A Short History of Music in Film
• Before the age of recorded sound in motion pictures, the use of an in-house pianist, organist or an entire
orchestra was used to provide music for the film.
• A pianist was present to perform at the Lumiere brother's first film screening in 1895.
• In 1914, The Oz Film Manufacturing Company sent full-length scores by Louis F. Gottschalk for their
• German cinema, which was highly influential in the era of silent movies, provided some original scores
such as Fritz Lang's movies Die Nibelungen (1924) and Metropolis (1927) which were accompanied by
original full scale orchestral scores written by Gottfried Huppertz.
• Friedrich W. Murnau's movies Nosferatu (1922 - music by Hans Erdmann) and Faust – eine deutsche
Volkssage (1926 – music by Werner Richard Heymann) also had original scores written for them.
Short History Continued…
• The 1950s saw the rise of the modernist film score. Director Elia Kazan was open to the idea of jazz
influences and dissonant scoring and worked with Alex North, whose score for A Streetcar Named
Desire (1951) combined dissonance with elements of blues and jazz.
• A year later, Leonard Rosenman, experimented with atonality in his scores for East of Eden (1955) and
Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
• In his ten-year collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann experimented with ideas in
Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960).
• The use of non-diegetic jazz was another modernist innovation, such as jazz star Duke Ellington's score
for Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959).
What is a film score?
• A film score (also sometimes called film music, background music, or incidental music) is original
music written to accompany a film.
• The score forms part of the film's soundtrack, which also includes dialogue and sound effects, and
utilises a number of orchestral, instrumental or choral pieces called cues which are timed to begin and
end at specific points during the film.
• This in turn enhances the dramatic narrative and the emotional impact of a scene.
• Scores are written by one or more composers, under the guidance of, or in collaboration with, the film's
director and/or producer, and are then usually performed by an ensemble of musicians – most often
with an orchestra or band, instrumental soloists, and choir or vocalists – and recorded by a sound
Film Score continued…
• Film scores encompass an enormous variety of music styles, depending on the nature of the films.
• The majority of scores are orchestral works rooted in Western classical music, but a great number of scores also
draw influence from jazz, rock, pop, blues, New Age and ambient music, and a wide range of ethnic and world
• Since the 1950s, a growing number of scores have also included electronic elements as part of the score, and
many scores written today feature a hybrid of orchestral and electronic instruments.
• Songs are usually not considered part of the film's score, although songs do also form part of the film's
• Pop songs which are "needle dropped" into a specific scene in film for added emphasis are not considered part
of the score, although occasionally the score's composer will write an original pop song based on his themes,
such as James Horner's "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic, written for Celine Dion.
• Sometimes, a composer may partner with a director by composing the score for many films of a same director.
• For example, Danny Elfman did the score for all the movies directed by Tim Burton, with the exception of Ed Wood and
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
• Other examples are:
• John Williams and Steven Spielberg,
Alan Silvestri and Robert Zemeckis,
Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch,
James Newton Howard and M. Night Shyamalan,
Patrick Doyle and Kenneth Brannagh,
Carter Burwell and Joel & Ethan Coen,
Harry Gregson-Williams and Tony Scott,
How and to what effect is film music used?
• Films often have different themes for important characters, events, ideas or objects and so different cues
are used to highlight this.
• An example of this technique is John Williams' score for the Star Wars saga, and the numerous themes
associated with characters like Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia.
• The Lord of the Rings trilogy uses a similar technique, with recurring themes for many main characters
• Michael Giacchino employed character themes in the soundtrack for the 2009 animated film Up, for
which he received the Academy Award for Best Score. His orchestral soundtrack for the television series
Lost also depended heavily on character and situation-specific themes.
• Most films have between 40 and 120 minutes of music. However, some films have very little or no
music; others may feature a score that plays almost continuously throughout.
• Dogme 95 is a genre that has music only from sources within a film, such as from a radio or television.
This is called "diegetic" music, as it emanates from the "diegesis" or story world.
• Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller The Birds is an example of a Hollywood film with no non-diegetic