History Behind Music Essay

2796 words - 12 pages

The fact that the music of films often has powerful effects on its audience is undisputed. Careful examination of the reasons behind these effects, however, has been largely ignored. We tend to compare previously unassociated dramatic pieces we hear to film music - but what piece cannot be compared to film music nowadays? Every pre-composed piece or spontaneous melodic fragment is potential fodder for a cinematic soundtrack. The real questions lie in how and why people have been compelled to combine drama with music throughout history. This essay attempts to clarify some of music's manifold roles in cinema and the reasons behind them by using as an example composer Bernard Herrmann's Citizen ...view middle of the document...

Almost three centuries later, Eadweard Muybridge's invention of high speed photography (moving pictures that captured motion) eventually led to the production of silent films. The first known pairing of music with film, however, did not occur until December 28, 1895, when a Parisian family, the Lumieres, gave a screening with piano accompaniment to test public reaction to their films.[2]

The idea caught on quickly, and less than two months later entire orchestras were accompanying films in London theaters. The exact reasoning behind using music in conjunction with the silent film is the subject of much speculation. Popular opinion among music theorists holds that its purpose was manifold: to cover up the sound of a noisy projector, and later, when technology quieted the latter, to alleviate uncomfortable silence.

[3] Hanns Eisler even proposed that music was used to reassure the film's viewers of life and take their mind off of their own mortality in the face of the ghostly presence silent actors onscreen might seem to represent.

[4] Whatever the case, music at the time was surely not intended to affect the film's emotional import. Film music during this period was unanimously seen as secondary to the visual aspects of the film itself; thus, the compositions played ranged from light popular music to traditional classical, with no relation to the subject of the film whatsoever.

[5] The first rudimentary step in using music meant to evoke or enhance emotion in films came some years later (directors had finally began to realize that unrelated music detracted from the movies in which they were used) in the form of music handbooks, compendiums of musical themes meant to suit a particular action, style, scene, or mood, drawing on Wagner's leitmotif principle. These themes were categorized by general names such as "Nature," "Nation and Society," and "Church and State," as well as more specific ones, like "Happy," "Climbing," "Night: threatening mood," and "Impending doom: 'something is going to happen.'"

[6] Although audiences were not always aware of the exact names of these themes, the action onscreen usually gave viewers ideas to associate with them, making the music programmatic by default.

[7] Shortly afterward, The Jazz Singer, the first movie with talking sequences, ushered in the era of "talkies" in 1927, presenting new challenges to the film director and score composer alike.By the 1930s, producers and directors felt that there should be some logical reason for any music appearing in a film. This sometimes ruined the intended effect of the music by providing ludicrously comedic situations that destroyed the mood of the film. Max Steiner, in his book We Make the Movies, recalled that "a love scene might take place in the woods and in order to justify the music thought necessary to accompany it, a wandering violinist would be brought in for no reason at all. Or, again, a shepherd would be seen herding his sheep and playing...

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