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Film Music... Is It Real Music?

Let's examine an important question. Do we respect film music enough?

Two men were placed in a small room in order to test their communication skills. The objective was for one of them to start a conversation and the other to continue it.

The observers watched to see if the two men could continue the give-and-take of a normal discussion with relative ease.

Both men were of average intelligence and possessed good communication skills. For over an hour, however, they diligently tried to meet their objective, but were unable to do so.

The problem? They were speaking two different languages.

In many ways, the manner in which music is applied in different contexts can seem like communicating in two different languages.

Musical communication as it is applied to the medium of film can seem like an entirely different form of communication than concert music. But is one a higher art form than the other?

In this interview, legendary film composer Ennio Morricone responded to this issue with the following statement:

"Film music is not at the same level as classical or chamber music because those compositions are born naturally from the composer himself. The composition expresses itself without any conditions or limitations. In the cinema, the music is conditioned by the images and by the direction of the director, and therefore is complementary to the film. This does not mean that film music is not worthwhile. It always depends on who’s writing it. It’s not seriously considered because there is a grave infiltration, throughout the entire world, including America, of amateurs and dilettantes, people who do not know music. Therefore, this lowers the level of the profession, and film music is not considered a serious art form."

In turn, I'll respond to the Maestro's statement in two parts:

1. Film Music Not at the Same Level

Obviously, there are very distinct differences between film music and musical works for concert, but I'm not sure if I see them as being on different levels.

They certainly can be, but he speaks of concert works as coming from the composer without conditions or limitations. Often times that is true, but not always.

Opera, for example is typically a collaboration between the composer and the librettist.

Many commissioned works have conditions and limitations on them. Many electronic pieces are collaborations between several composers.

Mixed media works can be collaborative as well.

Sure, the film composer serves the needs of the director of the film, just as the film music serves the film itself. But does that mean that the music is a lesser art form than any other?

2. Amateurs Lower the Level

I'm sure that most would agree that there are indeed "amateurs" involved in film music, even at the highest levels.

In other words, film composers exist with a variety of skill sets and varying degrees of proficiency.

Perhaps that has damaged the perception of film music for some. But should it? I'll give two reasons that it should not...

  • Each work should be judged on its own merits.

This is done in classical music. Some works are masterpieces and most are not. The great works are no less great because of the existence of inferior works.

There is an abundance of brilliant music composed for film. Why should Morricone's music, for example, be diminished because of the existence of inferior scores by less skilled film composers?

  • Film music has kept classical music in the public eye.

I wrote about this in more detail in an earlier article. Film music keeps classical music in the ears of the general public. In fact, one could reasonably argue that film music is the raft upon which concert music is kept afloat.

So, was Morricone right? Are film music and concert music on different levels? Are there too many "amateurs" involved in film music? Don't forget to let me know what you think...


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