Film music

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Soundtrack , also in English soundtrack or score is called specifically for a film newly composed , or from existing classical , popular and other musical sources specially newly formed for a movie musical . A functional and content-related connection between image and music is characteristic. Film music is intended to influence the mood and emotional level in a film and to support the way it acts.

Film music is not a fixed genre term, but in many cases rather a merging of the most diverse currents. Many harmonic-melodic processes in film music (e.g. modal harmonic, sometimes excessive use of mediators, special motifs) are based in particular on a symbiosis of music from the late Romantic era, expressionism / impressionism, as well as later avant-garde and, last but not least, various influences from popular - contemporary music, such as jazz, pop, blues or electronic music.

Production process

Usually, a film score is created in post-production after a rough cut has been made. The director and film composer go through this first cut of a film and decide which parts of the film should be accompanied by music and what type of music should be. Depending on the director, a preliminary music track from existing music is created, a so-called temp track . It is not uncommon for this way of working, however, that instead of an original composition, the actually provisional music is retained (this is what happened, for example, with “ 2001: A Space Odyssey ”, for which Alex North was originally supposed to write the film music). In television productions, musical archive material is often used in order to save the cost and risk of new music recordings.

The places in which music should appear in the film are recorded in a cue sheet with start and end times. Based on this information, the film composer then composes his music, which in a feature film can be over an hour and a half long. The specific way of working varies from composer to composer and is also dependent on the time available to the composer. Usually the composer creates a short score with the melodies and more or less detailed instructions for the instrumentation . These particels are then translated into a score by orchestrators . Some composers like Ennio Morricone or James Horner often orchestrate their own scores, others like Hans Zimmer generally do not take on this task. Copyists then extract the individual parts for the individual instruments from the score. In the past, this time-consuming process had to be carried out by hand, today the scores are often created with a computer. Many other work steps from writing down to recording music have now shifted to the computer.

Finally, the music is recorded by an orchestra in sync with the film. The conductor leads the orchestra while watching the film on a screen or monitor, thereby creating the desired synchronicity with the film. The composer often conducts the orchestra himself. The orchestra either consists of musicians who are only engaged for this recording session (a so-called session orchestra ) who are either permanently employed in an orchestra or are freelance workers. In many cases, however, a permanent orchestra is hired for this purpose. Examples include the German Film Orchestra Babelsberg , the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Concert Orchestra , which have already recorded numerous film scores.

Another method is to involve the composer in the directing work at a relatively early stage. The director of the film discusses the character of the music and the necessary film music sequences, the composer prepares a music version early on. This music later serves as a template for the cut. Certain film sequences are cut directly onto the music. As a result, the music is directly included in the film and the editing sequence is more musical.

During the final sound mix , the producers decide on the final use of the music and its relationship to the finished dialogues, noises and electronic effects.


Silent movie era

The early films made before the invention of the sound film are referred to as silent films , but were not “silent” in the performance practice at the time, as they were usually shown with accompanying music or noises from a source outside the film. As early as 1895, the Lumière brothers presented short films for the first time in Paris, which were accompanied by a live pianist . In the history of film research, various considerations have been made about the reasons why one began to add music to films:

  • The soundlessness was perceived as irritating by the audience, as the film did provide a visual representation of physical reality, but deviated from the audience's experience of reality due to the lack of sound.
  • Since the film projectors were still very bad around 1900, the projection rooms had to be completely darkened. The music was supposed to dispel the eerie atmosphere and to make the unfamiliar audience more comfortable with familiar music.
  • The rattle of the film projector should be drowned out.
  • The audience was used to drama music , which was more popular then than it is now.
  • As now, it had a narrative or mood support function.

Well-known pieces of music, for example from operas and operettas, were initially used as accompanying music . For certain moments of action is often doing music set by default (for. Example, the Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy for wedding scenes or Liebestraum by Franz Liszt for love scenes). Collections of music with pieces of music compiled for the background film, so-called cinema libraries , were published. Later, in rare cases, music was written individually for a particular film. The sheet music for the musicians was included with the film copy with the distribution.

At the beginning only individual pianists, violinists or flutists accompanied the silent films. Only the performances in large halls offered space for more musicians. There were separate cinema organs which, in addition to numerous timbres, also had sound effects (pounding horses, wind, etc.) and were also suitable for small cinemas. Also orchestrions or phonographs were used.

Before the First World War, it became fashionable in large cinemas in metropolitan areas, especially in the major premier theaters, to accompany performances with their own cinema orchestras of up to 80 musicians. In the years after the war in particular, this method of musical accompaniment with specially composed synchronous orchestral music, also called original music, became popular (e.g. in 1924 with FWMurnau's The Last Man , music by Giuseppe Becce , in 1926 with Sergej Eisenstein's armored cruiser Potemkin with music by Edmund Meisel or in 1927 with Napoleon by Abel Gance ). These ensembles had to be able to play well from the sheet music and be able to react quickly, as the conductor immediately switched to the next bar or even to the next piece at the signal of the conductor .

The early sound film

1927 presented Warner Bros. with The Jazz Singer the first long Tonspielfilm. The performance of the music moved from the cinemas to the studios. Sound films had the advantage that the studios could use film music in a more targeted and uniform manner for a particular film. The style of this film music was based on the orchestral music of the late 19th century. The resulting characteristic Hollywood sound was particularly shaped by composers who emigrated from Europe, especially Germany, Austria and Russia, who were oriented towards European music, such as Bernhard Kaun , Erich Wolfgang Korngold , Dimitri Tiomkin or Max Steiner .

Production mostly took place under great time pressure. Usually there was a division of labor between composers and arrangers. The scores were often destroyed after they were recorded and now have to be painstakingly restored if they are performed again.

During the post-war period, the film music changed: New influences from jazz and light music were added. Representatives of this new direction included Henry Mancini and John Barry . From this time on, the importance of the recognition effect with film melodies such as B. the zither music to “ The Third Man ” (1949) or the whistled march in “ Die Brücke am Kwai ” (1957).

Film music in the age of television

Around 1950 rock , pop and jazz music gained more importance, and the film industry recognized the popularity of these new types of music. Composers like Alex North ( "A streetcar named desire", dt. " Streetcar Named Desire ") or Elmer Bernstein ( " The Man with the Golden Arm ") integrated elements of jazz music in their symphonic scores and thus achieved a stylistic refreshing.

In the mid-1950s, producers recognized film music as an additional source of income and commissioned theme songs that were later marketed as single tracks or soundtracks. Extremely popular pieces like “Moon River” by Mancini / Mercer were sold more than a million times.

Bernard Herrmann's score for Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), in which he limited himself to a string orchestra , gave the decisive impetus to no longer use the large symphonic orchestra as a rule, but rather depending on the content and dramaturgical requirements of a specific film . Herrmann had already applied the principle of selection instrumentation in several films of the 1950s and thus paved the way for an aesthetic maxim according to which each film should have its own, unmistakable sound.

With the dissolution of the Music Departments and the orientation of the American film industry to new, young audiences around 1960, orchestral film music was often replaced by the current popular music. A well-known example of the use of songs, some of which already existed, some of which were specially written for a specific film, was the music by Simon & Garfunkel for the film Die Reifeprüfung (1967). Not only specially designed compositions are used for the film music, but also songs by current interpreters of rock and pop music . Examples of this are the cult film Easy Rider (1969) with a soundtrack from the Woodstock era or the fantasy film Highlander - There Can Only Be One (1986), to which the rock band Queen contributed eight songs. The genre of the road movie in particular makes use of this possibility.

From the 1970s onwards, Hollywood began to work with large symphony orchestras and leitmotif technology . The RCA film music record releases by Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra , which made a significant contribution to the rediscovery of classic Hollywood compositions of the 1930s and 1940s, played a major role in this . This prompted young directors such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to return to this form of musical accompaniment to the plot. John Williams ' compositions for Jaws and the Star Wars films from 1977 onwards are considered to be important milestones for the return of classical symphonic film music. Alongside all the bombastic images, the music should function as a kind of anchor that offers the viewer familiar and profound sounds Conveyed feelings.

Today, film music is also an integral part of the marketing of a film, with the offer ranging from sound carriers to the option of downloading from the Internet to ring tones for mobile phones.


In general, a distinction is made between three composition techniques: leitmotif technique (conveying meaning), underscoring and mood technique (conveying mood). In comparison to the mood technique, the leitmotif technique and underscoring are used less today.

Leitmotiv technology

This method, known from opera and especially from Richard Wagner's musical dramas, has the task of musically representing people, objects of the plot or narrative threads that play a central role in the film. For this purpose, important characters, objects of action or narrative threads are assigned their own motifs, so-called leitmotifs , which are then incorporated, repeated and varied into the overall composition depending on the requirements of the story. In this way, premonitions, changes in the situation or references that relate to the plot of the film can be conveyed.


The underscoring is a compositional technique, which reconstructs the events and emotions depicted on the screen approximately synchronously. The music serves as background music to support and reinforce the visual impressions. Mickey mousing is an extreme form . The film composer accentuates individual movements of the actors in the film, such as individually taken steps, through a musical doubling. The name comes from the intensive use of this technique in cartoons . The weird impression this technique creates is by design here. Except for cartoons and comedies , underscoring is rarely used these days.

Mood technique

The mood technique underlays film sequences with musical mood images, which add an expressive mood content specific to the music to the sequence (English mood , in German: "mood"). It is often referred to as a composition strategy that is the opposite of underscoring, as it not only “doubles” a scene musically, but “colors” it.

to form

In 1976, the Swiss musicologist Hansjörg Pauli published a model for examining film music on the basis of its forms, but rejected it as insufficient in 1994 when a new model was published. Even so, its 1976 model is one of the most widely used. There are three different types of film music:

  • Paraphrasing: “I call music paraphrasing whose character is derived directly from the character of the pictures, from the picture content.” - The music paraphrases what is happening on the screen by duplicating and reproducing it. Extreme paraphrasing is achieved through the composition technique of Mickey Mousing .
  • Polarization: "I define music as polarizing if, by virtue of its unambiguous character, it pushes images that are neutral or ambivalent in terms of content into a clear direction of expression." - The music polarizes what is happening on the screen by creating its own meaning or mood Mood content shifts. It does more than just paraphrase, in that it "puts a certain light" on a film sequence.
  • Counterpointing: “ I describe music as counterpointing whose unambiguous character clearly contradicts the unambiguous character of the pictures and the picture content.” - The music conveys the opposite sense and mood of what is happening on the screen. In doing so, she ironizes what is happening and has an alienation effect .


Film music is functional, i.e. That is, it is used to support and clarify the visual sound and to influence the perception and emotions of the viewer. There are different approaches for a system of the functions, in the following the subdivision according to Kloppenburg.

Syntactic function

The syntactic function allows us an easier structural understanding of what is happening. Sequences are acoustically related to each other. By means of music z. B. a smooth transition from one to the next sequence is created or a strong delimitation of the sequences is effected. In the second case, the music helps the viewer to separate the storylines. Film music can also clarify a change in attitude (e.g. Point of View Protagonist A - change to Point of View Protagonist B).

Expressive function

The expressive function is probably the most important and most conscious function of film music. It strengthens and intensifies our perception of what is happening. Film music has an expressive character, e.g. B. supports and emphasizes feelings shown in the film. It is she who moves the viewer to perceive the respective scene as even more romantic or even sadder or even more strenuous etc. The film music intensifies the experience of the situation. This function of the film music is particularly well reflected in the composition techniques such as mood technique or underscoring, which can also evoke a certain mood. The perception desired by the filmmaker cannot be achieved with the recipient on the visual level alone. The music helps the recipient to understand and interpret what he has seen in the desired way. According to Nick and Ulner, music is used to "generate and condense the atmosphere of the film and to characterize the location in greater depth."

Dramaturgical function

The dramaturgical function can be demonstrated and explained very well using the example of motif technique. Film music has the task of characterizing people. It embodies a person in general and at the same time expresses the respective mood of the protagonists or is played on behalf of the person, for example when it is thematically about them or they are about to be seen on the visual level. In addition to the moods, it can of course also create tensions by z. B. sounds threatening. This allows it to influence the recipient's interpretation of the action. It quasi makes a comment, as Kloppenburg (2000) calls it. What the music expresses can intervene in the current action, it can draw the viewer's attention to commands or also refer to something that has happened in the past.


Numerous composers have composed for the film since the silent film era. The famous French composer Camille Saint-Saëns wrote one of the first original pieces of music for the young light play (without the use of foreign music) for a so-called "art film" by the Film d'Art Society in 1907. The cast for the approximately twelve-minute film The Assassination of the Duke of Guise is similar to that of the salon orchestra at the time. Other innovative composers of the silent film era were Giuseppe Becce , Hans Erdmann , Leo Spies , Ernst Krenek , Wolfgang Zeller and Hugo Riesenfeld . In German film music, composers such as Hans Erdmann ( Nosferatu - Eine Symphonie des Grauens (1921)), Gottfried Huppertz ( Die Nibelungen (1924) , and Metropolis (1927)) used Richard Wagner's leitmotif technique very early on. Especially in the early days of the sound film, with its not yet standardized production conditions, there was not only the dominant participation of operetta and pop composers as well as former cinema bandmasters (such as Giuseppe Becce), but also among the classically trained young composers a great interest in the new artistic ones Possibilities of this modern medium. In France it was members of the Le Six group such as Auric , Milhaud and Honegger who wrote artistically demanding scores for the film, in the Czech Republic Martinů . Before 1933, musicians like Karol Rathaus , Walter Gronostay , Paul Dessau and Hanns Eisler should be mentioned in Germany. For the Soviet composers, film was recommended as a medium to write music for the masses and thus improve their taste in art. In addition to industry specialists (such as Nikolaj Krjukow ), almost all classical musicians, who mainly wrote operas, symphonies or ballets, also worked as film composers. Sergei Prokofiev ( Alexander Newski ) or Dmitri Shostakovich ( Hamlet , King Lear ) were the most prominent representatives.

In Great Britain, the conductor Muir Mathieson succeeded in persuading well-known composers to write film music from the 1930s, including Richard Addinsell , William Alwyn , Malcolm Arnold , Arthur Bliss , Clifton Parker , Ralph Vaughan Williams and William Walton . Later came John Addison , Ron Goodwin and John Scott , among others .

During the 1930s, the specific Hollywood sound was mainly shaped by emigrated European composers. Last but not least, composers from German-speaking countries (especially Germany and Austria) such as Max Steiner ( King Kong and the white woman ), Bernhard Kaun ( Frankenstein ), Franz Waxman ( Frankenstein's bride ) or Erich Wolfgang Korngold ( Robin Hood, King of the Vagabonds ) did important work in transferring Wagner's leitmotif technique to the still young American film music. Herrmann and Steiner are among the great Golden Age composers ( Der Schatz der Sierra Madre , King Kong ).

The Hungarian Miklós Rózsa ( Ivanhoe - The Black Knight , Ben Hur , El Cid ) wrote his first film music in 1937 after completing his training at the Leipzig Conservatory . Composers like Elmer Bernstein and Maurice Jarre worked in Hollywood for up to six different decades. Other representatives from 1945 to 1965 included the American Alfred Newman , the German-born Hugo Friedhofer , the Russian Dimitri Tiomkin and the New Yorker Bernard Herrmann .

Well-known representatives of contemporary film music include Ennio Morricone , Lalo Schifrin , John Williams , Howard Shore , Alan Silvestri , James Newton Howard , Danny Elfman , James Horner , Thomas Newman , Hans Zimmer , Rachel Portman , Alexandre Desplat , John Powell and Michael Giacchino .

In addition to composers of contemporary music , such as Michael Nyman , Philip Glass , John Corigliano , Elliot Goldenthal or Tan Dun , representatives of pop and rock music also sometimes write film music, including Peter Gabriel , Pink Floyd , Mike Oldfield , Queen , Toto , Daft Punk , Underworld , Vangelis and Rick Wakeman .

See also


  • Theodor W. Adorno , Hanns Eisler : Composition for the film . In: Th. Adorno: Collected writings. Volume 15. With an afterword by Johannes C. Gall and a DVD "Hanns Eisler's Rockefeller-Filmmusik-Projekt" on behalf of the International Hanns Eisler Society, ed. by Johannes C. Gall. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 2006, ISBN 3-518-58461-8 .
  • Claudia Bullerjahn: Basics of the effect of film music . Wissner, Augsburg 2001, ISBN 3-89639-230-1 .
  • Michel Chion : audio vision. Sound on screen . Columbia University Press, New York 1994, ISBN 0-231-07899-4 .
  • William Darby, Jack Du Bois: American Film Music. Major Composers, Techniques, Trends, 1915-1990. McFarland, Jefferson 1990, ISBN 0-7864-0753-0 .
  • Didier C. Deutsch a. a .: Soundtracks - MusicHound. The Essential Album Guide to Film, Television and Stage Music . Visible Ink Press, Detroit / San Francisco / London / Boston / Woodbridge 2000, ISBN 1-57859-101-5 .
  • Andreas Dorschel (Ed.): Soundtracks. Music in Film: Case Studies 1994–2001. Universal Edition, Vienna / London / New York 2005, ISBN 3-7024-2885-2 ( Studies on Valuation Research 46).
  • Rainer Fabich : Music for the silent film . Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1993, ISBN 3-631-45391-4 .
  • Klaus-Dieter Felsmann: The Sound of Times: Music in the DEFA feature film. An approximation. Series of publications by the DEFA Foundation , Bertz + Fischer Verlag, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-86505-402-9 .
  • Barbara Flückiger : Sound Design. The virtual sound world of the film. Schüren, Marburg 2007, ISBN 3-89472-506-0 .
  • Manuel Gervink and Matthias Bückle (Hrsg.): Lexicon of the film music. People - technical terms relating to theory and practice - genres . Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 2012, ISBN 978-3-89007-558-7 .
  • Josef Kloppenburg (Ed.): Music multimedia. Film music, video clip, television. Handbook of Music in the 20th Century. Volume 11. Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 2000, ISBN 3-89007-431-6 .
  • Josef Kloppenburg (Hrsg.): The manual of the film music. History - aesthetics - functionality. Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 2012, ISBN 978-3-89007-747-5 .
  • Anselm C. Kreuzer: Film Music - History and Analysis . Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-631-51150-7 .
  • Philipp E. Kümpel: Film music in practice . PPV Medien, Bergkirchen 2008, ISBN 3-937841-70-9 .
  • Georg Maas: film music . Klett, Leipzig / Stuttgart / Düsseldorf 2001-2006, ISBN 3-12-178960-0 .
  • Georg Maas, Achim Schudack: Music and film - film music. Information and models for teaching practice. Schott, Mainz 1994, ISBN 3-7957-0245-3 .
  • Jessica Mertens: Semantic labeling in the film through "autonomous" music. Schott, Osnabrück 2001, ISBN 978-3-923486-35-9 .
  • Peter Moormann (ed.): Classics of film music. Reclam, Ditzingen 2009, ISBN 3-15-018621-8
  • Christopher Palmer: The Composer In Hollywood. Marion Boyars, London / New York 1993, ISBN 0-7145-2950-8 .
  • Roy M. Prendergast: Film Music. A Neglected Art. A Critical Study Of Music In Films. Second edition. Norton, New York / London 1992, ISBN 0-393-30874-X .
  • Peter Rabenalt: Film music . Vistas, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-89158-392-3 .
  • Ullrich Rügner: Film music in Germany between 1924 and 1934. Georg Olms, Hildesheim 1988, ISBN 3-487-07621-7 .
  • Mark Russell, James Young: Film Arts - Film Music . Rowohlt Taschenbuch, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-499-61143-0 .
  • Enjott Schneider : composing for film and television . Schott Musik International, Mainz 1997, ISBN 3-7957-8708-4 .
  • Kurt Stromen: The Aestheticization of Film. Film music - art has to be beautiful . Rowohlt Taschenbuch, Darmstadt 2005, ISBN 3-494-01379-9 .
  • Wolfgang Thiel: Film music in the past and present . Henschelverlag Art and Society, Berlin 1981.
  • Tony Thomas et al. a .: Film music. The great film composers - their art and their technique. (Film score). Heyne, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-453-09007-1 .
  • Konrad Vogelsang: Film music in the Third Reich . Centaurus, Pfaffenweiler 1993, ISBN 3-89085-800-7 .
  • Jürgen Wölfer , Roland Löper: The great lexicon of film composers. The magicians of cinematic acoustics . Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-89602-296-2 .
  • Ulrich Wünschel: Sergej Prokofiev's film music for Sergej Eisenstein's ALEXANDER NEWSKI . Wolke, Hofheim 2006, ISBN 3-936000-63-8 .

Online tutorials (scripts, e-books, abstracts, essays):

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Hans Emons: Film - Music - Modern: To the history of a changeable relationship . Frank & Timme GmbH, February 28, 2014, ISBN 978-3-7329-0050-3 , p. 180 (accessed December 9, 2014).
  2. a b c Film music ( Memento of the original from October 13, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Colloquium "Film Analysis" at the University of Potsdam , 2004. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. Hans Christian Schmidt: "Play me the song ...". An overview of the film music to get to know and enjoy. In: Universitas. Journal of Science, Art and Literature 43 (1988). P. 408.
  4. HC Schmidt: "Play me the song ..." . P. 409.
  5. Kreuzer 2001: p. 20
  6. The History of Film Music . ( Memento from October 17, 2011 in the Internet Archive ; PDF; 89 kB)
  7. ^ Robert E. Benson: A four-decade friendship with Charles Gerhardt ; Retrieved December 15, 2008
  8. a b Josef Kloppenburg (Hrsg.): Music multimedia. Handbook of Music in the 20th Century. Volume 11. Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 2000, ISBN 3-89007-420-0 , p. 42 f.
  9. Elena Romana Gasenzer: Letters from my music room. epubli, 2013, ISBN 978-3-8442-2994-3 , p. 133. Limited preview in Google book search
  10. ^ A b c Hansjörg Pauli: Filmmusik - A historical-critical outline. In: H.-Chr. Schmidt (Ed.): Music in the mass media, radio and television. Perspectives and materials. Schott, Mainz 1976, pp. 91-119. ISBN 3-7957-2611-5
  11. Marina Ostwald, Claudia Ziegenfuß: Composition techniques and functions. Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg , Institute for Media, Communication & Sport, November 24, 2004.
  12. Film music. Style - technique - process - functions . In: Josef Kloppenburg (Hrsg.): Music multimedial . Laaber, 2000, pp. 21-56.
  13. ^ Edmund Nick, Martin Ulner: Filmmusik. In: Friedrich Blume (Ed.): The music in past and present. Volume 4. Kassel / Basel 1955.