Aesthetics and Analysis: A Vocabulary of Motion Picture Music

Discover how the unique language of film music developed from the late-Romantic styles of Wagner and R. Strauss through Minimalism and into the age of electronic scoring. Composers for the screen now hail from every part of the planet, but they use a common language that all recognize as ‘film music.’ Learn exactly what that language is made of, from the barest motive to the boldest theme, and how the masters of the craft have utilized it to tell more compelling stories, create more indelible characters, and draw generation after generation back to the screen.

Module 1 (3 credits)

In this module, you will explore the lineage of film music, a form that is now a hundred years old but which has roots going back nearly a century before that. The family tree that now holds Zimmer has connecting branches for Vangelis, Morricone, Holst, R. Strauss and Wagner. The Elfman branch is preceded by Herrmann, Profofiev, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky, not to mention Kurt Weill and Cab Calloway! To write film music without understanding this lineage is like predicting the future without understanding the past. Through extensive film viewing, score analysis, and targeted exercises, you'll come to know the conventions and techniques that shape this universal language of cinematic storytelling.

What will you learn in this module?

  1. The lineage of film music, spanning its first century, from early Russian experiments to the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond.

  2. The impact of émigré composers and their contributions to the international film music scene.

  3. The evolution of film music within the Hollywood Studio system and its personification in composers like Alfred Newman, Miklós Rózsa, and Franz Waxman.

  4. Discover how the idiosyncratic expression of Bernard Herrmann shaped everything after and how composers like Elliot Goldenthal and Don Davis have continued the tradition.

  5. Learn how composers like Elmer Bernstein incorporated American idioms such as jazz into film scores.

  6. Delve into Ennio Morricone's iconic scores and discover how he makes meaning with as little as a solo harmonica.

  7. Examine the fusion of influences during the period 1958-68 that led to the development of recognisable film music conventions, clichés, tropes, and gestures.

  8. Engage in intensive viewing, discussions, score analysis, and imitative exercises to deepen your understanding of the language of film music.

  9. Appreciate that while taste and style in music for the screen are subject to the winds of fashion, certain foundational elements remain constant, and understanding these is the core of the craft.

How does this module meet industry expectations?

  • You will comprehend the historical development of film music, from its early experiments to the Golden Age and beyond. This knowledge will provide you with a strong foundation and context for your own compositions.

  • Studying the contributions of émigré composers and their impact on the international film music scene will broaden your perspective and expose you to diverse musical styles and techniques. This understanding can enhance your creative approach and allow you to incorporate unique elements into your compositions.

  • Learning about the evolution of film music standard practice within the Hollywood Studio system will give you insights into the industry's modus operandi, expectations, and trends. This knowledge can help you navigate the professional landscape and tailor your compositions to meet the industry's demands.

  • Discovering how composers like Bernard Herrmann, Elmer Bernstein, Toru Takemitsu, Michel Legrand, and Ennio Morricone experimented with idiosyncratic expressions and regional idioms will expand your compositional toolkit in the same way it has for composers like Thomas Newman, Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer. You can apply these techniques creatively to bring depth and uniqueness to your film and game scores.

  • Through intensive analysis and exercises, you will develop an in-depth understanding of film music conventions, clichés, tropes, and gestures. This knowledge will enable you to communicate effectively with directors, producers, and other stakeholders, as you will have a shared vocabulary to discuss and articulate your musical choices.

  • By dissecting scores, engaging in discussions, and imitating exercises, you will sharpen your ability to craft music that effectively supports and enhances storytelling in film and games. You will learn how to evoke emotions, create tension, and align your compositions with the narrative arc, ultimately elevating the overall audiovisual experience.

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