Pinar Toprak remembers the moment she figured out the music for “Captain Marvel.”
She knew the film was going to be huge and wanted the superhero — portrayed by Oscar winner Brie Larson — to have a score to match her incredible powers.
“I was in studio trying to think of what this theme was going to be, and I just wasn’t happy with anything. Nothing was really capturing it,” Toprak said, in a recent phone interview. “So I left the studio and I just went out for a walk — and then I started humming. I must have looked like a crazy person to a lot of people, but I just started humming, humming, and then somebody who’s on my team, who’s also a good friend of mine, I called him up . . . and was like ‘What do you think about this?,’ and he said, ‘OK, hang up the phone now and record it as a voice memo.’ And believe it or not, that is the ‘Captain Marvel’ theme now.”
In composing the music for the blockbuster — which opens Friday — Toprak, a 38-year-old Berklee College of Music graduate, has become the first woman to score a Marvel feature.
She’s long been preparing for the job. Her resume includes more than 40 projects, including score for the popular game Fortnite and the Syfy series “Krypton.” She also provided some music for “Justice League” (2017). A self-described comic-book person, Toprak was honored to make music for the fictional Carol Danvers, a former Air Force fighter pilot who becomes Captain Marvel and saves the world.
“I was a huge, huge fan [of the character] even before I got the film,” Toprak said. “Even before I auditioned for it or anything, I got the first appearance of Captain Marvel [in a comic]. I believe it was like 1977. I actually have it next to me right now. I love comic books and I love Marvel, in general. It was extra meaningful and amazing to be a part of that.”
Toprak has also long been a fan of superhero film scores. She grew up in Istanbul and started studying music when she was about 5, focusing on violin and then classical guitar. But she decided she wanted to compose for film after falling in love with classic compositions such as John Williams’s score for Richard Donner’s “Superman” (1978).
“I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it,” Toprak said. “I know pretty much all of the lines in it.”
She knew she needed to get to Los Angeles if she wanted to do that kind of film work, so she came up with a plan. After finishing high school at 16, she moved to Chicago to live with her brother.
Toprak, who did not know English when she arrived in the United States, applied to Berklee and enrolled as a film scoring major. She was able to finish college in two years — even though she had three jobs.
“I only had the means for two years,” she said. “I was either going to drop out or graduate in two years, and dropping out wasn’t an option.”
Richard Davis, of Berklee’s film scoring department, taught Toprak and remembers her talent and work ethic.
“She certainly stood out. She was highly motivated. She presented herself extremely professionally right from the get-go.”
After Berklee, she moved to Los Angeles, where she got an internship at Paramount Pictures in the music department. She went on to work for Hans Zimmer, who has scored such films as “The Lion King” (1994), “Gladiator, (2000), and “Dunkirk” (2017).
Toprak has also taught online courses for Berklee. Asked to describe her style, she laughs.
“I never know what my sound is, and I have people telling me, ‘Oh, that sounds just like you!’ and like, ‘I don’t know what that is.’ . . . I like a beautiful counterpoint that lends itself to driving harmonies. But as far as style goes, I’ve written for different genres, and every genre requires its own kind of writing. And I love that about what I do because I never did the same thing again.”
Asked via e-mail about Toprak’s work on “Captain Marvel,” directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden had this to say: “We loved that Pinar was willing to take some wild swings with her music in her early demos. Not all of it is in the movie, but it was her fearlessness and playfulness and the emotional resonance in the music that really surprised us. Her ability to balance all of that while still managing to make a cohesive, singular score is what most impressed us.”
Disney, which owns Marvel Studios, has not released the theme to the film, but Toprak did say a little about what fans can expect with the score. She said that often superhero themes begin with a certain kind of musical interval — usually a fourth or a fifth. (Williams’s theme for “Superman” begins with a fifth.)
For Captain Marvel, Toprak wanted to try something a bit different.
“My theme opens with a minor seventh . . . because higher, further, faster is Captain Marvel, right?”
Toprak says the music also has heart — and maybe that’s her style.
“I try to find the heart, to capture the emotion so that’s the first thing that I go for. Because I feel like I’m supposed to find the heart, and everything else is all technical.”
Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.