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Lecture 8

MUSIC 2F03 Lecture 8: Film Music

Course Code
Simon Wood

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Music 2F03 Lecture 8
Test 2
- Check room assignments on avenue
- Cut-off at Dimitri Tiomkin and high noon (everything before Bernard Herrmann)
Bernard Herrmann: (1911 1975)
- Born in New York City
- Studied at Julliard (very prestigious classical music school)
- CBS radio in 1934 (Early 20s)
- Orson Wells
o By 21 was most famous man
- Travels to Hollywood with Wells in 1940
Citizen Kane (1941)
- Was not a huge hit when it was first released
o Part of the reason it wasn’t a huge success is that it was based off a real person
o He declared war on that film, banned people from writing about film, would lose
their jobs if they promoted it
o Wasn’t till after people watched it again and again that they discovered it and re-
discovered it was a high-water-mark film
- Was critically acclaimed in the circles of film directors and producers
o Profoundly influential film
- Orson Wells used lighting (bright light, deep shadows, contrast lighting), in a way that
hearkened the earlier days of Film Noir
- Seen as the film that kicked film noir off
- Herrmann was versed in music similar to Steiner and Korngold
o This is important because his style changes
o He introduces a lot of new ideas
- Plot
o Film starts in the final moments of a billionaire’s life
o He is isolated and alone up in his mansion
o He is lying in his death bed and utters his last words “rosebud”
o The rest of the film is about newspapers, journalists questioning people who
knew the billionaire to figure out what “rosebud” means and why it was his last
- Scene
o 20 years of marriage explained in 3 minutes
o When they’re first married, they’re passionately in love, they become playful with
each other (they get comfortable with each other), passive/aggressive, openly
hostile and then it is silence
Rich, beautiful romantic music, playful, turn, menacing and finally cold
distant music in the upper strings (all the passion is sucked out)
Wave of anti-Semitism, she doesn’t want the assistant “Mr. Bernstein” to
come over
Like late 19th century opera

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It sounds utterly conventional, there is nothing stylishly extraordinary
about the music
Fits right into the period of music
o This whole scene happens at a breakfast table
They start by sitting beside each other
They end by being at opposite ends of the table (the table gets longer)
Herrmann’s Realization
- Herrmann realizes something that is blindingly obvious but that hasn’t occurred to
anyone else
- Every major city has a professional orchestra and they all look remarkably the same
o A standardized performance ensemble
Left-over of the professional music world prior to the invention of
recording technology
Recording technology invented in 1877 (doesn’t reach the quality required
for music playback)
It’s only in the last century that recorded music has become a part of our
Prior to that: you have to make the music yourself or be in the presence
of someone making the music
This is big, especially if you want to make a career out of music
Sets of instruments that are standardized and easy to find
wherever you go
Write music for that-chances are, you can find those
instrumentalists very easily
o It wasn’t a conscious decision, it is something that evolved
over time
Symphony orchestra in Vienna was the same as London, other countries,
etc., it could be played by anyone
It is a standardized set of instruments designed for live performances
Steiner and Korngold use symphony orchestras because that’s what they
were trained in and that’s what they were used to
o Hermann realizes that he is writing music that is to be performed exactly ONCE
for a film, not for a standardized orchestra to be played several times
So why not write pieces of music using any combination and sets of
Not only can you create original music for film, you can create a unique
ensemble of instruments
Can give the film a unique sonic character that goes beyond the sets of
notes they are playing, just the sound of the instruments creates a unique
fingerprint of music for the movie
Realized he could write music for like 8 pianos and 8 harps, doesn’t
matter cause they won’t be played in the real world, only need it once to
be recorded (can create original music for unique ensemble of music)

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The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
- Unique set of instruments: violin, cello, and bass (all three electric), two Theremins,
three electric organs, three vibraphones (large percussion instruments, metallic,
“beautiful doorbells”), two glockenspiels, two pianos, two harps, three trumpets, three
trombones and four tubas
o Heavy on keyboards and brass
o No conventional woodwinds (flutes, clarinets)
o No stringed instruments, except for 3
- All 3 instruments were stringed instruments
o All 3 were electric not acoustic
- Herrmann’s approach: the sound of a score depends on instrumentation
- Only required for recording session no need to focus on performance ensemble
- He makes the set of instruments as important as the notes that are played
- Just by hearing the first sound of the score, you can recognize it as Herrmann’s because
it is the only score that has that type of sound
- Plot
o About technological power
o The galaxy is teeming with life
o The aliens have been keeping their eye on Earth, we have invented nuclear
weapons long before our brains can handle that kind of power
o The alien says “we’ll leave you alone but you have to learn how to control your
nuclear weapons, if not we will use a robot to sterilize the planet”
- Scene
o The alien ship has just landed
o First section
When everyone is sitting around waiting for something to happen, the
ship door opens, the alien walks out (music is not scary but there is a
sense of mystery and anticipation)
There is no theme, no long ornate melody
The work is done by the sets of instruments that are playing
(clouds of sound)
Set holds a cluster of notes, another set comes in and holds the
rest of the notes etc.
A unique collection of instruments does all the heavy-lifting during
the scene
o Music
Not a lot happening in terms of notes, just sound clouds
Combination of brass, keyboard and electronics creates a distinct sound
Music sounds hypnotic up until the gunshot which snaps everyone else
back to reality (where music stops)
o Second section
Monstrous alien shows up as the soldiers approach the alien that they
The alien, Gort’s music starts
Relentless pulse (the rhythm is not too fast, one note after the
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