How Film and TV Music Communicate

  • Brian Morrell

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This Commentary contextualises and places within a critical framework, three books on Film Music written by myself.(1) The books, written between 2013 and 2015, are targeted toward students of film music and professional practitioners. This Commentary has given me the opportunity to address a variety of relevant scholarship, which relates directly to the research question, which is ‘how does film music communicate.’ The issue of meaning in music is addressed occasionally, for example by Lawrence Kramer (2002), and the issue of music’s emotional function within film is addressed throughout the Commentary, referencing amongst others, Frank Lehman (2018), Arnie Cox (2017) and Lawrence Kramer (2002).

    The centre of gravity in my books, which is distilled and discussed in this Commentary, focuses on how film music creates emotion, ultimately centring on how and why harmony specifically can be said to convey emotion and a sense of identity to its audience. Building on the analysis of scholars such as Heinrich Schenker (Pankhurst, 2008), Eduard Hanslick (1854), Lawrence Kramer (2011; 2012; 2016), John Sloboda (2005) and Arnie Cox (2017) and film music scholars such as George Burt (1995), Claudia Gorbman (1987) Roy Prendergast (1992) and Frank Lehman (2018), the three books which form part of this portfolio contribute new knowledge and understanding to the world of film music composition, with extremely detailed, in-depth and specific analysis of hundreds of cues spread over a 50-year period of film history, explaining, distilling and rationalising various relevant concepts and ideas, such as how and why, and under what circumstances music can generate feelings and emotions, and to what extent such feelings inform and guide our knowledge and understanding of music.

    This Commentary places the three books in context of surrounding literature and current and historical critical thinking on the subject of film music and also the wider area of music and emotion. The Commentary discusses, amongst other theories and concepts, harmonic devices that exist within music and which assist films on an emotional level; all of which are alluded to in my portfolio of books. It also discusses the functionality of film music, discussing how the reality of how it is conceived is often at odds with the popularised romantic interpretation of how composers create music. The Commentary also discusses some limitations often found in some texts which seek to explain film music; namely the tendency to be over-descriptive and to over personalise the art of composition. In this respect the Commentary looks at different approaches to film music analysis and musical analysis, to examine their effectiveness, reliability, honesty and how my own research sits alongside.

    Finally, this Commentary also references some sociological and anthropological perspectives, discussing how people interpret what they hear in music. Given that most people do not understand musical grammar and by definition do not interpret music literally, my books and this Commentary seek to explain what people do experience when they experience music. Perhaps more than most forms of music film music casts a lasting shadow in the memory of the viewer / listener, because of its merging with something visual. In my Commentary I argue that most people possess an innate, inbuilt type of ‘embodied knowledge’ of the language of music, whereby they can identify, classify and discriminate between different types of harmonic language.

    (1) See
    Date of Award2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPaul Carr (Supervisor) & Robert Smith (Supervisor)

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