“Im Anfang war der Rhythmus”


During the silent era, film theory assigned to music an essential role insofar as it claimed the birth and filiation of the so-called “tenth Muse” from the more ancient and noble “art of sounds.” The thesis of an elective affinity between music and cinema found a theoretical systematization in the writings of Georg Otto Stindt, Béla Balázs, and Hans Erdmann, who identified the rhythmic dimension as the trait d’union between these two forms of art.

Filmic rhythm, as Erdmann explains in the Allgemeines Handbuch der Film-Musik (1927), has a double nature. At a basic level, film rhythm comes into expression where scenic movements are being musically stylized through the principles of dance, march, as well as the motion of machines at work. In instances like these, the music closely follows the narrated events and establishes a painstaking correspondence with the visuals.

The artistic link between music and image, however, cannot be reduced to this mere descriptive illustration. This simple synchronization is nothing but a small-scale rhythm. The scenic events, indeed, unfold according to a line of feelings whose overall movement describes what Erdmman calls, in clear allusion to Eduard Hanslick, a large-scale rhythm. Music in cinema, thus, should not only adhere to the small-scale rhythm determined by the outer movements and the pantomime, but rather comply with the large-scale rhythm that underlies the narrated events. In the Allgemeines Handbuch, Erdmann names this structural rhythm with the term Eurhythmie, meaning nothing less than the temporal articulation of the film and its dramaturgical construction as a narrational curve.

Erdmann’s theory of a film rhythm and its significant implications for film music composition are discussed through the analysis of paradigmatic film sequences taken from Nosferatu (1922) by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang.

Francesco Finocchiaro, “Im Anfang war der Rhythmus”. Aesthetic Abstractions in the Film Music Composition of the 1920s. In Ratio versus Intuitio, «Principles of Music Composing», XVII, 2018, pp. 145–156. (Read it on Academia.edu)

Watch the full video here