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Encyclopedia > Film music

A film score is the background music in a film, generally specially written for the film and often used to heighten emotions provoked by the imagery on the screen or by the dialogue.

In many instances, film scores are performed by orchestras, which vary in size, from a small ensemble to a huge number of musicians, perhaps including a choir. The orchestra is either a studio orchestra, employed by the studio, or a performing orchestra such as the London Symphony Orchestra. For films with even smaller budgets, however, and possibly for TV or video games (although these, too, frequently have orchestral scores), synthesizers using sampling technology can be used to re-create the sound of an orchestra. This is generally much cheaper, although the results are thought by many to be inferior. Some films do use popular music scores, but orchestral ones are preferred. An orchestral score can be much more closely adapted to a film. Popular music is based upon a strong and repetitive rhythm that is inflexible and cannot be easily adapted to a scene. Popular genres of music also tend to date quickly as styles rapidly evolve.

A film composer is usually contacted after the film has been shot, and is shown an unpolished 'rough cut' of the film, and talks to the director about what sort of music should be used. Sometimes the director will have added "temp music", already published pieces that are similar to what the director wants. Most film composers strongly dislike temp music as directors often become wedded to it and push the composers to be imitators rather than creators. On certain occasions directors have become so attached to the temp score that they decided to use it and reject the score custom made by a composer. The most famous incidence is Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey where Kubrick opted for classical works rather than the score by Alex North.

Once a composer has the film they will then work on creating this music. Some films are then reedited to better fit the music. One extreme example of this project are 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.

When the music has been composed and orchestrated, it is then performed by the orchestra or ensemble, often with the composer conducting. The orchestra performs in front of a large screen depicting the movie, and sometimes a 'click-track' is used--a series of clicks which help the conductor to synchronize the orchestra's playing to the film.

Films often have different themes for important characters, events, ideas or objects, taking the idea from Wagner's use of leitmotif. These may be played in different variations depending on the situation they represent, scattered amongst incidental music.

Most films have between forty and seventy-five minutes of music. Some films have very little or no music. Dogme 95 in one genre that insists on having only music from within a film, such as from a radio or television (so-called source music, because it comes from a source in the film). A film's music might also include songs or other music not written specifically for the film (see soundtrack).

The artistic merits of film music are frequently debated. Some critics value it highly, pointing to music such as that written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Aaron Copland, Bernard Hermann and others. Some even consider film music to be a defining genre of classical music in the late twentieth century, if only because it is the brand of classical music heard more often than any other. In some cases, film themes have become accepted into the canon of classical music. These are mostly works from already noted composers who have done scores, for instance Sergei Prokofiev's score to Alexander Nevsky or Vaughan Williams' score to Scott of the Antarctic. Others see the great bulk of film music as meritless dreck. Much film music is derivative borrowing heavily from previous works. Composers of film scores typically can produce about three or four per year. The most popular works by composers such as John Williams are still far from entering the accepted canon.

Film score composers include

External links

  • Classic FM List of film composers (http://www.classicfm.com/index.cfm?nodeId=172&full_path=%24/classicfm/music/moviemasters/)
  • Most prolific composers (http://www.imdb.com/Prolific/composers)

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