reading tonality through film

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Reading Tonality Through Film


  • Reading Tonality Through Film: Transformational Hermeneutics and the

    Music of Hollywood

    A dissertation presented


    Frank Martin Lehman


    The Department of Music, Harvard University

    in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

    in the subject of Music

    Harvard University, Cambridge Massachusetts

    May 2012

  • 2012 by Frank Martin Lehman

    All Rights Reserved

  • iii

    Professor Alexander Rehding, advisor Frank Martin Lehman

    Reading Tonality Through Film: Transformational Hermeneutics and the Music of Hollywood


    Film musicology is growing at a heartening pace, but the discipline is still bereft of sustained

    contributions from music theory. The current study seizes the opportunity presented by the under-

    analyzed repertoire of film music, offering an argument for applying the techniques of

    transformational analysis, and neo-Riemannian analysis in particular, to the interpretation of music

    for the moving image. Film musical style and form respond strongly to a transformational approach,

    which adapts well to both the triadic chromaticism characteristic of Hollywoods harmonic practice

    and the dynamic and contingent condition of musical design inherent to the medium. Concurrently,

    the analytic tools and conceptual structure of neo-Riemannian theory benefit from exposure to a

    fresh repertoire with different analytic needs than those of art music.

    In this dissertation, the author scrutinizes the capacity for tonality to act as a unifying and

    dramatically potent force in film. With parameters of effective cinematic tonal design established,

    the adapted transformational methodology responds faithfully to the expressive and temporal

    qualities of the soundtrack. The author develops a model for harmonic associativity and a general

    hermeneutics of transformation, extrapolated from analyses of scores from John Williams, James

    Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, and many others. The power of the transformational approach to capture

    tonal phenomena through spatial representations is marshaled to perform critical readings of scores

    for A Beautiful Mind and Star Trek. Not only can the neo-Riemannian stance illuminate the way film

    music works, but it can train the listener and analyst to perceive and enjoy film with more sensitive


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    Acknowledgments: _____________________________________________________ vi

    Abbreviations, Orthography, and Examples: _______________________________ viii

    Preface: _______________________________________________________________ 1

    Chapter 1: The Elements of Hollywood Tonal Style

    I. John Williams and the Hollywood Sound __________________________________ 13

    II. Late Romanticism and (New) Hollywood Musical Practice ______________________ 19

    III. Tonal Idiom _________________________________________________________ 25

    IV. Pitch Resources _______________________________________________________ 27

    V. Voice Leading and Contour ______________________________________________ 32

    VI. Triadic Chromaticism __________________________________________________ 36

    VII. Tonality _____________________________________________________________ 42

    VIII. Transformational Methodology ___________________________________________ 51

    IX. Figural Transformational Analysis _________________________________________ 58

    X. Formal Transformational Analysis _________________________________________ 64

    Chapter 2: Approaches to Film Tonality

    I. Harmonic Reason and Purpose ___________________________________________ 74

    II. The Big Picture: Film-Spanning Structure and Design __________________________ 80

    III. Extended Techniques: Multiple Tonics _____________________________________ 89

    IV. Extended Techniques: Associative Tonality __________________________________ 93 1. Expressive Tonality _____________________________________________________________ 93 2. Meta-Diegetic Tonality __________________________________________________________ 94 3. Meta-Idiomatic Tonality _________________________________________________________ 95 4. Symbolic Tonality ______________________________________________________________ 96

    V. The Trouble with Tonality ______________________________________________ 101

    VI. Evaluation __________________________________________________________ 108

    Chapter 3: Expressive Tonality and Transformational Associativity

    I. Expressive Tonality Revisited ___________________________________________ 113

    II. A Field Guide to the Harmonic Progressions of Hollywood __________________ 121 1. Modulation-As-Such ___________________________________________________________ 124

    2. Tonicity _____________________________________________________________________ 126

    3. Mode _______________________________________________________________________ 127

    III. Distant Tritones _____________________________________________________ 128

    IV. Devious Tarnhelms ___________________________________________________ 135

    V. Loose Signification and Intratextual Imprints _______________________________ 144

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    Chapter 4: Transformational Hermeneutics Space, Temporality, Continuity I. Arts of Interpretation _________________________________________________ 158

    II. Transformational Decision Points ________________________________________ 161 1. Operation Attribution __________________________________________________________ 161

    2. Network Spatio-Temporal Design ________________________________________________ 164

    3. Harmonic Hierarchy ___________________________________________________________ 166

    4. Transformational Continuity _____________________________________________________ 169

    III. Thematic Transformation in James Newton Howard__________________________ 172 1. King Kong __________________________________________________________________ 173

    2. The Sixth Sense ______________________________________________________________ 180

    IV. Space and Perspective in Howard Shores Lord of the Rings ______________________ 188 1. Aniron _____________________________________________________________________ 189 2. Argonath ___________________________________________________________________ 192

    V. Continuity and Change in Danny Elfmans Spiderman __________________________ 201 1. Main Title _________________________________________________________________ 202 2. Costume Montage ___________________________________________________________ 205

    Chapter 5: Patterns and Paranoia in A Beautiful Mind

    I. Apophenia and Pattern Madness _________________________________________ 208

    II. James Horner and the Music of Genius ____________________________________ 210

    III. The LRS Group and Horner Space _______________________________________ 214

    IV. Idea and Epiphany____________________________________________________ 223

    V. A Kaleidoscope of Transformations ______________________________________ 234

    VI. Tonal Labors Lost ____________________________________________________ 244

    VII. Tonal Labors Won ___________________________________________________ 246

    VIII. An Appetite for Patterns _______________________________________________ 252

    Chapter 6: Sublime Sequences and Spaces in Star Trek

    I. Sci-Fi Sublimity ______________________________________________________ 255

    II. Star Trek Chromaticism ________________________________________________ 258

    III. The Motion Picture: Tonal Language and Transformations _______________________ 261

    IV. Introductory Tryptich _________________________________________________ 267 1. Hexatonicism and Cyclical Embedding in Ilias Theme _______________________________ 267 2. Tonal Prolongation and Deflection in Main Title ___________________________________ 271 3. Meta-Idiomatic Design in Klingon Battle _________________________________________ 272

    V. Strange Proceedings in The Cloud ______________________________________ 276

    VI. VGer Revealed ______________________________________________________ 287

    VII. The Belly of the Behemoth _____________________________________________ 293

    VIII. Unframed Symmetries _________________________________________________ 299

    Epilogue _____________________________________________________________ 306

    Bibliography _________________________________________________________ 308

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    If writing this dissertation was anything like writing, directing, and scoring a film all at once, then

    my advisor Alex Rehding filled the role of a dream producer. Always ready with a helpful word, a wise

    suggestion, and a seemingly bottomless supply of both time and patience, Alex made this unlikely

    projecta music theory dissertation on film soundtracks? will that sell?!both possible and pleasurable

    to create. It was clear he was nearly as invested in my thesis as I was, and I will always be thankful for his


    As readers Suzannah Clark and Chris Hasty were crucial to the realization of this dissertation.

    Without Clarks generous and incisive commentary on my work-in-progress, half of the good ideas in my

    thesis might never have been born (and half of the bad ones might never have been expunged!). Hastys

    inspiring intellect challenged me at all turns to draw the implications of my findings beyond the level of

    the musical surface, and into d