Thursday, April 27, 2017

What are you watching?

What are you watching this weekend and how will you view it differently based on what we learned this month in Clef Notes?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Composer Cameos

Film director Alfred Hitchcock is known for making cameo appearances in his films. He’s seen leaving the pet store with two pups as Tippy Hedren enters in The Birds (1963). Or what about the man missing his bus during the title sequence of North by Northwest (1959)? But did you know that film composers sometimes make cameo appearances as well? Below is a list of a few of my favorites. Next time you watch one of these films, be on the lookout for the composer!

No Reservations (2007) – Philip Glass appears in the cafĂ© run by the three lead characters at the end of the film.

The Truman Show (1998) – Philip Glass appears playing the piano during the “Truman Sleeps” segment.

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – extended edition (2003) – Howard Shore appears sharing a drink with the group following the Battle of Helm’s Deep.

Son of the Pink Panther (1993) – Henry Mancini hands the baton to the panther in the opening scene.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) – James Horner runs down a corridor as preparations are made for battle.

What other composer cameos have you seen in your favorite films?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ennio Morricone

You may be familiar with the work of Ennio Morricone (b. 1928) – a legend in film music history. Though prolific in a variety of genres, he gained fame from his work in collaboration with director Sergio Leone. This partnership resulted in well-known Spaghetti Westerns including A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in The West (1968), and A Fistful of Dynamite (1971). Morricone’s Western score influenced the way audiences expect Western films to sound. Credited with hundreds of scores, Morricone has several modern films you may be familiar with as well: The Hateful Eight (2015), Inglorious Basterds (2009), and Django Unchained (2012) are just a few.

What’s your favorite Morricone score?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Henry Mancini

It’s been a month of movie music in Clef Notes. Let’s focus our attention this week on a few pillars in film score history. We’ll talk about Ennio Morricone later in the week and today, it’s Henry Mancini (1924–1994).

Did you know that Henry Mancini was from Cleveland, Ohio? He was first introduced to music in his youth, playing the flute. Following WWII, he joined the Glenn Miller-Tex Beneke Orchestra as a pianist and arranger. He got his start at Universal in 1952 with a short assignment for an Abbott and Costello film. He ended up sticking around for several years after that, working in their music department. Over the course of his career, he won 4 Oscars, 20 Grammys, and other awards, and produced an impressive discography. Perhaps you’ve seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), The Pink Panther (1963), or Peter Gunn (1958–1961)? These are just a few examples from the extensive list of cinematic projects he contributed to throughout his lifetime. 

What’s your favorite Mancini score? 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Music in Period Films

Period films often use music from the era in which they take place to create an historically accurate performance. Sometimes, however, the music we hear may be from a time following the film’s setting. Today’s let’s look a few examples – one obvious, and the second more subtle.

Have you seen the 2006 film Marie Antoinette staring Kirsten Dunst? This film is set during the 18th century and tells the story of the last queen of France before the French Revolution. Listen to the music here.

This scene shows an obvious example of music displacement. “I Want Candy” performed by Bow Wow Wow is modern music intentionally chosen for use in a period film.

But what about the 1975 Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon? This movie also takes place during the 18th century. Listen here for any displaced music.

Did you hear any? If not, that’s okay! Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat, Op. 100 is used non-diegetically during this scene. It fits nicely into this historic setting, and it’s meant to blend well as period music. This piece, however, was not written until the 19th century! I wonder if the creators of Barry Lyndon were aware of this discrepancy when they chose it as part of their film score?

During this month of movie music, let’s talk about a few significant film composers. Join me next time!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Opera in TV Sitcoms

We’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last few years looking at examples of music in movies. But what about TV sitcoms? The popular 1990s show Seinfeld was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld to follow the whacky life of a stand-up comedian living in New York. I’ve always enjoyed watching re-runs of this show, but it wasn’t until recently that I stumbled across the episode titled “The Opera” and realized that classical music can show up anywhere! 

In this episode, Jerry and his friends get tickets to see Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci. Elaine initially plans to take her boyfriend, Joe Davola, until he begins calling her “Nedda,” making false claims that she’s cheating on him, and trapping her in his apartment. Later, Joe Davola dresses up as Canio the clown from Pagliacci and Kramer gives him a ticket to the opera, not realizing his identity. During the final scene of the episode, Jerry reads off the cast list, including the role of Nedda. Elaine’s face reveals her horror as she suddenly realizes Joe Davola’s plan for his own Nedda (Elaine). The ending credits then role, playing the aria “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci, instead of the usual Seinfeld theme.

How is this significant, you may wonder? In Leoncavallo’s opera, Canio the clown plays the part of Pagliacci in a performance. During the show, he stabs his wife Nedda and her lover in a fit of rage and jealously. Joe Davola relates to Canio, while he sees Elaine as the doomed Nedda.

What classical music connections have you noticed in other TV sitcoms?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Musical Ambiguity in The Truman Show

This month, Clef Notes revisits a popular topic: music and cinema. Last time we introduced two important terms often used in reference to film music – diegetic and non-diegetic. Diegetic music is the type of music that is not only heard by the viewer, but also by the on-screen characters in the film (the source of the music is on screen). Non-diegetic music serves as a background to the film and can only be heard by the viewer, not the characters on the screen. But what happens when these two concepts blur?

The 1998 Jim Carrey film The Truman Show tells the tale of an insurance salesman who discovers that his life is a popular television show. At one point in the movie before Truman realizes the truth, viewers watch Truman sleep while an appropriate Philip Glass score plays underneath. Obviously, Truman himself does not hear this music making it, in a sense, non-diegetic. The on-screen viewers of Truman’s show can hear the music. So how would we define this? Is the music diegetic since some actors on screen can hear it? Or is it non-diegetic since its purpose is background music, both for us, and for the on-screen audience? If you pay close attention during this scene, you may notice the music performed at the piano – a source. Does this make it diegetic? What do you think?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Film Music

This month I’d like to revisit a fun, modern topic in musicology: music and cinema. Everyone watches movies and thus, everyone has encountered the soundtrack to a film. While some film directors use pre-existing music to underlie their cinematic project, others will use a film composer to write a new score to fit the images and plot they aim to create.

This month, we’ll look at everything from classical music references in a 90s sitcom to composer cameos in film but today, let’s begin by looking at several impressive musical terms often used when referring to film music - diegetic and non-diegetic.

Diegetic music is the type of music that is not only heard by the viewer, but also by the on-screen characters in the film. An example would be thisAs in this example, typically the viewer can see the source of the music on screen to help determine whether or not it is diegetic. In this case, the scene begins with George Peppard at the typewriter. The music begins and it’s not initially clear whether or not he can actually hear the music. When he walks to the window and looks out, noticing Audrey Hepburn singing, it’s then clear that this is a diegetic example. Henry Mancini wrote the music to “Moon River” from the 1961 classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. We will learn more about him later this month.

The opposite of diegetic music would be non-diegetic. This type of music serves as a background to the film and can only be heard by the viewer, not the characters on screen. An example would be this found in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966). Here, the music enhances the plot for the viewer during the final duel scene. The characters, however, cannot hear it themselves. Ennio Morricone wrote the score to this film. We’ll look at more of his work in a few weeks.

Can you think of any examples of diegetic or non-diegetic music from your favorite films?