Hildur Guðnadóttir – The Composer Behind Joker and Chernobyl

An artist who defies classification and disregards traditional generic boundaries, Icelandic cellist, singer and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir has earned a unique place on the contemporary music scene thanks to her virtuosity, versatility and originality.

Now based in Berlin, Hildur is enjoying unprecedented international recognition for her film and television work, having just become the first female composer ever to win the Academy, Golden Globe and BAFTA awards in the same season. She has also set a new record for the highest number of awards ever received in a single season by a female composer.

Her groundbreaking score for the HBO series Chernobyl won an Emmy last September, led to her being named Television Composer of the Year at the 2019 World Soundtrack Awards in October, and went on to win the Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media, making Guðnadóttir the first solo woman ever to achieve victory in that category.

She has also made history with her haunting soundtrack for Todd Phillips’ dark psychological thriller Joker (an “unorthodox cello concerto”, The Guardian), becoming the first solo female winner of the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score (Motion Picture) since the introduction of the category in 1947. Having additionally won the Critics’ Choice, Hollywood Critics Association and BAFTA awards for Best Score, the Joker soundtrack has now secured Guðnadóttir her first Academy Award, for Best Original Score.

Last October she signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, a move she has described as “incredibly exciting”. A new single, Fólk fær andlit (“People Get Faces”), was released in January 2020, along with an accompanying video. This haunting song was inspired by the international refugee crisis and features the composer’s vocals. Guðnadóttir’s Chernobyl album was released in May 2019, and she had also worked previously with the Yellow Label on recordings with the late Jóhann Jóhannsson as well as writing and recording a track for pianist Víkingur Ólafsson’s Bach Reworks album.

The new work Guðnadóttir creates in partnership with Deutsche Grammophon in the coming years will expand her existing discography of four acclaimed avant-garde solo albums – Mount A (2006), Without Sinking (2009), Leyfðu Ljósinu (2012) and Saman (2014), all now available under the DG imprint, as is her eleven-minute extended single Iridescence – as well as the soundtrack albums for, among others, Joker, Chernobyl, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Mary Magdalene (with Jóhann Jóhannsson) and Icelandic TV series Trapped.

Reflecting her multifaceted musicianship, recent live performances include an appearance with US drone metal band Sunn O))) at the 2017 Convergence festival at the Barbican in London; a set as vocalist and cellist at the 2018 Organ Reframed festival at London’s Union Chapel; and the world premiere live performance of Chernobyl at Unsound 2019 in Kraków.

About Hildur Guðnadóttir

Born in Reykjavík in 1982, Hildur Guðnadóttir grew up in a musical family and began playing cello at the age of five. She studied at the Reykjavík Music Academy, then moved on to study composition and new media at the Iceland Academy of the Arts and Berlin’s Universität der Künste.

She has written music for, among others, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, National Theatre of Iceland, Tate Modern, the British Film Institute, Royal Swedish Opera and Gothenburg National Theatre. She has also performed and recorded with artists including Hauschka, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Nico Muhly, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Valgeir Sigurdsson, Skúli Sverrisson and David Sylvian, whether as vocalist or playing cello or one of the less traditional instruments she has made her own, such as the Halldorophone (a feedback instrument) or the Ómar (a six-string electroacoustic cello/viola da gamba). Guðnadóttir was nominated for the Nordic Council Music Prize as Composer of the Year in 2014 and for the WSA’s 2018 Discovery of the Year Award. She won Best Original Score at the 2018 Asia Pacific Screen Awards (for Mary Magdalene, shared with Jóhannsson) and Best Score at the 2018 Beijing International Film Festival for Journey’s End. Last summer, just prior to receiving her Emmy and WSA awards, she was made a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.