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date: 20 February 2020

Portman, Rachel (Mary Berkeley)free

  • David Kershaw
  •  and Nathan Platte

(b Haslemere, England, 11 Dec 1960). English composer. She studied music at Worcester College, Oxford, and composition with Roger Steptoe; she also composed for productions at the Oxford Playhouse and scored a student film, Privileged, which was sold to the BBC. Her first professional film scoring commission came from David Puttnam in 1982 with Experience Preferred … But Not Essential. Her early television scores included The Storyteller (1986–8 and 1990), a series by Jim Henson, for which she was awarded the British Film Institute's Young Composer of the Year Award in 1988. In 1991 she composed for Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet (1990), her first feature film score. Since 1992 she has been in demand for Hollywood productions, and remains one of the few female composers to have achieved significant success at this level. With Emma (1996) she became the first female composer to receive an Academy Award.

Her film scores embrace a variety of styles, although she is best known for composing clear, string-dominated textures, often shaded with lyrical woodwind lines. She orchestrates much of her own music, but also works closely with orchestrator Jeff Atmajian. Although Portman gained renown as a composer for romantic comedies, her versatility is reflected in the many genres she has explored since the late 1990s, which range from serious drama to psychological thriller. In particular, she has collaborated with Lasse Hallström on Cider House Rules (1999) and Chocolat (2000), the scores of which were nominated for Academy Awards. Her scores for director Jonathan Demme's Beloved (1998) and Manchurian Candidate (2004) are especially striking; both scores depart from her more familiar orchestral sound. In particular, Beloved features solo voice, chorus, and African instruments instead of full orchestra. In 2003 her opera The Little Prince premiered at the Houston Grand Opera and has since been performed throughout the United States and recorded under the auspices of the BBC. Based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's novel of the same name, Portman's The Little Prince is one of relatively few operas intended for both children and adults. Characterized by cleanly etched vocal lines for boy soprano and lively children's choruses, the opera represents the composer's most ambitious work.


Film and Television Scores

Privileged, 1982

Experience Preferred … But Not Essential, 1982

The Storyteller, 1986–8, 1990

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, 1990

Life is Sweet, 1990

Antonia and Jane, 1991

Where Angels Fear to Tread, 1991

Used People, 1992

The Joy Luck Club, 1993

Benny and Joon, 1993

Friends, 1993

Ethan Frome, 1993

Sirens, 1994

Only You, 1994

War of the Buttons, 1994

A Pyromaniac's Love Story, 1995

Smoke, 1995

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, 1995

The Adventures of Pinocchio, 1996

Marvin's Room, 1996

Emma, 1996

Addicted to Love, 1997

Beloved, 1998

The Other Sister, 1999

Ratcatcher, 1999

The Cider House Rules, 1999

The Legend of Bagger Vance, 2000

Chocolat, 2000

The Emperor's New Clothes, 2001

Hart's War, 2002

The Truth about Charlie, 2002

The Human Stain, 2003

Mona Lisa Smile, 2003

Lard, 2004

The Manchurian Candidate, 2004

Because of Winn-Dixie, 2005

Oliver Twist, 2005

The Lake House, 2006

Infamous, 2006

The Duchess, 2008

Grey Gardens, 2009

Never Let Me Go, 2010

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, 2011


The Little Prince (N. Wright), Houston, Houston Grand Opera, 31 May 2003


  • H. Lumme: Great Women of Film (New York, 2002), 100–103
  • S. Kennedy: “A Night at the Opera: Rachel Portman Takes on Her First Concert Work, Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince,” Film Score Monthly, viii/6 (2003), 14–16
  • L.M. Timm: The Soul of Cinema: An Appreciation of Film Music (Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2003)
  • F. Karlin and R. Wright: On the Track: A Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring (New York, 1990, 2/2004)
  • C. DesJardins: Inside Film Music: Composers Speak (Los Angeles, 2006), 196–204