Many people today, especially the younger generation, associate film music with classical music – in fact; their first encounter with an orchestra may be by visiting the cinema.
Regularly, on radio stations such as Classic FM, we hear snippets of film scores played alongside great classical works. In fact, in the 2014 Classic FM Hall of Fame, the Final Fantasy soundtrack composed by Nobuo Uematsu, is listed at number 7 out of 500 – ranking between Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major at number 8 and Elgar’s Enigma Variations at number 6.
Should film and game music, therefore, be considered as a part of the classical genre?
Will the names of composers such as Hans Zimmer and Dario Marianelli go down in history alongside Mendelssohn and Benjamin Britten? Should they even fall into the same genre?
Motion picture soundtrack is designed specifically for the on-screen action , but was originally influenced by late Romantic composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Richard Strauss; certainly Tchaikovsky would have made an excellent film composer if you study his ballet scores for Swan Lake or The Nutcracker which are extremely visual sounding pieces. And Max Steiner once said that “if Wagner had lived in this century he would have been the number one film composer”.
The accessibility of music increases when people have something to relate to visually. Listeners may initially have felt perplexed upon listening to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and yet because of Disney’s Fantasia (1940) its popularity increased considerably.
But maybe the reason film music is so popular is unrelated to classical music entirely. Today it seems to have more to do with the modern popular music movement; which is about finding the musical ‘hook’ or melodic phrase that makes the music so memorable.
Like popular music, film music is comfortable, easily accessible and produces predictable feelings in its listener, whereas classical music for the concert hall is designed to be analysed and contemplated – creating a personal, imaginative and subjective response to each individual listener. Many people admit that they love film music enthusiastically but find classical music tiresome, pretentious or too complex to understand.
Any particular film may require the composer to write music that approaches many different styles, sometimes all at once, from ‘classical’ to world music to rock, electronic and jazz and then also everything in between. For example, the score to Drive, composed by Cliff Martinez, is a rather unique approach for a film score – it is ‘film music’ even though you could never compare it to something along the lines of the Pirates of the Caribbean series or Star Wars which are more symphonic in character and are often played in live concert by orchestras.
Most film music-lovers realise that enjoying the music is not necessarily an experience driven by the music alone. In reality, they are not gripped by the black and white notes of the musical score, but by recollection, fantasy and association with the on-screen drama. So whilst film music may owe many of its roots to classical music, it has evolved into its own art form with a different thinking process and more limitations; when you hear the triumphant notes of The Star Wars opening theme tune you are instantly transported to a galaxy far far away, although there isn’t the same instant gratification that Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro might give you, at least the latter can be separated from its source whilst the former is forever linked with lightsabres – for better or for worse.
Image Rights; MITO SettembreMusica.