Composer Spotlight Series: Rachel Portman

POSTED: Mar. 08, 2022

Rachel Portman

b. 1960

Rachel Portman was born in Haslemere in Surrey, England and received her primary education at the exclusive Charterhouse School. She became interested in music at an early age, starting to compose by age 14. She then went on to study music at Worcester College, Oxford. This is where her involvement with scoring films began, as she composed for student films and theater productions. Notable among these early projects was the student film “Privileged” starring Hugh Grant, which went on to have a small theatrical release.

After college, Portman began her professional career writing music for BBC and Channel 4 films, among them Jim Henson’s “Storyteller” series. She continued her career writing scores for film and television, transitioning to Hollywood in 1992 with “Used People.” 

In 1996, Portman broke barriers as the first female composer to win an Academy Award for “Emma” in the Best Musical or Comedy Score category. Other nominees that year included “Pocahontas,” scored by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, Randy Newman’s score for “Toy Story” and John Williams himself with “Sabrina.” She would go on to be nominated for two more Oscars, “The Cider House Rules” in 1999 and “Chocolat” in 2000. “Chocolat” was also nominated for a Golden Globe. In 2015, she won an Emmy Award for her score to HBO’s “Bessie.”

In addition to her prolific work for film and television, Portman has written a musical of “Little House on the Prairie,” an opera adaptation of “The Little Prince” for the Houston Grand Opera, “The Water Diviner’s Tale” for the BBC Proms, and numerous other orchestral and choral works. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2010, received the BMI Career Achievement Award in 2010, and is an honorary fellow of Worcester College, Oxford.

Watch a short clip featuring Portman on IMDb.

Visit Portman's website.

Women's History Month

This month, we're celebrating with a Composer Spotlight Series dedicated to women in music. 

Written by Joseph Rush ('23)