Oscars 2015: Best Original Score Nominees Reveal the Origins of Their Movies' Musical Themes

The four composers nominated for best original score at the 87th annual Academy Awards (airing Feb. 22 on ABC) -- double nominee Alexandre Desplat, Gary Yershon, Johann Johannsson and Hans Zimmer -- took wildly different approaches to their films. Four of the five contenders are period pieces, yet none utilize the music of their time, while the fifth, Interstellar, is set in space in the future and features an experimental marriage of sound design and music.

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Alexander Desplat, 53: Double Nominee
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Instrumentation: Balalaikas, bouzoukis, cymbeline with strings
The Score: "The music is about the pace and the atmosphere -- this elegant past that we've lost -- and tries to keep with the light version of the film and rarely plays the darkness of the storyline. [Director] Wes Anderson asked me, 'Do you like balalaikas and zithers? Let's have fun with that.'"

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The Imitation Game
Instrumentation: 60-piece orchestra
The Score: "Benedict Cumberbatch's [portrayal] is extremely moving, and I thought the music should accompany these emotions. Of course, there are many other layers: the war, the chase to break the code, childhood, building the machine, the friendship-love story. The score tries to serve all as gracefully as possible."

Hans Zimmer, 57
Instrumentation: The 1926 four-manual Harrison & Harrison organ in London's 12th-century Temple Church, 58-piece orchestra of strings and woodwinds, four pianos, 60 singers
The Score: "[Director Christopher Nolan and I] gave ourselves rules -- no action drums, no kinetic strings -- and then figured out what was appropriate. I could see how the organ pipes are the afterburners on the Saturn rocket; we had to be careful it didn't turn into some gothic horror score. There isn't much new music written for the organ, so it seemed like an opportunity to write for a neglected instrument."

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Gary Yershon, 60
Mr. Turner
Instrumentation: Saxophone ensemble; string quintet recorded at Mark Knopfler's West London studio, British Grove
The Score: "At our first session, I brought in [mid-19th-century] ideas saying, 'We don't want these, do we?' Out of that came a discussion [with director Mike Leigh] about J.M.W. Turner as a person, and I came home and wrote the first tune as it stands now. Once I started writing for one saxophone, the others followed in succession as they do in the initial cue. That led naturally to strings, and I then couched the period stuff with a string quintet."

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Johann Johannsson, 45
The Theory of Everything
Instrumentation: 70-piece orchestra recorded at Abbey Road in London; piano, cristal baschet, pipe organ
The Score: "The first piece I wrote for the film is the opening. It starts with a four-note piano motif that runs through the piece and then kind of harmonizes and finally blossoms in a big bang kind of a way, an explosion of melody that's an expression of this simple -- to Stephen Hawking -- equation. [Director] James Marsh used my music from a Danish documentary and [the 2010 film] The Good Life as a temp score. In many ways this score is a hybrid of those two."

This story originally appeared in the Feb. 14 issue of Billboard.