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Frank Lehman discusses what it means for film music – subordinated, contingent, ‘unheard’ – to be plucked from its intended context and placed at the forefront of the listener’s attention?

The tradition of excerpting and arranging movie scores for the concert hall poses this question sharply. While scholarship on ‘cinematic listening’ has picked up in recent years, the specifically music-theoretical issues raised by this repertoire have been largely unaddressed. In this article, Frank argues that film-as-concert music presents hearing ‘cinematically’ as a valid alternative to structural modes of listening, a form of hearing that subverts both naive formalism and reflexive anti-formalism. Following a discussion of theoretical and interpretative priorities for analyzing film-as-concert music, he begins an investigation of a subset of the film-as-concert corpus: stand-alone scherzi originating from action set pieces. More than any other type of underscore, action cues answer to dramatic, editorial, and visual imperatives rather than to ‘absolute’ logic. 

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