[Smt-talk] theory of film music

Nicholas Reyland n.w.reyland at keele.ac.uk
Thu Jul 3 12:08:39 PDT 2014

In answer to Mr Kosovsky’s original post, and to add a different
perspective to Prof. Leinberger’s, things look and feel a bit different on
this side of the pond. (It would also be interesting, as part of this
thread, to hear from colleagues elsewhere in the world about the meaning[s]
of ‘Film Musicology’ and its relationship, in different national and
regional contexts, to 'Music Theory'.)

There have been a number of recent discussions about the meaning of ‘Film
Musicology’ amongst music scholars working on screen scoring, and Prof.
Leinberger’s description will probably ring true for many film music
scholars working in the States. In the UK, though, scholars tend to speak
of screen music studies, or even of audiovisual studies – for instance, a
British Audiovisual Research Network (a group of musicologists and other
scholars working on film, TV, game and other media) is in the process of
being formed. Discussions about ‘BARN’ (oh yes) took place at the Music and
Screen Media Conference last week at Liverpool University, beautifully
organised by Holly Rogers. And there was lots of close score analysis there
– John Richardson’s keynote, in fact, was entitled ‘Closer Reading’ – and,
as has been my experience of work in this field in the UK for the past ten
years or so, much of it was informed by music theory. Some of the papers at
the conference, I suspect, may even have felt like SMT fare: Frank Lehman
from Harvard, for instance, gave a fine paper on ‘Pantriadic music for
multimedia: tonal dialectics and the aesthetics of wonderment’. (Note,
though, how the paper title speaks of more than music theoretical issues –
a topic to which I return below.) There were also many papers at the
conference in which close musical and audiovisual analysis drew on other
wellsprings of theory – critical theory for one, film theory another.
Further strong papers emerged from the types of screen music scholarship
Prof. Leinberger describes. For me, this is one of the joys of screen music
studies: it encompasses all such approaches – or, at least, invites them
all into its big tent (or indeed barn) to duke it out – and is all the
stronger for the dialogue.

It might be my UK blinkers, but I’m also conscious of quite a lot of work
(including some fine analytical scholarship by Guido Heldt, actually)
which, rather than spending ‘little time if any on the score itself’, is
very much focused on film score analysis. Admittedly, this does tend to
happen in the context of broader audiovisual analysis of scoring's role
within a film’s storytelling (or otherwise deployed) apparatus. Many
examples – some of them drawing, again, on music theory (and other
approaches to close reading) – can be found throughout the literature, not
least in the Scarecrow Press Film Score Guides series, edited by Kate
Daubney, and to which Prof. Leinberger, of course, contributed a valuable
volume on Morricone’s score for _The Good, The Bad and The Ugly_.

On the other hand, I am less aware of work treating the score in isolation
of its filmic, social, political, historical and other cultural contexts –
but I wouldn’t like to say it’s not out there, and suspect people on this
list will now rectify my ignorance. It could obviously serve valuable
scholarly purposes, just as analyzing the lyrics of a song in isolation as
poetry can still be incredibly useful - just so long as the scholar
involved isn’t deluded enough to think it is the best or only game in town.
But – again, in my view, from my particular perspective – the best screen
music theory and analysis tends to negotiate symbolic complexes of music,
sound and the moving image, and their performance of multifarious cultural
work. And the very best work in that area, in my humble opinion, draws
strongly on the traditions of theoretically engaged criticism and close
reading that stems, in part, from what we would all recognize, in an
SMT-Talk context, as ‘Music Theory’.

Having said that: film music theory and analysis will be a theme of the UK
Music Analysis conference next July (at which David Neumeyer is giving a
keynote lecture). And I know of at least one scholar preparing a
neo-Riemannian analysis of aspects of *Vertigo*…

(I, for one, can’t wait.)

With best wishes

Nick Reyland

Dr Nicholas Reyland
Senior Lecturer
Music & Film Studies
Keele University

n.w.reyland at keele.ac.uk
T: +44 (0)1782 733297
Music, The Clock House, Keele University, ST5 5BG, UK
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