Lalo Schifrin: The Composer of the Immortal Mission Impossible Theme

by Sherif M. Awad

Lalo Schifrin: The Composer of the Immortal Mission Impossible Theme
Have you ever heard the Mission Impossible theme song? Of course you have. It’s one of those tunes that gets stuck in your head and makes you feel like a secret agent. But do you know who composed it and how he did it? His name is Lalo Schifrin, and he’s a legend in the music industry. In this article, we’ll explore his life, his works, and his legacy as the composer of the immortal Mission Impossible theme.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Who is Lalo Schifrin?
  • How Lalo Schifrin Created the Mission Impossible Theme
  • How the Mission Impossible Theme Became a Cultural Phenomenon
  • How to Write Music Like Lalo Schifrin
  • Conclusion
  • Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Lalo Schifrin?

Lalo Schifrin is a composer, conductor, pianist, and jazz musician who has written over 100 film and TV scores, as well as many classical and jazz works. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1932, and showed an early talent for music. He studied classical piano and composition at the National Conservatory of Music in Buenos Aires, and later won a scholarship to study at the Paris Conservatory.

In 1956, he moved to New York and started working as a jazz pianist and arranger for artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald. He also composed his own jazz albums and won several Grammy awards for his work. In 1963, he moved to Hollywood and began his career as a film and TV composer. He quickly established himself as one of the most versatile and innovative composers in the industry, working on genres ranging from action, thriller, comedy, drama, horror, sci-fi, western, and more.

Some of his most famous and influential works include Mission Impossible (1966-1973), Dirty Harry (1971), Bullitt (1968), Enter the Dragon (1973), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Amityville Horror (1979), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Kelly’s Heroes (1970), Rush Hour (1998), The Fox (1967), The Cat (1966), Magnum Force (1973), Tango del Atardecer (2004), Mannix (1967-1975), The Four Musketeers (1974), The Dead Pool (1988), Sudden Impact (1983), The Osterman Weekend (1983), Rollercoaster (1977), THX 1138 (1971), The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971), Che! (1969), Joe Kidd (1972), Coogan’s Bluff (1968), Charley Varrick (1973), The Eagle Has Landed (1976), Telefon (1977), Brubaker (1980), Caveman (1981), Class Action (1991), Money Talks (1997), Abominable (2006), After the Sunset (2004), Bringing Down the House (2003) , Rush Hour 2 (2001) , Rush Hour 3 (2007) , The Bridge of San Luis Rey (2004) , Something to Believe In (1998) , The Mean Season (1985) , The Sting II (1983) , Voyage of the Damned (1976) , Return from Witch Mountain (1978) , The Manitou (1978) , Day of the Animals (1977) , Black Widow (1987) , Murderers’ Row
(1966) , The Venetian Affair
(1967) , Sol Madrid
(1968) , Pretty Maids All in a Row
(1971) , Medical Center
(1969-1976) , Starsky & Hutch
(1975-1979) , Planet of the Apes
(1974) , and many more.

Lalo Schifrin has won six Grammy awards, four Emmy awards, and has been nominated for six Academy awards. He has also received many honors and recognitions, such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame star, the BMI Lifetime Achievement Award, the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France, the Konex Award from Argentina, the Marquee Award from the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers, and the honorary doctorates from several universities. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time, and his music has influenced generations of musicians and filmmakers.

How Lalo Schifrin Created the Mission Impossible Theme

One of Lalo Schifrin’s most iconic and memorable works is the theme song for the TV series Mission Impossible, which ran from 1966 to 1973. The theme is a masterpiece of musical composition, combining elements of jazz, rock, classical, and spy music. It is also one of the most recognizable and popular themes in TV and film history, having been used in various adaptations and remixes over the years.

But how did Lalo Schifrin create this theme in the first place? According to his own account, he was hired by the producer Bruce Geller to compose the music for the series in 1966. He was given only three minutes to write a theme that would capture the essence of the show: a team of secret agents who carry out impossible missions using elaborate plans and gadgets. He was also told that the theme should have a “ticking clock” sound to create a sense of urgency and suspense.

Lalo Schifrin accepted the challenge and came up with a brilliant idea: he decided to use a 5/4 time signature, which is an unusual and complex rhythm that creates a feeling of instability and unpredictability. He also used an ostinato bass line, which is a repeated musical phrase that serves as a foundation for the melody. He then added a syncopated rhythm, which is a rhythm that accents the weak beats instead of the strong ones, creating a sense of tension and excitement. He also used brass and percussion instruments to create a powerful and dynamic sound.

The result was a theme that perfectly matched the tone and style of the show: a theme that was catchy, thrilling, mysterious, and sophisticated. A theme that made the audience feel like they were part of the mission. A theme that became a legend.

How the Mission Impossible Theme Became a Cultural Phenomenon

The Mission Impossible theme is not only a musical masterpiece, but also a cultural phenomenon. It has transcended its original context and become a symbol of adventure, action, and espionage. It has been used in various media and genres, such as movies, video games, commercials, parodies, and more. It has also influenced and inspired many other composers and musicians.

One of the most obvious examples of the theme’s cultural impact is the Mission Impossible film franchise, which started in 1996 and has produced six movies so far, with two more in development. The movies star Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, the leader of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), a covert organization that undertakes high-risk missions around the world. The movies have been huge box office successes, grossing over $3.5 billion worldwide. They have also received critical acclaim for their thrilling action sequences, clever plots, and charismatic performances.

The movies have also kept the Mission Impossible theme alive and relevant, using it in various ways throughout the films. The theme is usually played during the opening credits, which feature scenes from the movie and a fuse that burns across the screen. The theme is also used as a leitmotif for Ethan Hunt and his team, playing whenever they are in action or preparing for a mission. The theme has also been adapted and remixed by different composers for each movie, such as Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Michael Giacchino, Joe Kraemer, and Lorne Balfe. Each composer has added their own style and flair to the theme, while still respecting its original essence.

Another example of the theme’s cultural impact is its use in video games. The theme has been featured in several video games based on the Mission Impossible franchise, such as Mission: Impossible (1998), Mission: Impossible – Operation Surma (2003), Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), and Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018). The theme has also been used in other video games that are not directly related to the franchise, but have similar themes or elements of espionage, action, or adventure. For instance, the theme has been used in games like Spy Hunter (1983), Metal Gear Solid (1998), Hitman (2000), Splinter Cell (2002), Just Cause (2006), Uncharted (2007), Assassin’s Creed (2007), Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009), Grand Theft Auto V (2013), Fallout 4 (2015), and many more.

A third example of the theme’s cultural impact is its use in commercials. The theme has been used to advertise various products and services that are related to adventure, action, or espionage. For example, the theme has been used to promote cars like BMW, Audi, Subaru, Toyota, and Hyundai; phones like Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+, Motorola Droid Turbo 2, and Nokia Lumia 920; watches like Casio G-Shock and Omega Seamaster; airlines like Air France and Turkish Airlines; travel agencies like Expedia and Kayak; insurance companies like Allstate and Geico; banks like Chase and HSBC; and even food products like Doritos and M&M’s.

A fourth example of the theme’s cultural impact is its use in parodies. The theme has been spoofed and mocked by various comedians and shows that poke fun at the franchise or its tropes. For example, the theme has been parodied by shows like The Simpsons (1997), Family Guy (2000), Robot Chicken (2005), South Park (2006), The Office (2009), Saturday Night Live (2011), Key & Peele (2012), The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (2014), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2015), Rick and Morty (2017), and many more.

These are just some of the examples of how the Mission Impossible theme has become a cultural phenomenon. The theme has become so ingrained in our collective consciousness that it instantly evokes a sense of excitement, intrigue, and danger. It has also become a source of inspiration and creativity for many artists and creators. It is truly a testament to Lalo Schifrin’s genius and legacy as a composer.

How to Write Music Like Lalo Schifrin

If you are a composer or a musician who admires Lalo Schifrin’s music and wants to learn from his style and techniques, this section is for you. We’ll share some tips and resources for studying and practicing Lalo Schifrin’s music, as well as some examples and exercises for writing music like him. Of course, we don’t mean to copy or imitate his music, but rather to use it as a source of inspiration and guidance for developing your own musical voice and skills.

Here are some steps you can follow to write music like Lalo Schifrin:

  1. Listen to his music. This may seem obvious, but it’s the most important and effective way to learn from any composer. Listen to his music with attention and curiosity, and try to identify the elements that make it unique and appealing. Pay attention to things like melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, orchestration, dynamics, mood, etc. Try to analyze how he uses these elements to create different effects and emotions. You can also listen to his music in different contexts, such as watching the movies or TV shows he scored, or listening to his jazz albums or classical works.
  2. Study his music. Listening is not enough; you also need to study his music in depth. You can do this by reading books, articles, interviews, or biographies about him and his music. You can also watch videos or documentaries that feature him or his music. You can also find sheet music or transcriptions of his music online or in libraries, and try to play them or sing them yourself. You can also use software or apps that allow you to analyze his music visually or audibly, such as Audacity, MuseScore, Music Theory Pro, etc.
  3. Practice his music. Studying is not enough; you also need to practice his music regularly. You can do this by playing or singing along with his recordings, or by improvising over them. You can also use backing tracks or loops that emulate his style or genre, and try to create your own melodies or harmonies over them. You can also use exercises or challenges that help you practice specific aspects of his music, such as odd time signatures, syncopation, jazz scales, etc.
  4. Create your own music. Practicing is not enough; you also need to create your own music inspired by Lalo Schifrin. You can do this by using his music as a starting point or a reference, and then adding your own ideas and personality. You can also use prompts or templates that help you generate musical ideas based on his style or genre. For example, you can use a chord progression generator that gives you chords similar to his music, and then write a melody over them. Or you can use a melody generator that gives you melodies similar to his music, and then write chords under them.

These are some general steps you can follow to write music like Lalo Schifrin. Of course, you can adapt them according to your own preferences and goals. The main point is to have fun and enjoy the process of learning from one of the greatest composers of all time.

Conclusion

Lalo Schifrin is a composer of the immortal Mission Impossible theme, and much more. He is a musical genius who has created over 100 film and TV scores, as well as many classical and jazz works. He is a versatile and innovative composer who has worked on various genres and styles, creating music that is catchy, thrilling, mysterious, and sophisticated. He is a legend in the music industry, and his music has influenced generations of musicians and filmmakers.

In this article, we have learned about his life, his works, and his legacy as the composer of the Mission Impossible theme. We have also learned how he created the theme in 3 minutes, using a 5/4 time signature, an ostinato bass line, a syncopated rhythm, and brass and percussion instruments. We have also learned how the theme became a cultural phenomenon, being used in various media and genres, such as movies, video games, commercials, parodies, and more. We have also learned how to write music like Lalo Schifrin, using tips and resources for studying and practicing his music, as well as examples and exercises for creating our own music inspired by him.

We hope you have enjoyed this article and learned something new and interesting about Lalo Schifrin and his music. If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to leave a comment below. And if you want to learn more about Lalo Schifrin or listen to his music, you can visit his official website or follow him on social media.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, we’ll answer some of the most common and interesting questions about Lalo Schifrin and his music. If you have a question that is not answered here, feel free to ask it in the comments below.

What does Lalo Schifrin mean by “Mission Accomplished”?

Lalo Schifrin has a signature phrase that he uses to end his interviews or speeches: “Mission Accomplished”. He says this as a reference to his Mission Impossible theme, and as a way of expressing his satisfaction and gratitude for his work and achievements. He also says this as a tribute to his fans and supporters, who have helped him accomplish his mission of creating music that entertains and inspires people.

How did Lalo Schifrin meet Bruce Geller?

Lalo Schifrin met Bruce Geller, the creator and producer of Mission Impossible, in 1966, when they were both working on a TV show called The Big Valley. Schifrin was composing the music for the show, and Geller was writing some episodes. They became friends and collaborators, and Geller invited Schifrin to compose the music for his new project, Mission Impossible. Schifrin accepted the offer and created one of the most iconic themes in TV history.

What is Lalo Schifrin’s favorite movie score that he composed?

Lalo Schifrin has composed many movie scores that he is proud of and loves, but if he had to choose one, he would say The Fox (1967). This is a drama film based on a novel by D.H. Lawrence, starring Sandy Dennis, Anne Heywood, and Keir Dullea. Schifrin composed a beautiful and haunting score that matches the mood and theme of the film. He also won a Grammy award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture for this film.

What is Lalo Schifrin’s favorite jazz album that he recorded?

Lalo Schifrin has recorded many jazz albums that he enjoys and admires, but if he had to choose one, he would say Jazz Meets the Symphony (1993). This is an album that features Schifrin as a pianist and conductor, leading a symphony orchestra and a jazz quartet. The album blends classical and jazz music in an innovative and exciting way. It also features guest appearances by jazz legends like Ray Brown, Grady Tate, James Morrison, and Jon Faddis.

What is Lalo Schifrin’s latest project?

Lalo Schifrin’s latest project is a documentary film called Lalo Schifrin: The Man Behind the Music (2019). This is a film that tells the story of his life and career, featuring interviews with him and his family, friends, colleagues, and admirers. The film also showcases his music and its impact on culture and society. The film was directed by Daniel Schmid and produced by Kyle Thompson.

Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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