Tag Archives: Concert Band

Emotion on tap: the appeal of film music.

Whilst listening to the University Concert Band performing a suite from the score to the film Gladiator at a recent concert, I was struck anew by the allure that film music has for me. On browsing through my array of CDs later on, I realised that a large part of my listening library is devoted to film scores, from the spooky Classicism of Hannibal to the robust menace of Gladiator and Jurassic Park, the ethereal mystery of Solaris or the innocent jollity of Amelie.

What is it about film music that appeals ? On reflection, I suspect it might be the immediacy of the emotion it conjures, the instant creation of a mood or effect. Unlike traditional classical music, film scores don’t rely on musical form and architecture in the same way as, say, a symphony or a piano sonata. Film music, at least non-diagetic film music, is used because a director wants to enhance the emotion of a particular scene, and the music has to respond immediately. There is no room for traditional forms such as sonata form – exposition, development, recapitulation – which is all about presenting ideas, developing them, setting up tonal or harmonic relationships, and then providing a resolution in a coda. Think of the menace of the creeping semi-tone in Jaws, or the shrieking strings in Bernard Hermann’s music to Psycho: the effect is immediate.

Of course, diagetic music can do this as well: I’m thinking of that scene in Riidley Scott’s beautiful Hannibal, where the sound of the theme from Bach’s glorious Goldberg Variations seeps into the soundtrack, and the camera tracks across the room to reveal Lecter himself playing the piece as he muses on the letter he has just written to Starling. The piece is a favourite of Lecter’s, as we know from The Silence of the Lambs when he plays it on a tape-recorder in the prison-cage. The beauty of Bach’s melody stands in stark contrast to the environment in which it appears: Lecter’s private residence, or the cage-prison, and the figure of Lecter himself. (This video of Gould performing the Aria uncannily mirrors something of the tracking effect Scott uses in the film: I wonder if he’d seen it ?).

So what film music looms large in your library, and why ?

(Audio excerpts from preview tracks at LastFM).