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Film score: Description

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A film score is the background music of a film (which is generally categorically separated from songs used within a film).[1] The term soundtrack may be confused with film score. A soundtrack, however, contains everything audible in the film including sound effects and dialogue. Soundtrack albums may also include songs featured in the film as well as previously released music by other artists. A score is written specifically to accompany a film, by the original film's composer(s).[2]

Each individual piece of music, within a film's score, is called a cue and is typically a composition for instruments (e.g. orchestra) and/or non-individually featured voices. Since the 1950s, a growing number of scores are electronic or a hybrid of orchestral and electronic instruments.[3] Since the invention of digital technology and audio sampling, many low budget films have been able to rely on digital samples to imitate the sound of real live instruments.


Process of creation

Usually, after the film has been shot (or some shooting has been completed), the composer is shown an unpolished "rough cut" of the film (or of the scenes partially finished), and talks to the director about what sort of music (styles, themes, etc.) should be used — this process is called "spotting."[4] More rarely, the director will talk to the composer before shooting has started, so as to give more time to the composer or because the director needs to shoot scenes (namely song or dance scenes) according to the final score. Sometimes the director will have edited the film using "temp (temporary) music": already published pieces with a character that the director believes to fit specific scenes.

In some instances, film composers have been asked by the director to imitate a specific composer or style present in the temp track.[5] On other occasions, directors have become so attached to the temp score that they decide to use it and reject the original score written by the film composer. One of the most famous cases is Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, where Kubrick opted for existing recordings of classical works, including pieces by composer György Ligeti rather than the score by Alex North,[6] although Kubrick had also hired Frank Cordell to do a score. While North's 2001 is indeed a major example, it is not the sole case of well-known rejected scores. Others include Torn Curtain (Bernard Herrmann),[7] Troy (Gabriel Yared),[8] Peter Jackson's King Kong (Howard Shore)[9] and The Bourne Identity (John Powell).[10]

Once a composer has the film, they will then work on creating the score. While some composers prefer to work with traditional paper scores, many film composers write in a computer-based environment.[11] This allows the composer and orchestrator to create MIDI-based demos of themes and cues, called MIDI mockups, for review by the filmmaker prior to the final orchestral recording. Some films are then re-edited to better fit the music. Instances of this include the collaborations between filmmaker Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass, where over several years the score and film are edited multiple times to better suit each other.[12] Similar to these are the associations between Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone. In the finale of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Morricone had prepared the score used before and Leone edited the scenes to match it.[13] His two films, Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America, were completely edited to Morricone's score as the composer had prepared it months before the film's production. Another example is the famous chase scene in Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The score, composed by long-time collaborator John Williams, proved so difficult to synchronize in this specific scene during the recording sessions that, as recounted in a companion documentary on the DVD, Spielberg gave Williams carte blanche and asked him to record the cue without picture, freely; Spielberg then re-edited the scene later on to perfectly match the music.[citation needed]

When the music has been composed and orchestrated, the orchestra or ensemble then performs it, often with the composer conducting. Musicians for these ensembles are often uncredited in the film or on the album and are contracted individually (and if so, the orchestra contractor is credited in the film or the soundtrack album). However, some films have recently begun crediting the contracted musicians on the albums under the name Hollywood Studio Symphony after an agreement with the American Federation of Musicians. Other performing ensembles that are often employed include the London Symphony Orchestra, the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (an orchestra dedicated exclusively to recording), and the Northwest Sinfonia.[citation needed]

The orchestra performs in front of a large screen depicting the movie, and sometimes to a series of clicks called a "click-track" that changes with meter and tempo, assisting the conductor to synchronize the music with the film.[14]

Films often have different themes for important characters, events, ideas or objects, an idea often associated with Wagner's use of leitmotif.[15] These may be played in different variations depending on the situation they represent, scattered amongst incidental music. A 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 Organa (see Star Wars music for more details).[16] The Lord of the Rings trilogy uses a similar technique, with recurring themes for many main characters and places. Others are less known by casual moviegoers, but well known among score enthusiasts, such as Jerry Goldsmith's underlying theme for the Borg in Star Trek: First Contact, or his Klingon theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture which other composers carry over into their Klingon motifs, and he has brought back on numerous occasions as the theme for Worf, Star Trek: The Next Generation's most prominent Klingon.[citation needed] Up, the 2009 animated film, used character themes and received the Academy Award for Best Score in the 82nd Academy Awards Ceremony.

In 1983, a non-profit organization, the Society for the Preservation of Film Music, was formed to preserve the "byproducts" of creating a film score:[17] the music manuscripts (written music) and other documents and studio recordings generated in the process of composing and recording scores which, in some instances, have been discarded by the movie studios. The written music must be kept to perform the music on concert programs and to make new recordings of it. Sometimes only after decades has an archival recording of a film score been released on CD.

Source music

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 "source music" (or a "source cue") because it comes from an on screen source that can actually be seen or that can be inferred (in academic film theory such music is called "diegetic" music, as it emanates from the "diegesis" or "story world").[18] An example of "source music" is the use of the Frankie Valli song "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" in Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter". Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller The Birds is an example of a Hollywood film with no non-diegetic music whatsoever.

Historical notes

Before the age of recorded sound in motion pictures, efforts were taken to provide suitable music for films, usually through the services of an in-house pianist or organist, and, in some cases, entire orchestras, typically given cue sheets as a guide. In 1914, The Oz Film Manufacturing Company sent full-length scores by Louis F. Gottschalk for their films. Other examples of this include Victor Herbert's score in 1915 to Fall of a Nation (a sequel to Birth of a Nation) and Camille Saint-Saëns' music for The Assassination of the Duke of Guise in 1908. It was preceded by Nathaniel D. Mann's score for The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays by four months, but that was a mixture of interrelated stage and film performance in the tradition of old magic lantern shows.[citation needed] Most accompaniments at this time, these examples notwithstanding, comprised pieces by famous composers, also including studies. These were often used to form catalogues of film music, which had different subsections broken down by 'mood' and/or genre: dark, sad, suspense, action, chase, etc.

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 and leitmotific scores written by Gottfried Huppertz, who also wrote piano-versions of his music, for playing in smaller cinemas.[citation needed] 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. Other films like Murnau's Der letzte Mann contained a mixing of original compositions (in this case by Giuseppe Becce) and library music / folk tunes, which were artistically included into the score by the composer. Nevertheless fully developed original scores were quite rare in the silent movie era. When sound came to movies, director Fritz Lang barely used musical scores in his movies anymore. Apart from Peter Lorre whistling a short piece from Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt, Lang's movie M - Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder was lacking musical accompaniment completely and Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse only included one original piece written for the movie by Hans Erdmann played at the very beginning and end of the movie. One of the rare occasions on which music occurs in the movie is a song one of the characters sings, that Lang uses to put emphasis on the man's insanity, similar to the use of the whistling in M.

Though "the scoring of narrative features during the 1940s lagged decades behind technical innovations in the field of concert music,"[19] 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. Kazan also approached Leonard Bernstein to score On the Waterfront (1954) and the result was reminiscent of earlier works by Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky with its "jazz-based harmonies and exciting additive rhythms."[20] A year later, Leonard Rosenman, inspired by Arnold Schoenberg, 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), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963). 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).

A full film score widely regarded[by whom?][citation needed]as the first made by a popular artist came in 1973 with the film Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, by Bob Dylan. However the album received very little critical acclaim. This had not been done before in popular film history as featured bands had films written around their music such as in the animation Yellow Submarine with music by The Beatles.

Orchestral film scores


Some composers of orchestral soundtracks include:


Some orchestral soundtracks include:

Non-orchestral film scores

Non-orchestral film music includes any genre of music not associated with classical music or orchestral performance. Composers that use the orchestra for experimental composition are usually noted as experimental composers rather than orchestral ones. Other genres of film scores include, but are not limited to Rock, Pop, Folk, Blues, Experimental, Electronic, Hip hop, Heavy metal, Jazz, musicals and World music. Some of the orchestral composers listed above also compose in these genres although they are usually noted for their orchestral music. Fewer composers are noted for both their orchestral and non-orchestral compositions and most non-orchestral film composers are noted for the specific genre they compose in. Some non-orchestral composers are also noted artists with their own compositions.


Some composers of non-orchestral film scores include:

Production music

Many companies such as Associated Production Music and Extreme Music provide music to various film, TV and commercial projects for a fee. Sometimes called library music, the music is owned by production music libraries and licensed to customers for use in film, television, radio and other media. Unlike popular and classical music publishers, who typically own less than 50 percent of the copyright in a composition, music production libraries own all of the copyrights of their music, meaning that it can be licensed without seeking the composer's permission, as is necessary in licensing music from normal publishers. This is because virtually all music created for music libraries is done on a work for hire basis.[citation needed] Production music is therefore a very convenient medium for media producers — they can be assured that they will be able to license any piece of music in the library at a reasonable rate.

Production music libraries will typically offer a broad range of musical styles and genres, enabling producers and editors to find much of what they need in the same library. Music libraries vary in size from a few hundred tracks up to many thousands. The first production music library was setup by De Wolfe in 1927 with the advent of sound in film, the company originally scored music for use in silent film.[21] Another music library was set up by Ralph Hawkes of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers in the 1930s.[22] APM, the largest US library, has over 250,000 tracks.[23]

Independent specialist original soundtrack recording labels

See also


  1. ^ Rockwell, John (21 May 1978). "When the Soundtrack Makes the Film". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-10. 
  2. ^ Savage, Mark. "Where Are the New Movie Themes?" BBC, 28 July 2008.
  3. ^ "Bebe Barron: Co-composer of the first electronic film score, for 'Forbidden Planet'". The Independent (London). 8 May 2008. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  4. ^ Film scoring
  5. ^ George Burt, The art of film music, Northeastern University Press
  6. ^ 2001 A Space Odyssey - Original soundtrack by Alex North, commissioned but unused by Stanley Kubrick, conducted by Jerry Goldsmith
  7. ^ SoundtrackNet: Torn Curtain Soundtrack
  8. ^ SoundtrackNet: Article - Gabriel Yared's Troy
  9. ^ Music on Film:: News:: Article in Variety about James Newton Howard's King Kong score
  10. ^ The Bourne Identity
  11. ^ From Score To Screen: Sequencers, Scores And Second ThoughtsThe New Film Scoring Process: Sonny Kompanek: Books
  12. ^ The Creators
  13. ^ SoundtrackNet: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Soundtrack
  14. ^ Home Recording Glossary: Click Track
  15. ^ leitmotif - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  16. ^
  17. ^ About The Film Music Society
  18. ^ The Functions of Film Music
  19. ^ Cooke, Mervyn (2008). A History of Film Music. New York: Cambridge University Press. [citation needed]
  20. ^ Cooke, Mervyn (2008). A History of Film Music. New York: Cambridge University Press. [citation needed]
  21. ^ De Wolfe, Warren (1988). de wolfe millennium catalogue. London: De Wolfe Music. 
  22. ^ Wallace, Helen (2007). Boosey & Hawkes The Publishing Story. London: B&H London. ISBN 9780851625140. [citation needed]
  23. ^ "PRWeb July 2007". Retrieved 2007-07-20. 

External links

Journals (online and print)

Further reading

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Film score". Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.

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