John Greenwood was among the oldest composers in England to contribute to film music on a regular basis. Born John Danforth Herman Greenwood in 1889 in Kensington, London, he seemed destined for a career in music, as both of his parents were professionals in the field; he started out learning the piano and the viola from his mother and father, and attended the Royal College of Music from age 18. His instruments were the viola and the horn, and he also studied composition. Greenwood was well into middle age, and somewhat established in the concert hall, when synchronized sound came to movies, and soon after that the beginnings of the modern film score. Having gotten a late start in terms of age in working in film music, he got an early jump on the field in his contributions, his earliest known credits in movies dating from 1929.
In the decade that followed, Greenwood composed the scores for such notable movies as Man of Aran (1934) and worked for a time for Alexander Korda's London Films, on such notable films as Robert Flaherty's Elephant Boy (1937) and Zoltan Korda's The Drum (1938), and the Laurence Olivier vehicles 21 Days (1940) and Q Planes (1939). After Korda's departure for America in 1940, and the suspension of activities at London Films, Greenwood continued to work for some of the top filmmakers in England -- Michael Powell used him to score Contraband (1940, his first independent collaboration with Emeric Pressburger), and Greenwood was also engaged by star/producer/director Leslie Howard to write the music for the thriller Pimpernel Smith (1941).