Film Music as Propaganda

Italian cinema of the fascist Ventennio (1922–43) used music and, more generally, the acoustic component in an anything but naive way: on the contrary, it focused on the most subliminal component of the filmic text so as to convey constellations of meaning that were useful to the regime’s cultural politics.

The musical component proves to be a strategic ideological tool especially in films with declared propaganda content. Fascist ideology translates into a pervasive musical polarization. On the one hand, music enhances fascism’s propagandistic myths, such as Latinity, Risorgimento, family, peasant land, war, etc. On the other, music is put in the service of anti-Communist, anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Ethiopian iconography, connoting spaces and environments, criminalizing the regime’s enemies (Africans, Marxists, Jews, etc.) through dissonances, cacophonic clusters, as well as the deformation of ethnic and jazz music.

The musical component of fascist cinema contributed toward structuring the regime’s rhetoric for all intents and purposes. Analysing the musical construction of spaces and places in the regime’s cinema can help reconstruct a fundamental chapter, so far neglected, of fascism’s cultural encyclopaedia.

Film Music as Propaganda: The Musical Construction of Space in Fascist Cinema was the title of an interdisciplinary panel conducted by Francesco Finocchiaro together with colleagues Leo Izzo and Elena Mosconi at the international conference Mapping Spaces, Sounding Places. Geographies of Sounds in Audiovisual Media, at the University of Pavia-Cremona (19-22 March 2019).

The visible man

Photo: Irene Trancossi

The 44th Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte di Montepulciano (July 2019) is going to host a lecture-recital by Francesco Finocchiaro on “emotion & feeling” in silent film music. The show, with the participation of Julie Brown (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Elisabeth Trautwein-Heyman, will culminate in a live performance by the Montfort Quartett, directed by Klaus Nerdinger.

The Singing City

Dolores Melodia, Michele Signore, and Lucilla Galeazzi (ÖFM © Mercan Sümbültepe)

On November-December 2018, the Austrian Filmmuseum dedicated a film retrospective to Elvira Notari (1875–1946), the Neapolitan film pioneer of the early silent era. Italian folk music stars Lucilla Galeazzi, Dolore Melodia, and Michele Signore contributed to outstanding live musical accompaniments for the films ‘ A Santanotte (1922), È piccerella (1922), Fantasia ‘e surdato (1926), as well as Roberto Roberti’s masterpiece Napoli che canta (1926).

See the full article on Amadeus.

“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

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