bond: Back in Action, Moonraker, Octopussy, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (expanded), Out of Africa, Raise the Titanic, Robin and Marian, Somewhere in Time, The Ipcress File, The Beyondness of Things, The James Bond Collection, The Last Valley, The Lion in Winter, The Living Daylights, The Man with the Golden Gun, Thunderball (expanded), You Only Live Twice (expanded), Zulu

James Bond


Individual evidence

  1. Composer John Barry dies aged 77 . BBC News, January 31, 2011 (English)
  2. ^ Jon Burlingame, The Music of James Bond , 2012, p. 11.
  3. ^ Monty Norman v. The Sunday Times: The "James Bond Theme" Lawsuit
  4. ^ Jon Burlingame, The Music of James Bond , 2012, p. 21.
  5. Hollywood in Vienna (2009).
  6. ^ Film Festival Ghent: John Barry in Concert (2010)
  7. ↑ For more information see Filmnotgraphy ( Memento from November 2, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  8. Music Sales Awards: UK