Updated: Sep 13, 2021
There are those who believe that classical music needs visual stimuli to make sense to a contemporary audience.
I was reading this article recently and I begin to think…
Is classical music being kept alive by film?
Maestro John Williams really doesn't need an introduction, and any limited introduction I could give him here would never do him justice. Having composed the scores for Jaws, Star Wars, Superman: The Movie, Schindler's List, just to name a few, he is a legend in the world of film music.
In an interview with Jack Sullivan, Williams was asked if he believes classical music still exists to the extent it does today because of its use in film. He responded, in part, with the following:
"People have their eyes glued to something all the time. For that generation, it's hard to listen to Beethoven and be completely engaged in a way that we would prefer them to be. But I think to ignore that fact is to ignore a reality that is with us; the audiovisual coupling as expressed in film music is something that is really with us to stay because of the way we live."
Interesting statement to say the least. Obviously, film music has had an impact on popular culture, particularly the music of John Williams.
Most people will instantly recognize his music for Star Wars for example, but who among us would know his trumpet concerto upon hearing it?
But the question I'm asking after reading those statements is this... Is classical music really being kept alive by film music?
Would this genre of music still be with us to the extent that it is if not for the visual accompaniment involved in filmmaking?
The Difference Between Concert Music and Film Music
A short while ago, I wrote an article in which I suggested that classical music could benefit by using Hollywood as a business model.
This very point highlights one of the differences between the two types of music:
Classical music markets to a much smaller, niche audience than film music.
The goal of big budget films is to market to the widest audience possible. As a result, film music also needs to be accessible to the widest audience.
While film music supports the visual elements of the film, concert music must stand on its own without visual accompaniment.
Instead of supporting the main event, concert music is the main event. As a result, concert music needs to be more complex and more cohesive than film music.
In essence, it's the target that makes the difference.
Each genre has primary target audiences. The world of classical music is aiming at that small, niche audience that is implied in Williams' statement.
Film music is shooting for a broader audience. Film music has to have mass appeal so that it can coexist with the visual elements of film that is being marketed for the widest audience possible.
Just based on what is presented here, it seems reasonable to conclude that concert music doesn't need film music in order to exist today. The audience to which classical music appeals is always going to be there. But I do believe the existence of film benefits classical music.
How does film benefit classical music?
I believe there are two ways in which film helps sustain interest in classical music:
Film music reaches a wider audience
Because so many more people watch movies than attend classical concerts, more people are exposed to classical music through film.
Film music appeals to a wider audience
Because of the accessibility and simplicity of film music, it is easier for mass audiences to relate to it. In this way, film music can act as a conduit for classical music.
So there you have it... Do you think classical music is being kept alive by film music? Does John Williams have a point about any of this? Let me know what you think in the comments section below...