Throughout the 1920s, German-language film journalism addressed fundamental questions about the encounter between music and cinema. Prominent composers, musicologists, and film theorists contributed to this broad discussion on the proper role and design of silent film music, encompassing a wide range of arguments and perspectives. To a large extent, this debate took place in cinematic trade journals (such as Der Kinematograph, Film-Kurier, Reichsfilmblatt) as well as musicological journals (e.g. Musikblätter des Anbruch, Melos, Der Auftakt).
The paper outlines the development of the film-music debate on the film journal Reichsfilmblatt from 1924 to 1930, with a particular focus on the dialectical interplay between theoretical-aesthetical concerns and compositional issues.
Starting from the mid-1920s, Reichsfilmblatt encouraged composers and music directors to contribute their opinions concerning the art of film-music composition at large, ranging from compilation guides to accompaniment practices, and from illustrative techniques to dramaturgic strategies. Particular attention to compositional issues is evident from the presence of regular columns by music critics. Film-music theoreticians like Hans Erdmann or Ludwig Brav reached well beyond the horizon of a film-music criticism, even theorizing new compositional approaches to film composition.
Thanks to the contributions of film-music specialists, such as Giuseppe Becce, Paul Dessau, Friedrich Holländer, etc., Reichsfilmblatt also dealt with a large number of questions related to the execution of musical accompaniments. The techniques of conducting film music were outlined; the basic configuration of a salon orchestra and the peculiarities of certain instruments were critically evaluated. The uncertain status of salon-orchestra conductors was debated and compared with the art-music sphere.
From 1927, Reichsfilmblatt finally confronted the question of the mechanization of music performance: a large number of articles discussed the revolution provoked by the discovery of recorded sound on both theoretical and practical levels.
Francesco Finocchiaro, “Im Spiegel der Kritik”: The film-music debate on Reichsfilmblatt from 1924 to 1930, II NEMI Meeting “Periodical press as a source in musicology”, CFSH-NOVA Lisbon, 16–18 May 2019.
Rediscovering the pleasure of a warm, joyful, and respectful educational relationship… Some pictures from Francesco Finocchiaro’s Erasmus Teaching Leaving at the University of Catania (15–26 April 2019).
Gottfried Huppertz’s score for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) is distinguished from other contemporary film music accompaniments in its use of sophisticated compositional techniques of a Wagnerian origin. Huppertz makes use of complex harmonies, chromatism, enharmony, and employs whole tone chords and scales. He also has the gift of a cantabile quality and uses it to elaborate a dense network of leitmotifs, which constitute the connective tissue of the score. In the musical vocabulary employed by the composer, however, there are also, and not without surprise, dance music pieces, which tend to constitute separate stage-music numbers. In two of these scenes –– both set in the Yoshiwara, the nightclub of Metropolis –– jazz takes on a peculiar significance. Towards the end of Act I, jazz music accompanies the astonishing vision that, during a trip by car, the worker Georgy has of the Yoshiwara hall. In Act ii, a foxtrot rhythm accompanies the seductive dance of the android with the features of Maria. In these scenes, which we can fully appreciate thanks to the complete reconstruction of the film carried out in 2010, Huppertz alludes to contemporary dance music through syncopated rhythms, jazz harmonies, the sound of the saxophone, etc. In the pseudo-Wagnerian style of Metropolis, the jazz of Yoshiwara represents a true and proper discovery. The two scenes above give us an entirely new idea of Huppertz’s music, which now appears to be richer and more complex. Beyond the stylistic and compositional aspects, however, there is something else. The use of jazz, indeed, proves fully consistent with the intentions of the narration. In Metropolis, jazz is associated with irrationality: an expressive means suitable for evoking a condition of sexual ambiguity, racial promiscuity, and corruption of moral values. The jazz music, thus, acquires an intentionally symbolic value with countless resonances in the cultural universe of the 1920s-Europe.
Francesco Finocchiaro and Leo Izzo: The Sound of the Nightmares: On the Jazz Music in Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’. In Cinema Changes: Incorporations of Jazz in the Film Soundtrack, edited by Emile Wennekes and Emilio Audissino. Turnhout: Brepols, 2019, pp. 203–218.
One commonly speaks of “soundscape” to indicate a set of sounds connected to a particular environment. But does a “cinematic soundscape” exist? In other words: are there genuinely cinematic strategies to represent the sound of a territory, an environment, a geographical space? What is the link between music, the film of which the latter is part, and the space represented therein?
This fascinating knot of questions was the topic of the conference “Mapping spaces, sounding places. Geographies of sounds in audiovisual media “, hosted by the University of Pavia’s Department of Musicology, located in Cremona, from 19 to 22 March 2019.
Die Fachbereichsbibliothek Musikwissenschaft der Universität Wien verwahrt seit 2018 den Nachlass des deutschen Komponisten und Kinokapellmeisters Edgar Haase (1901–1967).
Der Musikbestand enthält über 500 Orchestersets aus deutschen, englischen und amerikanischen Kinomusik-Repertoires der Stummfilm-Epoche (bspw. Kinothek, Preis-Kino-Bibliothek, Boheme Kino-Lexikon, Sam Fox Film-Gebrauchs-Musik, Bosworth’s Internationales Kino-Orchester, J. S. Zamecnik’s Photoplay-Edition, Universal-Film-Musik, Robbins Red Seal Concert Series, Filmharmonie und vielen anderen). Ein solch umfangreiches Kompendium erlaubt einen historischen Einblick in die alltägliche Praxis der Stummfilm-Musik und kann Filmmusikforschern bei der Rekonstruktion der zeitgenössischen Technik und Ästhetik der Filmkomposition helfen.
Dr. Francesco Finocchiaro, Leiter des FWF-Forschungsprojekts Filmmusik als Problem im deutschsprachigen Journalismus (1907–1930), hat diesen Musikbestand im Rahmen eines Lecture-Recitals vorgestellt: Der Vortrag wurde von der Live-Musikaufführung ausgewählter Kinomusikstücke durch ein Kammerensemble flankiert.
Die Filmmusik von gestern, a lecture-recital of Francesco Finocchiaro at Campus aktuell 2019, University of Vienna, June 13th, 2019. With the participation of Daniele De Vecchi, Anna Tonini Bossi, and Tiziana Columbro.
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).