Brian May (Australian composer)

Brian May (28 July 1934 25 April 1997) was an Australian film composer and conductor who was a prominent figure during the Australian New Wave. He is perhaps best known for his scores to Mad Max and Mad Max 2.[1]

Brian May
Born(1934-07-28)28 July 1934
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Died25 April 1997(1997-04-25) (aged 62)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
GenresFilm score
Occupation(s)Composer, conductor
InstrumentsPiano, violin
Years active1957–1997

Life and career

May was born in Adelaide on 28 July 1934. He trained at the Adelaide Elder Conservatorium as a pianist, violinist and conductor. He joined the ABC Adelaide in 1957 and was asked to form and conduct the ABC Adelaide Big Band, a full-blown ensemble that was rated as the best of the ABC state-based bands. He moved to Melbourne when he was 35 to arrange and conduct the ABC's Melbourne Show band. The Show Band made its radio debut on the First Network on 13 March 1969. Background music for Australian television had previously been taken from records. May changed this by writing and arranging the themes for television programmes, including Bellbird, Return to Eden, The Last Frontier, A Dangerous Life and Darling of the Gods.

A breakthrough for May was the drama series Rush, set on the 19th-century Victorian goldfields. The theme was composed by Australian George Dreyfus, but May's arrangement of the theme was recorded by the Show Band and quickly reached the top of the Australian charts, selling more than 100,000 copies. This type of success was usually reserved for pop groups such as Sherbert and Skyhooks. May also composed the theme to the highly successful Countdown television series launched by the Melbourne Show Band. He left the ABC in 1984 and his interests turned to film music. He composed more than 30 feature film scores, including Gallipoli, Mad Max, Mad Max 2, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, Dr. Giggles and one episode of Tales from the Crypt. May preferred to orchestrate his scores himself.

Death and legacy

May died in Melbourne on 25 April 1997 at the age of 62.[2] At the time of his death, May left his collection of music manuscripts to Queensland University of Technology. The manuscripts have since been preserved by the National Library of Australia.[3]

His will established the Brian May Trust, a charitable testamentary trust, to provide a scholarship to promising Australian film composers to study film-scoring at the University of Southern California (USC). The Trustees have determined that the scholarship will be provided for tuition in film-scoring at the USC's Thornton School of Music in the course known as the 'Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television Graduate Certificate'. The Brian May Trust Scholarship was first awarded for the 2003–2004 academic year.[4] The scholarship later relocated to New York University's Steinhardt School.[5]



Mad Max won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Original Score.[6] May won many other awards, including the Golden Award from the Australian Performing Rights Association.

Year Ceremony Project Category Result
1979 Australian Film Institute Awards Mad Max Best Original Music Score Won
1981 Australian Film Institute Awards Roadgames Best Original Music Score Nominated
1982 Australian Film Institute Awards Mad Max 2 Best Original Music Score Nominated
1986 Australian Film Institute Awards Frog Dreaming Best Original Music Score Nominated


  1. Ivan Hutchinson, "Brian May", Cinema Papers, Feb-March 1985 p47-49, 88
  2. "About Brian May". Brian May Scholarship. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  3. Hannan, Michael (2010). "The Brian May Collection: Two Decades of Screen Composition" (PDF). Screen Sound Journal (1): 63. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  4. "About the Brian May Scholarship". Brian May Scholarship. Archived from the original on 16 May 2007. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  5. "Brian May Scholarship". Steinhardt - Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions. New York University. Archived from the original on 4 May 2015. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
  6. Andrew MacLean, Paul (6 May 1997). "Brian May (1934-1997)". Film Score Monthly. Archived from the original on 15 May 2015. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
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