Film Scores

Written by Michael Federico
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Film scores have existed since the days of the silent movie. A musician would sit with the audience and play piano. Each chord would heighten the action on the screen. These film scores were as integral to the storytelling process as the actors.

When the dreaded "talkies" came into being, the future of film scores was unknown. However, it was quickly discovered that they could have as important an effect on the new form of movies as they did on the old. Also, the onset of sound allowed filmmakers and composers to go far beyond the live, one-man piano band of the silent era. Full orchestras could be employed to play, and film scores could evolve into multi-layered pieces of music.

What Makes Great Film Scores?

Most composers will say that there is no single thing that separates great scores from mediocre ones. Many will say it is important not to overplay. They will say that the purpose of film scores is not to stand out, but to fade into the background. Whether one agrees with that or not, most agree that the music is simply one more way of getting the message of the movie across.

Borrowing elements from opera and classical music, such as the leitmotif, film scores can create an emotional response as soon as a character appears on the screen. This effect almost singlehandedly defined the horror genre for decades. The killer's music caused as much fear in the viewer as did the killer's actions. Film scores are such an important part of movies that when they are absent, like in The Birds, an entirely different viewing experience occurs.


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