Cinema and Music

Introduction: Music, as a transcendent gaining the attention and consideration of all other arts, has always had a special place in the history of human culture. Music has different attributes and meanings. The sense or force of escape has made it possible for music to become Rorschach’s test, a tool for human civilization, artists, writers, and scientists to express bold ideas in their own time, and to become a measuring instrument for all other arts.

Among the seven arts, four arts including music, theater, dance, and cinema are placed within the category of timed arts. Therefore, to investigate and discover the relationship among as well as the diverse impacts of these four arts on each other, it is necessary to explain the time and impact of them on the presentation method and audience’s perception.

Among the senses, hearing is strongly related to time and mood rather than music. Music is a time art because the form of music is born and created over time. Music is happening, and that is why it is related to time. Music is submerged in time. Time, through construction and performance, becomes the body of music.

However, film needs more than just sound time to survive. Film needs facts and realities. Facts to be included over time. But time is of great significance in cinema, so filmmaking is like engraving in time.

A complete film, or piece of music, represents a limited period of time. But there is also time in plot, story, and drama. The plot explicitly describes the events of the story. But the story is beyond plot and retells specific realities that we observe. The actual appearance of the plot on the screen often requires time manipulation, and the result is interpreted for the same amount of time. Story and plot often overlap during the show. The duration of the plot is in compliance with the time of diegesis- the whole action of the story. Of course, there are images and sounds that relate to the story but affect our understanding of the story.

Using slow motion, fast motion, jumping past, assembling and other tools gives us the ability to do something that is not possible in real life. Although the manipulation of time in music is not as great as in film, we see this in Western music. Time is an imaginary and indescribable nature that is realized through art. Time becomes tangible through narration. This is more evident in literature and literary narrative. The narrative style in these cases is linear. Of course, musical time in Western culture is linear, but the influence of Eastern art and its philosophy on Western music has led to the formation of new styles.

Western music is necessarily created through the existence of conflict, and conflict is resolved through music.

The classical narrative is also linear and based on plot. It has a clear beginning, middle and end. But nonlinearity is accompanied by an ideological form and has a philosophical and cultural existence. Nonlinearity is induced by temporal and harmonic ideas.

The temporal dimensions of our experiences are repeated in the film, and the linearity gradually gives it place away to the nonlinearity in film and music.

Here it is better to say that film and its montage convey a different approach to time. The multiplicity of temporal dimensions in film and their montage have influenced form and saved Western art from being linear.

Other people who have nothing to do with music have also talked about musical aesthetics; Authors such as Samuel Beckett, Paul Aster, Nick Hornby, and Aaron Sorkin have used musical aesthetics to articulate how to write, to arrange dialogues, as well as the form of story. While Aster and Hornby often talked about the musical process of writing process in metaphorical stages, Aster moved a step further in his book “Illusion” by examining how an actor in a silent film called Hector moves and performs the body gesture and attributed the movement forms to a musical form. Sorkin puts this issue in another way; The actors’ voices evoked the experience of a piece of music during the first show for him, and he wanted to recreate that feeling through the writing process.

While Sorkin was probably testing the metaphorical analogy, Beckett took it word by word and invented modern theater by making plays that focused more on sound and the quality of language’s music and the rhythm of the transmission than its separate meaning.

In this article, we have tried to examine the relationship between cinema and music from different aspects, regardless of details.



Tracking the root similarities of contemporary film and music:

The Romantic period is often referred to as the reign of music. In fact, music has been a transcendental representation of spiritual purity and aesthetics. In 1798, Friedrich Schlegel stated that music was the most supreme art, that every artist had principles of music, and when he was complete, he would become the music in essence. It is directly stemmed from philosophy.

Schopenhauer’s thoughts on the universality of music and its relation to the “true essence of everything” have had a significant impact on the history of music. Wagner acknowledged that Schopenhauer’s reading was a defining moment in his intellectual and musical development and greatly influenced the concepts of musical drama. At the same time, when Schopenhauer explains the ability of music in “metaphysical expression in all physical elements of the world”, he says, “When the right music is played for any scene, action, event, or environment, cryptic concepts and distinct and more precise interpretation become clear to us”. He also describes the role of music in the film. However, linking the idea of superiority of music to philosophy and the school of romantic art is incorrect. Because they can be traced back to the 20th century at the heart of modern ideas, inspiring the birth of abstract art, an innovative approach to language, theater, and finally film. Wassily Kandinsky, for example, is one of the artists whose works symbolized the revolutionary ideas of twentieth-century art. At the same time, Kandinsky’s concepts of art and “spirituality in art” were strongly influenced by German Romantic philosophy and idealists (Kant, Schelling, Schopenhauer) and Wagner’s ideas. Schopenhauer’s view of music as the only art that shows the “true nature of everything” influenced Beckett’s method, which is a hallmark of revolutionary reminiscence and theater while considering the experimental and musical effects of crying, gestures, and silence on the linguistic function of language.

Since time and rhythm were quickly recognized and used by pioneers of abstract art as a common denominator for music and painting, the comparative relationship between music and images that were “moving” was an inevitable incidence in the early years of cinema. As it soon became clear that the experience of watching the first silent films would be greatly improved if accompanied by music, the association of cinemas with forced piano marked the beginning of a new sympathetic relationship between music and film that continued with the introduction of sound. At the same time, spontaneous music emerged as a natural source of inspiration to create an abstract film and as a model to achieve his artistic independence. This idea of music as a great model for film, in both abstract and realistic filmmaking tradition, was formed on visual and intellectual basis where the physical and motor characteristics, which are common to both arts, enabled the film to achieve a similar kind of fluidity and influence in the form of music.

In the 1920s and 1930s, it seemed natural for French Impressionists to compare “dance of light” in silent images with producing a sense of movement through music.

In film production, we find rules similar to symphony production rules. One of the most influential filmmakers interested in the musical aspects of film in its formative decades was Sergei Eisenstein, who constantly used musical similarities to explain his creative theoretical concepts and used those ideas in his silent and non-silent films. His simultaneous rhythmic, melodic, and tonal principles rely on musical terms to express the relationship between music and image, while he uses the concept of vertical montage and the principles of musical scoring as a model for creating unity between them. In Eisenstein’s scoring, horizontal levels are plotted from sound and image in parallel development, while vertical levels are seen as the integration of all elements in interdependent and similar relationships that exist between the vertical and horizontal aspects of a musical structure. He even thought of silent film in a musical setting, imagining it as a quasi-polyphonic from reciprocal elements arranged by the principle of polyphonic montage. Wagner’s general conception of the synthesis of arts or artistic ideal work was one of Eisenstein’s inspirations in the designing the main concepts of his films. Of course, in today’s cinema, the idea of combining different arts into one audio and video process is more complex than what Wagner could have imagined. In the 1950s and 1960s, the idea of creating a film was revived by applying the principles of musical production in France. At this stage, the film did not need to prove its artistic self-sufficiency compared to music.


Rhythm is a truly ubiquitous phenomenon that permeates all aspects of life in the world. Biological rhythms govern all the processes in our body. From the constant heartbeat and breathing rhythm, to the body’s responses to natural external rhythms in the sequence of day and night, the effects of moon, and the change of seasons to name but a few. Rhythm is related to movement and is inherent in all human activities (rhythm exists in human nature). “The whole world surrounding us is manifesting itself in rhythmic forms, and it is not surprising that this global phenomenon is reflected in the arts”, says Walter. Rhythm is a vital part in the structure of any art form and is the most reliable parameter for measuring space and time. Rhythm also serves as the common denominator of all arts. Given that the rhythm of music has been studied more deeply than the rhythm of any other art, using music as a reference for understanding and defining rhythm in film seems to be the first natural step.

Shooting and Cut Rhythm:

From an artistic point of view, shooting, temporal issues, rhythm, and movement are highly interdependent. The time spent on shootings creates the rhythm of the images, and the rhythm is not related to the length and duration of the recorded pieces, rather it is related to the pressure of time, that is, the same pressure that flows in the filmed pieces. Raw and long shots are corrected through visual and auditory effects, and the final rhythm is created through the interactions of these effects.

For example, in Tarkovsky’s 1975 “Mirror”, the rhythm is achieved by the intersection of different visual and audio effects in one scene: the camera moves slowly in the room, the frame gradually expands, the actor playing the role of mother moves slowly, water drips from her wet hair, the roof cracks, and drops of water and pieces of the roof fall, as if it were raining in the room, the sound of a choir group of men and the church bell, as well as the sound of an owl can be heard. The sense of immersion is so great that when the actor comes out of water and drops of water fell from her long hair, the viewer imagines that her feet will not reach the ground and she is still floating.

If we look at the perception from an artistic and aesthetic point of view, we see that the complexity of the audio and video rhythm in Béla Tarr’s work is also very noticeable. In his work, the duration of a shot is so long that it sometimes reaches 11 minutes. The experience of the present time is so vivid in his work that the spectator or listener is overwhelmed in time, and the sound has a greater effect on the subject.

For example, the early shots of Béla Tarr’s films have a special place. Combining long-term shots and mature musical plan lead to amazing results. The Devil’s Tango 1994 begins with a scene in which an old man sits in a remote house in a farm. The frame is full of herds of cattle, slowly followed by a camera, and through the howling sound of wind and ringing of bells hardly heard, the feeling of being left out and empty houses is instilled in the viewer. In the middle of the film, the sound of bells is heard again and attributed to a church that has been lost for years.

The Damnation film also starts with a static shot. Long shots in these movies allow us to see the movements on the screen and better understand the sound design, resulting in a unique rhythmic quality. The charcoal buckets move on a cable and produce a repetitive sound, giving the film an audio-visual tone. Therefore, it is not just the design of the sound that matters, but the combination of the sound coming out of the story (the digital sound), the electronic sound, the visual movements within the frame, and the camera’s movements lead to the induction of musical effect in the scenes.

The aesthetics of cut came from the Russian montage school in the 1920s and believes in the concept of audio-visual contrast. Of course, the Russian school changed both ideologically and artistically through Hollywood, creating a new style as the bedrock of cinema. The first important point in this style is that the story is told through montage and the montage is the main tool, but instead of focusing on the relationship among the shots and creating ideas, emotions, and understanding, the ideology of “invisibility” require us to hide all the effects of the film’s formal and technical tools so that the viewer is immersed in the story. Of course, the interest in invisibility has also led directors to implicitly shorten the shots and continue the flow of narration non-stop.

Between 1967 and 1975, the new Hollywood style led to changes in the American cinema. These changes included new themes, thematic ambiguities, and a conscious approach to narrative, and were influenced by European art cinema. Invisibility and extension were lessened in this method. However, the linear utopian style was specific to classical Hollywood and returned in the mid-1970s. This style is seen in the films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Although contemporary American filmmaking does not pay much attention to concealment (this style dates back to the classical and neoclassical period after 1975), young directors love advanced cameras and visual shots that induce music through video.

In addition to the narrative mode, the storyline in contemporary American films focuses more on editing than anything else. The length of the shots is shortened, but the rhythm of the editing is often influenced by the aesthetics of the music video. Of course, if the editing is performed well and used with creativity and music, it not only creates a strong emotional experience, but also a deep understanding of the film which are observed in the Darren Aronofsky’s first two films Pi and Requiem for a Dream.

The history of emergence of opera and its impact on cinema and musical film:

In the Middle Ages, although there were religious musical plays, the opera’s real origins date back to a group gathering of elites, nobles, and musicians known as the Kamrata Florence, who gathered at Kennedy House in Florence in the late sixteenth century.

After its early days in Florence of Renaissance Era, the opera played a central role in European music. The opening of opera houses in the seventeenth century turned the genre from a court activity to a public pastime.

The performance of opera at the time of emergence of cinema made it possible for the musical genre to be created, but due to its remoteness from reality, it received less attention than other genres in different eras. However, it shows the immediate impact of drama and especially music which poetically exaggerated with music and song and body language tells its story. Perhaps the proper transformation of opera into cinema in musical films is that the whole story is not in poetic language, and only part of it is performed with instrument and song, and in the other minutes we see the realistic narrative of the story. In such a case, care should be taken while choosing the musical parts in order to achieve a single form. If the important parts in terms of drama of the story are musical, and the less dramatic parts are realistically implemented, this should be consistent and structured until the end of the film.

Narration song and editing pattern

As Bordwell says, the main pattern of film is preserved in its story and plot. But the key to interpreting certain aspects of the work and responding to them lies in a network of different layers that are present in the structure of the narrative. For example, in Lantana film produced by Rey Lawrence, the narrative is structured in such a way that the secrets hidden in everyday life are revealed. The film follows different narratives and uses repetition and patterns to stimulate the structural basis by telling the story of couples whose lives are separated. It induces this theme through repeated and symmetrical contradictions.

After the lives and relationships of the main characters are established through repetitive activities (such as going to a psychologist, going to a dance class, etc.), the film focuses on important moments in the characters’ lives, that is, when normal life cracks and suddenly the whole life of other people also deviates from ordinary path. These sudden events of the plot take place over a suspended period of time, disrupting all the routines and norms of people’s lives. In Lantana, I see a girl who has died on the bushes, and these beautiful bushes and flowers and their thorns are constantly repeated in the film. It is like a metaphor for the lives of people. This effect of coordination can also be induced through the repetition of telephone conversations and messages. Sadness, fear, and frustration have taken over the lives of the characters, and all of this is shown to the audience through repetition.

Architectural design, clothing selection, style of play, and the use of background sound and music also affect the pattern of the plot. When these patterns are less obvious, they can be highlighted through editing. For example, in the Requiem for a Dream, the destructive power of addiction can be conveyed through their montage. This is done by montaging scenes of drug use that are repeated throughout the film.

In Kitano film which takes place in Japan, music and architecture is used to show that the film originated in theater: the background colors were artificially accentuated, the beggars wore long dresses, and unfortunate events were induced through a sad musical theme. Kitano’s editing is such that the poetic form is displayed through coordinated and equiponderant patterns at the macro and micro levels. At the micro level, scenes that look like poetry can be seen. The shots are repeated through visual details (red and paper butterflies on the ground, red plastic toys on the ground).

There is another approach in the film in which the harmony takes place through the temporal dimensions of the story. For example, passing to the past or the future. Sometimes these shots are confusing. This is more common in films in which several stories are being narrated. The most interesting aspect of Kitano’s film is the repetition and intentional poetic and musical mood. Sometimes he records shots in which all kinds of music or implicit poem are seen, especially when the time order of shots is disturbed. This method determines the “semantic weight” of the shots; This weight is usually conveyed through narration. It is improved by repeating the shot in the right time texture.

What is important in this section is that the production of rhythm on a large scale and its impact on the understanding of art, both in music and in film, is important. The comparison of film and music does not only end in comparing common parameters such as time and rhythm, rather it is related to the comparison of similar structural tools such as repetition and modeling. Similarly, Gestalt rules on modeling transfer the turbulent world of perceived stimuli to the familiar version of the surrounding reality, so it can be said that the pattern of music and film also convey specific content through their structures. As we have seen, the complexity of modeling and the interdependence of musical patterns affect the production of micro and macro rhythms.

Both music and film have the ability to use repetition. This repetition is used not only in structure but also for effective emotional purposes. Both are dual in nature and are used on a macro scale, so repetition can be used in both dynamic and static aspects. Repetition can be used to create balance, symmetry, and proportional distribution of structural tones. Repetition, both in music and in film, evokes a sense of movement, progress, and intensity, hence it is one of the most important tools in creating a macro rhythm.

Music and Film Movement:

The sense of movement that is seen in the structure of music and film is also very important. Music is based on natural concepts and involves movement. Movement is the source of all currents. There is also a sense of movement in life. But movement in the film is a reciprocal relationship between feeling and emotion. Also, movement in a movie is more objective than movement in music. There are also similarities between the two. The audio dimensions of the movement in the film make sense in the presence of sound and music.

Movement imagination:

Although most researchers acknowledge that movement is the main aspect of music, Susan Langer points out the opposite, saying that musical movement is only the appearance. Everyone knows that music is understood as a kind of movement, but there is no physical movement involved. The same contradiction exists in the film. Although the film has long been known as animated images, the images do not really move, in fact it is the reflection of light on the images and their rapid sequence which causes movement.

Music is an absolutely artistic abstract art the perception of which occurs by movement such that this movement is not physical but creates movement in a feeling of stillness, and this is the reason for its general acceptance. Roger Sessions also believes that movement precedes sound and music. When Hornby, Aster, and Scorsese made comparisons about the experience of reading, playing, or watching movies simultaneously with listening to music, they pointed to a continuous process in which the human brain produces all these activities similar to music. This is not exactly the feeling of movement, but the feeling of effortless movement, which is the source of the fascination of music, and Sessions mentions it as a necessity and inherent quality of music. Cinema, as its name implies, is all about movement, and with this inherent movement, it acts in the direction of enabling the music to move, whether or not this music is written for cinema at all. For example, Shostakovich’s music in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut has its own expression, and with the added image it gives direction to the movement in the audience’s mind.

The sense of movement in music is known as melody. A melody is made of tones and these tones do not go anywhere, they do not move. Hence, it is our mind that thinks the melody is in constant motion from the tones. Understanding music is similar to understanding film (in this sense). As a result, all of these aspects of music (such as rhythm, melody, tone, etc.) make us think that music is stimulating.

Movement in the film is no exception. But the film has a lot of movement resources including the movement of people and objects on the screen, the movement of the camera, the movement created by the editing tool, and the movement of the sound aspects of the film.

The movements in the film are more tangible than the music. They seem real and seem to be happening in the present. As in the old days, when the train appeared on the screen, people would run away.

However, the camera movement is also important. When the cameraman walks with the camera or tilts it or looks for a clue, a sense of movement is induced. The distance between the camera and the object and the speed of the camera also affect the dynamics of the images. The effect of movement on the production of an effective response to the music given by the audience is also seen in the film, and the fluidity of the movement in the film comes from the same aspect of the film.

Musical movement in shots

A long shot with continuous movements of the camera is always seen as a tool with strong musical potential that not only creates movement but can also be considered as the visual counterpart of music. For example, a four-minute filming of Scorsese’s Good Friends or a seven-minute shot in Antonioni’s “Profession: Reporter”.

Sound in the cinema:

Sound in cinema comes in three forms: speech, music, and sound effects. Sound, like other parts of the film, must be used to create a real environment.

Bresson believed that sound had more summoning property because of it is more realistic than image; In other words, a sound always reminds an image, but an image never reminds a sound. Bresson refers to off-screen sound. In the film, A Man Escaped, he creates an environment out of frame by using the music and sound effects to reduce the film’s extreme silence.

In his book “Theory of Film”, Noel Burch rejects the realism of Bresson’s voice by giving a few examples, emphasizing that if the off-screen sound is true to the world in which the film is set, there is no innate summoning in nature and essence of sound, but in general this hypothesis is not true. For example, in the real world, the dialogue between two people on the street is accompanied by a lot of noise, such that in sizes more than full-shot, it is not distinguishable from the environment of the movie at all. However, with sound recording tricks during taking video, as well as studio recording which is recorded separately from the ambience, we gain a virtual realism, but the real sound of the environment cannot be played in the cinema. Burch’s next parameter for rejecting sound realism is the microphone’s different distances from the subject, such that in the larger view there is less noise due to the subject’s proximity to the microphone, which uses ambiences ambient noise to a certain extent.

Burch does not differentiate between music, speech, and sound effects. By refereeing to “The Crucified Lovers” of Kenji Mizuguchi, he regards the sound passages as in coordination with sound effect. Closing the door ends the music in the second passage. He thinks that one of the correct uses of music in the history of cinema is that Mizuguchi created a sound language that in what is clear in the on-screen noise finds meaning by its dependence on the music. Another connection between music and dialectical imagery is where Eisenstein portrays the king in the film “The Terrible Ivan” in a large, low-pitched voice with an intensified bass. Many film directors, including Mizuguchi, Kurosawa, and Abraham Polanski, used dialogue as tonal music in the sense that Schweinberg intended.

Throughout the film’s history, the general concept of film music in both theoretical and practical cases has been a legacy of silence;

Film music is seen as an appendix, rather than an inseparable element of a film.

In the 1970s, Noel Burch introduced Japanese cinema as an important source of creative use of music and sound consistent with the concept of music, and also emphasized the inherent differences between the culture of audio-visual and musical cinema in Asian and Western cinema. This difference may be primarily due to the traditional form of Japanese music, whose “freer flow” is closer to the experimental quality of the film’s image.

Another aspect of Asian culture, or more precisely Zen culture, whose admirers can be found in independent American cinema, acknowledges silence as a complementary part of sound.

The impact of the music approach to film has gradually become more apparent in various areas of non-Hollywood cinema that have begun over the past three decades. Music has been used as an inspirational source for film production, as a model for film structure.

The music written for film was played live in cafes and then in cinemas, and even theaters that could not afford live music used the gramophone to break the silence of images. In 1915, David Griffith brought a large orchestra to cinema to show the birth of a nation. In 1926, Warner Brothers Company presented pages alongside films that served as a loudspeaker which, in addition to the film’s special music, included the voices of the actors and the surrounding noise. There was a problem with synchronizing audio and video in this way, but it was the only possible way at that time. In 1920, the first studio recording was made, which sparked the presence of sound in the cinema for the cinema technicians, but still live or recorded music was played simultaneously with the film. In 1927, the Jazz Singer film was the first film which included sound tape added to the film and eliminated the need for a separate audio player.

The lack of sound at the beginning of the history of cinema made films more and more visual and dramatic. But in 1952, two strange but unrelated events took place: one was Guy Debord’s film titled “hurlements en faveur de sade”, and the other was John Cage's musical performance of 433, which generally shattered the expectations of moviegoers and concertgoers. Debord’s film was nothing more than white and ultimately black music, and Cage’s music was just a performance by a pianist who spent four minutes and 33 seconds behind the piano, calculating time but not playing anything.

In both cases, the artist removes one of the sensory habits of the viewer and the listener; This, which in each case eliminated the main sense of the related medium, showed the link between music and image more than ever.

Debord’s removal was related to the film’s image, but for Cage it was related to removing the reflection of sound perception by music. Debord challenged our dependence on social images and landscape. Images were nothing but black and white, and this time it was the music that carried the burden of narration. In Cage’s case, time was of the essence, and the importance of time was not declined by removal of music, the time for the narration of a concert-performance that regarded sound as limited music, instrument as sound in memory, composer as listener; An abstract frame in which music and lyrics coexisted freely.

Aesthetics of Film Music:

What are the goals of making film’s music? Aaron Copeland considers the composer’s only job to add a dramatic and high value theme to the film by making the music. The five main branches of aesthetics for Copland are as follows:

1. Music is the creator of a space which makes space and time believable to the viewer; By choosing instruments, the composer can also give color and glaze to the film. For example, Francis Ford Coppola in “Youth” film, by choosing Keyhan Kalhor as a musician who is familiar with eastern music, achieved harmony in the film’s musical tint and cinematic image. Of course, it does not mean that directors are always obliged to match the image and the music, sometimes they deliberately try to create a contradiction between the two, the effect of color is very immediate, contrary to the spread of musical thematic.

2. Music has the ability to objectify the inner personality of the person or the real environment; Recounting the actor’s mental state by himself or verbally explaining the situation in the environment by the actors is one of the most important mistakes in screenwriting, in which case the lyrics music helps to recount this situation.

3. Music removes the silence of the background; Explaining this, Copland says that the reality is that part of the film’s music is not made to be heard, but to fill the film’s silence, because too much silence is annoying to the viewer if it does not have any function. Composers usually prepare different variations of a melody at this time, and some of them, which have a slower rhythm and a lower pitch, are chosen for this part. Of course, this music is not always silent. Sometimes it is possible to play the background of a dialogue, but due to the importance of the dialogue and the emphasis of the narrative over it, the music is not heard.

4. Music can help shape the continuity of a film; Sometimes we need to get help from music to form a continuous edition, such as using music in rhythmic montage and montage chapters; for instance, using music in the “High Noon” by Fred Zinnemann benefited from this technique for the link between different frames where the shots are linked together through the music rhythm.

5. Music has the ability to create an infrastructure for scenes whose theatrical and dramatic aspects are numerous and to end that scene with a sense of accomplishment; The difference between the mediums is in the exaggeration, which is favored or opposed by some. To reveal reality, cinema has to use measures to be released from excessive dramatization.

Form in film’s music:

One of the major drawbacks of film music is the lack of a coherent form. Even a simple study reveals the lack of understanding the function of film music and its internal connection with other elements. Even a powerful composer like Stravinsky remains unable in understanding this sensitive point in film’s music. When Stravinsky was invited to Columbia Studios to write music for Commandos Strike at Dawn, he was unaware of the work method. He started writing plans for the film, without even seeing the film. This did not happen, as the plot was not suitable for the film, and later Stravinsky arranged these themes for what is now known as The Four Norwegian Fashions.

A good film composer should be able to put his style of composition and, more importantly, his form and style of music in relation to dramatic extensions in the screen. What is important for composing a film’s music is that the images on the screen should determine the musical form that accompany these images. The filmmaker must be able to recognize the form and rhythm that is established by the visual relationship.

The question that comes to mind here is whether there is a connection between the visual-dramatic form and the musical form in the context of individual scenes. Is there a coherent form in the film as a whole, and if so, can music show this formal structure hidden throughout the film? The answer to these questions is definitely yes, but with a few conditions;

Unlike the visual part of a film which is always present, and therefore has the opportunity to grow as a natural process mildly, music is not a spontaneous element in the film. The suitable film’s music is used sparingly and in the moments that can have the most impact. The form in a pure music, like the sonata or rondo form, is largely dependent on the principle of repetition and contrast, but repetition and contrast are formed in a relatively short time without interruption. Regarding film, a long part may not need music. During this time, the listener has the opportunity to forget the musical material he or she has heard before. Knowing this, the film’s composer has several possibilities to, in a way, maintain the apparent unity of his music.

Light Motif is one of the most common features that flourished in nineteenth-century operas by Richard Wagner. The film’s music composer can have a different melody or motif for each character as the basis of the work. The advantage of music with light motif is that the listener can easily recognize the musical material. Max Schneider insisted that each character must have a theme. The melodies and motifs of a light motif in a partition can be heard in a variety of forms each time the character appears. An alteration in melody can give the listener the necessary advice on how to express an idea, such as disaster, love, or excitement at any particular point in the film. If the scene itself is emotionally neutral, this preparation can be very valuable, music can add to the scene what is missing. While it is easy to spot a light motif, it is not far from the mark. Certainly there are many examples of music with light motifs that are worthless, but there are also many examples that show the correct understanding and clever use of light motifs. There are films that use a motif to express a repetitive mood, one of which is The Lost Weekend. It is about an alcoholic whose music was written by Miklós Rózsa. In this film, Rózsa uses a Theremin, a leading electronic synthesizer at the time invented by Leon Theremin. In this film, Theremin plays a special motif that shows Ray Milland’s passion for alcohol during the film. No other instruments or melodies have been used anywhere else in the film. Therefore, when this motif appears on the soundtrack, it has a significant dramatic effect. In this particular example, Theremin voice is itself part of the motif and represents a state of mind.

The second most commonly used type of preparation is single-theme music, in which the composer uses only one tone for his entire partition;

In a situation like Laura’s film, a one-theme partition can be used, because the film wants such a partition almost all the time. The film has a realistic behavior, a hard-working detective who slowly falls in love with a girl who he believes is dead. Laura’s melody plays an important dramatic role in this film. In the best parts of the film, Laura’s music is used. Elmer Bernstein, the composer of the film, understood the dramatic function of the film and stated that:

“The film depicts a man who has fallen in love with a spirit. Mysticism is provided by the repetition of an attractive melody. He cannot escape it. The melody is everywhere, we cannot remember what Laura looks like, but we never forget that she is in the music”.

There is also a third way to create a movie partition. This method is similar to Light Motif, and it may be better to call it an expandable partition. The apparent behavior of the expandable partition may be somewhat similar to that of the eighteenth-century sonata, but only as long as it relates to the behavior of development. In many cases, in an expansive partition, titration music serves as an expositional function in the sonata form, which shows the musical material that will be used during the partition. Here, any resemblance to the structure of sonata form ends, there is no longer any definite sequence in the film’s music partition with the movement process of sonata form.

There will be no changed or unchanged recapitulations in the music of the film, these will be recognized more by the dramatic needs of the film than the inherent considerations of the music.

Composers sometimes have the opportunity to use traditional forms of music in film’s music. Scherzo form is one of the most common forms which has a fast pace and is usually an exciting piece. This form has been used countless times in chase scenes.

Another musical form used in one of the most popular montage sequences of all time in cinema is the variation form. This form was used by Bernard Herman in the music for Citizen Kane. The montage of a famous sequence in which Kane divorces his first wife; the divorce is requested by Kane, while his wife loves him very much. Herman uses a short soothing Waltz in the first part and as the montage goes on, he composes a variation on the Waltz for any of the sequences. Variations reflect changes in the relationship between Kane and his wife.

Any attempt to describe a basis for visual auditory experience through words will lead nowhere, unlike the Sonata and Rondo forms, in which the listener expects to hear pre-determined parts according to the form, each scene has its own hidden rhythm and a sensitive composer of film tries to show these elements in its music.

Film Music Semiotics:

Film music, as an art we know today, appears in three different but interdependent ways to serve cinema:

General music, instant music, thematic music

General music is the most important part of soundtrack and it is suitable for the composer’s creativity in any aspect. The composer is able to maneuver in any desired way only in the titles season and apply his musical knowledge and melodies. This music is also called identity music, in fact, it forms the identity and essence of the film; therefore, it can be called fate music. This music appears in the titles season of film and is directly related to the visual content of the title, but there may be only 5 or 10 seconds to devote to music in a particular plan in which case the composer does not have the freedom to make an independent music. That is why the semiotics of film music are different from the semiotics of music.

Instant music is exactly antithetical to identity music. Unlike identity music which takes a general and fate time in the structure of time, it relates exactly to the present and it does not look at the past or the future. Scenes that involve stress or fear are good examples of instant music.

Thematic music, in terms of content and descriptive status, is exactly between “identity music” and “instant music”. While it is an eternal time, and it flows in a timeless manner, it also focuses on the present; Or, conversely, an instant music that has a fate tone; And while dealing with the present, it also deals with the eternality. Chopin’s music used in the Pianist film is an example of this type, apart from expressing the cold and sad atmosphere of scene in the moment, as the fate music, it also contains the feeling of the whole film.

The list for recognizing semiotic structures of film music:

1. Duration of pieces.

2. Lack of control over the duration of each piece.

3. Lack of control over the orchestration of all musical pieces.

4. Lack of necessary freedom to determine the musical content (such as being happy, sad, or producing fear, etc.).

5. Absolute compliance to compilation, and visual content of each consecutive view.

6. Compliance to the rhythm of images.

7. Lack of control over how to start pieces and also to terminate them.

The compliance of film music composers, and his lack of control; So much so that at first glance to the above list plays a role in the audience’s mind, raising the question of whether or not the film’s music can be considered an artistic category, despite its endless limitations. Or is it just a technical skill that has only a decorative aspect?

This question can never be answered properly without considering the above list and examining each of its items in details.

Explanations were presented for items 1 and 2, but the third item refers to one of the most important aesthetic aspects of music. Every musician, before undertaking the artistic and creative construction of a musical work, first identifies the type of instrument or instruments that are needed to express the artistic thoughts of his music. He may prefer the orchestral bed to individual instruments, but what kind of orchestra? A chamber orchestra? Symphonic? Or jazz?

The cinema composer has no control over any of the above options. Because the first and most important criterion for selecting the type of instrument, or the use of different orchestras, is issued directly from the intrinsic necessities of the image. Of course, sometimes it is possible to make a choice according to the director’s taste.

In the case of the fourth option, the logic of the subject is so obvious that it is no longer necessary to discuss it.

To explain the fifth option, it is primarily necessary to consider the next option; Because a process called editing is relevant in items five and six and the difference between the two perspectives on editing needs to be made clear.

Compilation number six tells us that rhythm in soundtrack lacks independence; In fact, it is the images of the film that determine its rhythm. The rhythm in the soundtrack is influenced by the film and its images in three ways:

A. Rhythm taken from the movement of the film’s characters.

B. Rhythm that is obtained in the editing stage through fragmentation of views.

C. Rhythm that lies at the heart of the screenplay and leads to the type of movement of events and the speed of drama development.

As it can be observed, the film’s composer lacks freedom in options five and six. Like option four, in option seven, we see a very obvious option, which is clearly the defining image of the starting point and the ending point of music in film.


Given that the soundtrack of film is intended to integrate with the image and create an emotional atmosphere, recognizing the mood of different steps helps to use and integrate music and image to create the best atmosphere. In this section, we investigate Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, a German writer and poet, and the effect of music on the human soul and psyche. He was in charge of managing and directing music for German theaters, and has written extensively on the relationship between music and literature. The following are Schubart’s interpretations of the emotional characteristics of various scales involved in music, which can be helpful in understanding perception of music or composing it.

c major:

Complete purity, transparency, simplicity, innocence and childish honesty

c minor:

Expressing love and mourning in a failed love, passion, depression and romantic longing, this scale shows the damaged spirit.

Db major:

A mixture of sadness, joy and ecstasy. It is not laughter; it is a smile. It is not mourning; it is pretending to cry. In general, it expresses an unusual and eccentric character and emotion.

:c# minor

Shouts and lamentations of remorse, intimate conversation with God, seeking friendship and help in life, regretting a disappointing friendship and love.

😀 major

It is the scale of conquest and victory, the glorification of God, self-praise, the joy after success. It is used in chamber symphonies, military or marshal music, anthems for occasions and holidays. In fact, this music is a kind of happy songwriting.

😀 minor

Female depression, a boldness mixed with childish humor.

Eb major:

Scale of love and self-sacrifice, a sincere conversation with God.

D # minor:

Feeling anxious and nervous about the deepest sorrows of the soul, childish despair, severe depression in the darkest conditions of soul. Any fear or uncertainty of heart tremors seeps out of this dreadful scale. Perhaps if the spirits were able to speak, their voice could be quite close to this scale.

‏E Major:

Cheers and shouts of joy, excitement and joy caused by laughter but not completely; This scale shows joy and happiness.

‏E minor  :

Innocence, feminine innocence in expressing love, lamentation far from glory and complaint, sorrow with tears; This scale speaks of 100% hope, purity and absolute happiness in the C Major scale.

‏F Major  :

Politeness, kindness and calmness.

‏F Minor  :

Deep depression, mourning at funerals, mourning, complaint and grievances out of misery and loss.

‏F# Major :

Conquest after overcoming problems, feeling comfortable and free from overcoming obstacles; reflection of an angry soul and conflicts that eventually lead to victory lie at this scale.

F# Minor :

A dark and gloomy scale, just like a dog tearing a cloth, it struggles with emotions. The word of this scale is anger and resentment.

G Major :

Rural and primitive, humility, contentment and satisfaction in emotions, loving appreciation of a sincere friend and loyal lover; In one sentence: Any calm and peaceful feeling of the heart is expressed by this scale.

‏G Minor :

Dissatisfaction, anxiety, irritability and worrying about future plans failing; In a word: anger and hatred.

‏Ab Major :

Burial, death, stench, decay, judgment, and eternity lie in this scale.

Ab Minor:

Complaining, pressure to the point of suffocation; Sadness, intense conflict. In one sentence: The color of this scale covers everything that is struggling with problems.

‏A Major:

This scale expresses innocent love, satisfaction with emotional relationships; Hope to see the beloved again during the separation; It is the freshness of youth and trust in God.

‏A minor:

Asceticism and feminine piety, gentleness of nature.

‏Bb Major :

Happy love, transparent core, wishing to see a better world.

‏Bb minor :

A subtle creation manifested darkly and vaguely mocks the world, dissatisfaction with oneself and others, there are some suicidal moves.

‏B Major:

Colorful, expressing intense and brutal emotions, consisting of bright colors. Anger, rage, insanity, jealousy, greed, despair and all the emotions that weigh on the heart are in this scale.

‏B Minor :

The scale of patience, slowly waiting for destiny and fate, to submit to divine judgment and destiny.

The effects of cinema on music:

The question is whether cinema, as a newly emerged art with only 122 years of age, has been able to influence music or help to know or develop its language?

The ubiquity and availability of cinema compared to related music, this topic had a significant role when it was not possible to access music so much, and listening to music was exclusive to the aristocracy, and ordinary people could not afford to attend the music hall, but had the chance to go cinema at a very lower cost. Of course, this is not exactly the basic role of cinema, the basic role of cinema, both in the past and in the present, is to introduce it to other arts, including music, cinema is available and generally accepted; Many artists are currently composing, and audiences have access to enjoy their music easily; But today is the age of media, and cinema acts as one of the most influential media in this field, introducing other arts and artists to the public. For example, Mr. Ludovico Indy has been composing for many years, but he became famous when he wrote the soundtrack for Intouchables, which, apart from aesthetics, also contributed to the music economy significantly. There is no doubt that the fluidity of the structure of an audio-visual film has the greatest impact on the use of music itself.

The effects of music on cinema:

The existence of rhythm in cinema owes much to music, and we see the presence of rhythm in two sections of screenwriting and editing.

1. Narrative rhythm:

As briefly mentioned earlier, the rhythm and form of classical music have been influential in the formation of classical screenwriting, but this effect has not been pure and has entered cinema from music, literature, and theater. Generally, no style, school or particular artistic era has been purely influenced by one art or particular person and it is the result of small or large influences of individuals in different arts and at different times which is added to the collective subconscious and ultimately the formation of a movement or style; for example, impressionism in cinema and music occurred with a short gap, and that was when Claude Debussy brought Impressionism to music from Claude Monet’s paintings. Filmmakers of the twentieth century in France, such as Louis Delluc, Epstein, Abel Gans, etc. They were aware of the importance of the role of music alongside image in cinema, and they introduced this style to cinema by creating the concept of photogenic by Louis Delluc. The first attempts to create the rhythmic structures of silica and psyche in the film were made by those who designed their films on various musical pieces using rhythmic changes in music to determine the length of time in their abstract films.

Screenwriters often begin to write by remembering the speed that the scene needs, and by changing or expanding events and removing the margins, they change the rhythm and speed of the presentation of information. This method of literature has entered the realm of screenwriting, but both have borrowed from rhythm in music.

2. Editing rhythm:

Editing is the most important objective manifestation of music in cinema. By increasing or decreasing the length of views, observing an equal length for cuts in a scene or sequence, gradual and rhythmic increasing of views, cutting the views based on musical beats, etc. are a small part of musical concepts in editing films.

Some of the concepts of montage have exactly the same musical connotations:

Dialectical montage: Just like the concept of variation in music, there are two opposing melodic lines, one after the other.

Rhythmic montage: This montage also reminds us of the concept of counterpoint in such a way that, for example, the first bar of a black note, the second bar of two white notes and thus the difference in interval between notes decreases and more notes are played in the final bars.

Tone montage: The development of main idea of music that is heard in the primary movements is equal to tone montage in the final movement of the symphony.

Atonal montage: In Atonal twelve-note music, we do not have a fixed rhythm, there is no special tonality, there is no emphasis on the subject and there is complete freedom, these are all characteristics of atonal montage that are filmed deeply clearly and there is no emphasis on a specific point. Everything is inside the image frame and it does not try to create rhythm or create a special feeling and color by cutting into different views.

Structural montage: This concept brings to mind the light motif of Richard Wagner, in which a concept, object, or habit becomes a partial character of the structure, and by repeating a sign of it, the whole concept of the subject is re-formed in the mind. For example, in M film, whenever the killer appeared on the scene, he shouted a melody by whistling. Until the end of the film, whenever we hear that melody, it indicates the presence of the killer nearby. Or any other motif used in many films in the history of cinema up to now follows the concept of the Wagnerian Light Motif.

Not surprisingly, Eisenstein even took the names of some of the montages from the music and based all his montage concepts on musical concepts. He lived in Russia at a time when the five figures of Russian socialism in classical music, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Millie. Balakirev, Caesar Koi, Modest Mozorgsky, and Alexander Boroudin revolutionized classical Russian music in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and began to write and design their own montage theory with an interest in them and their music.

Film Music Composers:

Film music composers are divided into three general categories from the beginning until now;

1. The great composers who wrote music in their musical branches before the advent of cinema. Those who did played the piano live at the beginning of the history of cinema were musicians who chose and played a music from the existing music based on the atmosphere of the film, but after a short time in 1908 for the film The Assassination of the Duke, Camille de San San wrote the first music for the film in a specialized way.

Great composers such as Eric Satie, Aaron Copeland, Sergei Prokfiev, Dmitry Shostakovich, George Gershwin, Arthur Ronger and Aminullah Hussein, who have a special reputation in the world of symphonic music, are among the composers who made music for cinema.

2. After the emergence of sound in cinema, film music made a significant progress, and composers who wrote only for films came to work:

John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herman, Howard Shore, Elmer Bernstein, Clint Mansell, Ian Tirsen, Hans Zimmer, and Ellen Caraindro are among the greatest musicians to write music for a film.

3. Using classical music in cinema; Composers who themselves lived before the invention of cinema, but whose music was used at the discretion of the directors, given the explanations presented in the semiotics section of film music, it is extremely difficult to use the past music to make the film feel right and exactly to the intended point. Examples of using the classical music include A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut. Stacker’s creative use of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which at the beginning of the final scene of the film, the middle melodies of the fourth movement are voiced by the sound of the train, and after recording a melody in this way, the music is played gloriously.

Films made about music or about the lives of famous composers:

The life stories of famous composers are included in a series of biographical films that deal with the way of life and even how important works are created by famous composers, but compared to the great composers of history, few films have been made on this subject. Not much success have been gained even in these few films. Most of the problem with these films is that they are forced to pay too much attention to music. To satisfy the auditory needs of the audience who has attended cinema to watch a film about the life of a famous musician, they have to put various performances of their works. If these moments are not dramatized well, they lose their cinematic credibility and become music videos. This problem also occurs if there are no well-developed screenplay for movies about music. In this sense, films made about non-temporal arts are often better made because of their nature, which does not require a separate recording of cinematic drama and whose works are able to be presented to viewers with short pauses. Among all the films made about the lives of musicians, there are The Doors (1991) tells the life story of Jimmy Morrison, Ray (2004) the life of Ray Charles, two films Lovers of Music (1970) that deal with Tchaikovsky’s life, and Mahler (1974) which depicts the life of Gustav Mahler. The work of Ken Russell, along with Amadeus by Milos Forman, is one of the most acclaimed works in this category. Regarding music-themed films that include both musicals and dramatic music, many films have been made in this field throughout history; Tears and Smiles, the sound of music, pink Floyd- the wall (1982), whiplash (2014), Sweeney todd (2007), school of rock (2003) and la la land, which was present at the 2017 Oscars are included in the best films of this genre.

Modernism in Music:

From the time of modernism onwards, especially with the Industrial Revolution and the discovery of camera, a number of new schools have emerged.

Most of these arts believed that art should no longer adhere to principles and should target the human soul, not reconstruct it.

In painting and sculpture, and in the visual arts in general, it took five centuries to discover the perspective rules of landscaping, that is, five centuries of trying to simulate reality as much as possible, this perfection occurs simultaneously with modernism, and since then most artists changed their attitude and came up with things that were not really possible to be indicated.

Since the process of progress of all arts affects music at the same time, but the type of expression of music from the beginning was not similar to other arts and from the beginning the listener’s feeling was targeted and not the reconstruction of reality. This departure from the principles, rules, and academic framework led to a decline in music over the rest of arts. For this reason, musicians are more connected to classical music than to new musical innovations, such as minimalist works, but in other arts, most artists agree with modernism.

But what should not be overlooked is that music is moving towards simpler, more popular and more comprehensible music. For example, in classical music, human voice has played the role of an instrument in a wide range of different sounds, but in modern times, especially with the popularity of pop art, music has changed, and many of the fundamental aspects of music have shifted to the point where words prevail over music, meaning that most people have listened to the lyrics and the music itself has disappeared.

This is in stark contrast to the rest of arts, which may, for example, make it difficult for an ordinary audience to understand a modern painting. May it be accepted and considered.


Bordwell, David and Thomson, Christine. (2014). Cinema Art. (Fattah Mohammadi, Translator). Tehran: Markaz Publications.

McPrander Gast, Roy. (2002). The music of the forgotten art film. (Mohsen Elhamian, Translator). Tehran: Goshayesh Publications.

Zahedi, Touraj. (2009). Semiotics of film music. Tehran: Surah Mehr Publications.

kulezic-wilson, danijela. (2015). The musicality of narrative film: University of Southampton, UK.

E.Tolchinsky, David & D.lipscomb, Scott. (2003). the role of music communication in cinema: northwestern university, us.

Burch, noel. (R. Lane, Helen, translate). (1981). The theory of film practice: Princeton university press, Princeton, new jersey.

Copland, aaron. (1940). the aim of music for films: new York times, us.

Thoma, A. (2015). discussing the relathionship between sound and image: the scope of audio/visual strategies in a contemporary art context: university of leeds, uk.

Leave a Comment

fa_IRفارسی en_USEnglish