As a class, we’ve been writing and talking a lot about film scores recently: Nate and Aimée already posted on this topic this week, and I just finished my Wikipedia article on composer Richard Wernick, who has written both for the screen and the concert hall (unfortunately, there do not appear to be many sources documenting Mr. Wernick’s film career; I only have anecdotal evidence that he wrote music for The Bullwinkle Show).
Most of our thoughts on this topic have involved music written for the screen. Can film music stand alone as composition? Are pops concerts featuring movie music cheap populism or real outreach? Have film scores made the general public more receptive to the “dissonance” of contemporary classical harmony?
However, it’s also worth considering the instances in which music moves in the other direction, from the concert hall to the screen. Certainly there are plenty of examples of the standard repertory being used in film, but what about contemporary music? Penderecki’s concert music has been appropriated by many filmmakers, usually in horror films (The Shining, The Exorcist) or works that exploit the viewer’s sense of the surreal or the uncanny. Likewise, Ligeti’s music is featured in The Shining, Shutter Island, and 2001: A Space Odyssey (though it stands in sharp contrast to the better-known Strauss quotation repeated throughout the film). Here again, contemporary music augments the unsettling aspects of the film. It becomes unclear whether the filmmakers are doing the composers a service or not. On the one hand, these films present otherwise niche works to a mass audience; on the other hand, the compositions are being pigeonholed into relatively limited frames of meaning. We recall Hewitt’s critism of Stockhausen’s electronic works, that they seem unable to suggest anything other than space travel and dystopian angst. If these are the only images we are left with for such composers after their work has been used on screen, the notion of a free-standing work is destroyed. Of course, sometimes the problems go beyond aesthetics: Stanley Kubrick never secured the rights to use Ligeti’s music in 2001.
These examples suggest many of the same problems that arise with listening to music written for film as classical music – can the music retain an essential (authentic) identity, regardless of context?