Film in biography form: the use of pre-existing classical music in the composer biopic

Farrell-Griffiths, Naomi (2019) Film in biography form: the use of pre-existing classical music in the composer biopic. MA(Res) thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Kathryn Kalinak describes film music as being ‘directly composed’ to accompany motion pictures, with its function found in enhancing the emotional and narrative structures of the onscreen events, such as dialogue, screenplay, and acting. (Kalinak, 2010). An exception to this arises when a film makes use of pre-existing music as its soundtrack. Pre-existing music is composed without knowledge of a film’s emotional or narrative properties and is therefore not specifically composed for the film. Nowhere is this phenomenon seen clearer than in the composer biopic, which, due to its subject matter, often demands the use of pre-existing music. The recontextualisation of pre-existing classical music into a filmic context means that it can now be cast in a new light, intertwined with a scene’s sentiment. However, does the adoption of a filmic context mean that the use of pre-existing music should be assessed by film music criteria, such as the amplification of mood and narrative? If so, does that consequence a loss of musical integrity? Furthermore, what are the repercussions of this changing context for our understanding and interpretation of the original music?

To tackle these questions, I will evaluate the use of pre-existing classical music within Lisztomania (1970), Amadeus (1984), Immortal Beloved (1994), and The Music Lovers (1970). I will explore the use of pre-existing classical music in these films through the adoption of various technical functions, such as diegetic, nondiegetic, and metadiegetic. Furthermore, I will explore how the use of pre-existing music can shape or change an audience’s understanding of a particular scene, and through this I will demonstrate how pre-existing music is able to adopt the filmic function of intensifying the sentiment and narrative of a film. With consideration given to criticism from musicologists, such as Joseph Horowitz and Robert Craft, who advocate musical integrity in film, I will show that it is essential for pre-existing music to be modified in order to enhance filmic properties, such as narrative and emotion. I will also consider comments from film critics, such as Roger Ebert and David Thomson, and assess the use of pre-existing music against a film music criterion, thus demonstrating music’s mutability across different contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (MA(Res))
Supervisors: Boyd-Bennett, Harriet
Keywords: Composers, biography; films; classical music; film music
Subjects: M Music and Literature on music > ML Literature of music
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of Humanities
Item ID: 59501
Depositing User: Farrell-Griffiths, Naomi
Date Deposited: 07 Apr 2020 09:01
Last Modified: 06 May 2020 09:04

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