Photo provided by Disney. Illustration by Eleanor Shakespeare.

Heroic Inspiration

Acclaimed composer’s score moved directors to tears
By Jon Burlingame

An intimate moment from early in the film
Choral sounds from the climactic battle

“A great score can replace dialogue,” says “Avengers: Endgame” co-director Joe Russo, “because it can help tell the story in a way that conveys emotion and context for the audience. We’ve never worked with anyone who could move the story forward and convey emotion in the way that Alan Silvestri does.”

Silvestri, the Academy Award-nominated composer of “Forrest Gump” and other classics, such as “Back to the Future” and “Cast Away,” joined the ranks of Marvel composers with “Captain America: The First Avenger” in 2011 and scored “The Avengers” (2012) and last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” before tackling “Endgame,” the grand finale of a decadelong superhero saga.

“Joe and Anthony Russo were very clear about wanting a tremendous level of scale in the film, musically,” the composer recalls, “something really big and powerful. They even used the word ‘operatic’ in their vision of it all.”

Silvestri looked at early concept art and visited the Georgia sets during shooting to get a sense of the film’s look — especially because he would have to compose much of it without seeing the final visual effects. “You can’t wait,” he explains, “so ultimately it all has to come through your imagination.”

Silvestri spent nearly nine months composing a rich and stylistically varied dramatic score that eventually totaled 200 minutes, all recorded by a 95-piece London orchestra and 40-voice choir between late January and mid-March 2019.

But, he points out, not every moment demanded huge orchestral forces. Silvestri created “a very ethereal sound” for Tony Stark’s intended farewell message to Pepper Potts early in the film, then realized it would also be appropriate for the moving funeral scene near the end. “You have to score these superhuman capabilities and physical actions, but you also have to be able to return to a sometimes very intimate, emotional treatment musically,” he says.

And while every Marvel hero returns at some point in the narrative, there was never a plan to invoke every character’s original theme. “We were looking to unify, hold all of this together,” Silvestri says, so his heroic “Avengers” signature returns at a handful of upbeat moments. So too does his Thanos theme from “Infinity War,” which he describes as “a very dark, ominous, slow-moving current,” mostly featuring brass and strings in their lower registers.

The veteran of more than 100 films drew on all of his experience and musical instincts: medieval instruments for Thor’s visit to Asgard; mystical tones for the Hulk meeting The Ancient One; a touch of cool jazz for a comedic moment in Avengers headquarters; and thrilling choral sounds for the time/space portals that open as the final battle begins.

“We were finishing this grand experiment that took 22 films,” says Joe Russo. “You’re taking themes from 10 years of filmmaking and interweaving them in a cohesive manner to wrap up an epic and overarching story. And the way that Alan Silvestri did that, it just left us breathless. We both had tears in our eyes at the end of the scoring session.”