FMJ @ NYU

What is film music? What should a piece of film music look like formally? Which musical language is better suited to the cinematic one? What dramaturgical problems arise from the use of traditional typologies or pre-existing music pieces?
Francesco Finocchiaro’s lecture at MaMI 2019 (New York University, Steinhardt) looked at this knot of issues in the mirror of German-language film journalism during the silent era.

Francesco Finocchiaro, Film Music as a Problem in the Mirror of Criticism, Music and the Moving Image 2019, New York University, Steinhardt, May 30 – June 2, 2019

FMJ at II NEMI Meeting

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.

The Sound of the Nightmares

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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.

The visible man

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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.

“Im Anfang war der Rhythmus”

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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

ÖGMw 2018: About Silent Film Music Restoration

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Der Begriff „Musikquelle“ stellt die Forschung im Bereich der Stummfilmmusik vor beträchtliche Probleme. Auf rein historischer Ebene muss zunächst darauf hingewiesen werden, dass der Großteil der Filme jener Zeit sowie viele ihrer Musikbegleitungen nicht mehr existieren. Handschriftliche Partituren mit der von ihrem Autor vorgesehenen Orchestrierung sind rar (ein geradezu einzigartiger Fall ist die Partitur von Gottfried Huppertz für Fritz Langs Metropolis, 1927); häufiger haben sich Klavierauszüge erhalten (zum Beispiel jene von Edmund Meisel für Panzerkreuzer Potemkin von Sergej Eisenstein, 1926), doch diese wurden meistens in einem anderen Zusammenhang und zu einem völlig anderen Zweck produziert. Im Gegensatz dazu ist aus der Stummfilm-Epoche ein großes Repertoire an Stimmungsmusiken überliefert, die ihrer Natur nach entweder einer „musikalischen Illustration“ vorausgehen oder von dieser a posteriori abstammen konnten (wie im Falle der Fantastisch-romantischen Suite Hans Erdmanns, abgeleitet von der Begleitmusik zum Murnau-Film Nosferatu, 1922).

Musikalische Dokumente solch vielfältiger Faktur, die ganz unterschiedliche Momente im Arbeitsprozess einnehmen konnten, werfen weitere Deutungsprobleme auf, wenn sie den Ausgangspunkt für Filmrestaurierungen bilden. Die Musikquelle tritt dann in Beziehung, oder viel häufiger in Kollision, mit einer Quelle anderer Art: der Filmrolle. Diese beiden Dokumente haben einen jeweils anderen ontologischen Wert – oder um ein Begriffspaar Ecoʼschen Ursprungs zu verwenden: Die Musik eines Stummfilms kann als „offener Text“ bezeichnet werden, der bei jeder Live-Aufführung erneuert wird; der Film ist hingegen ein „geschlossener Text“, der mechanisch, nahezu identisch bei jeder Projektion wiedergegeben wird. Hinzu kommt, dass die Autoren dieser beiden Texte je einen unterschiedlichen Status einnehmen: Der Filmemacher unterzeichnet den filmischen Text in jeder Hinsicht; der Komponist betreut stattdessen eine ergänzende Komponente nicht des filmischen Textes, sondern der filmischen Projektion.

Im Gegensatz zu einer emphatisch aus zumeist kommerziellen Gründen proklamierten Authentizität muss man feststellen, dass der Rekonstruktionsprozess oft recht arbiträre Eingriffe in die musikalischen Dokumente erfordert – was jeweils verschiedene Optionen in Bezug auf den ontologischen Status der Partitur und der Filmrolle sowie deren Autorschaften impliziert. Selbst wenn erklärt wird, die vermeintliche „Uraufführung“ im Namen medienarchäologischer Bestrebungen wiederherstellen zu wollen, erweist sich jede Rekonstruktion eines Stummfilms, insbesondere im Dienste einer modernen DVD-Edition, als ein Übersetzungs- und Adaptionsprozess. Das Endresultat ist nicht nur historisch neu und nicht unmittelbar aus dem Zustand der „Quellen“ ableitbar, sondern auch ganz in der ästhetischen Erwartungshaltung der Gegenwart verwurzelt.

Francesco Finocchiaro, Aporien der Filmrestaurierung: Die musikalischen Dokumente der Stummfilm-Zeit zwischen Medienarchäologie und Marktgesetzen, Annual Conference of the Austrian Musicological Society, Vienna, 6–8 December 2018

“Der absolute Film”

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Musical metaphors played an essential role in the aesthetic reflections that laid the foundations of “abstract cinema.” This label, coined in 1921 by critic Theo van Doesburg, openly alluded to music right from the beginning. In describing Eggeling and Richter’s experimental films, van Doesburg wrote about “visible music” – meaning a composition that “unfolds” right before our eyes, “not unlike what happens in music.”

What the short films of Eggeling, Richter, and Ruttmann have in common is the fact that they give a musical guise to what is purely visual material. As a visual art, “art for the eyes,” abstract cinema aspires to organize time rigorously, according to autonomous syntactic principles.

In this search for a visual language with a highly formalized syntax, no other art could have provided such a powerful conceptual paradigm as art music––especially absolute instrumental music. The drive toward the abstract explains the frequent use of musical titles in films, as well as the title of the Berlin Film matinee Der absolute Film––which took place on May 3, 1925, at the Ufa-Theater am Kurfürstendamm––in which members of the Novembergruppe presented the results of their experiments. The idea of an “absolute cinema” explicitly recalls the notion of “absolute music:” just like pure instrumental music, abstract cinema aspired to an autotelic language, a language that relied solely on its own idiosyncrasies, to the point of being ultimately reduced to the unfolding of lines, colors, and forms in time.

The essay presents a detailed investigation of musical metaphors lying at the basis of the aesthetic manifesto of abstract cinema and a survey of their mediating role in the film analysis. As a paradigmatic case study, the analysis focuses on the audiovisual construction of Walter Ruttmann’s Lichtspiel Opus 1 (1921), with the accompanying score by Max Butting.

Francesco Finocchiaro, “Der absolute Film”: Über die musikalischen Metaphern im ästhetischen Manifest des abstrakten Films. In Novembergruppe 1918: Studien zu einer interdisziplinären Kunst für die Weimarer Republik, edited by Nils Grosch. Münster: Waxmann, 2018, pp. 181–193 (Read it on Academia.edu).