Sin dall’era del muto la critica cinematografica pose a tema il connubio fra musica e cinema. Compositori, musicologi, filosofi, teorici del cinema contribuirono a una vivace discussione intorno alle caratteristiche e alla funzione della componente musicale nelle proiezioni cinematografiche, con un ampio spettro di argomentazioni e punti di vista. In articoli, saggi, recensioni si sollevarono innumerevoli questioni di natura estetica, teoretica e compositiva: che differenza c’è fra musica cinematografica e musica d’arte? Una musica per film deve essere necessariamente una composizione originale o può includere musiche preesistenti a mo’ di compilazione? Come deve essere fatto da un punto di vista morfologico un brano di musica per film? Quali problemi possono derivare dall’uso di musiche che siano già note agli ascoltatori? Non mancarono riflessioni sulle relazioni estetiche fra l’arte musicale e il medium cinematografico in quanto tale, sulla loro convergenza o separazione, e persino sulle loro “affinità elettive”.
Il libro si pone l’obiettivo di indagare il problema estetico della musica per film nell’era del muto sulla scorta delle fonti giornalistiche coeve. Gli scritti giornalistici possiedono un enorme potenziale conoscitivo come fonti estetiche e storiche, a un tempo. Il giornalismo cinematografico si rivela un medium teorico-estetico per la pratica della musica per film nell’era del muto: il luogo in cui convergono le prime riflessioni teoriche sulla composizione cinematografica, si discutono urgenti questioni drammaturgiche e un’esperienza inerentemente estetica della musica riceve una raffinata elaborazione concettuale.
Francesco Finocchiaro, Dietro un velo di organza. Il pensiero sulla musica cinematografica nell’era del muto, Torino, Accademia University Press, 2020 (Biblioteca di Athena Musica, 2)
The notion of “film restoration” raises considerable problems for research into silent film music. Handwritten scores with the orchestration intended by their authors are rare; in cases where piano scores have been preserved, these were often produced in a different context and for a completely different purpose. In contrast, a large repertoire of mood music pieces has come down to us from the silent film era, which according to their nature, however, could either precede a “musical illustration” or descend from it a posteriori.
Musical documents of such varied nature, which could represent completely different moments in the compositional process, raise notable problems of interpretation when they are assumed as the starting point for a “film-music restoration”. In contrast to an alleged authenticity, emphatically proclaimed for mostly commercial reasons, it will be noted that even the most historically accurate procedures of film-music reconstruction often require arbitrary interventions in the musical documents, which imply different assumptions regarding the ontological status of the score and the film, as well as their respective authorships.
It is surprising to find a similar level of arbitrariness even in the most celebrated exemplar of a film-music restoration of the last years: Frank Strobel’s reconstruction of Huppertz’ score for the film Metropolis. Despite all declared claims for philological completeness and historical truthfulness, the reconstruction of this silent film score proves rather to be a process of translation and adaptation. The final result of such a procedure is not only historically new and indirectly derivable from the state of the sources, but also completely rooted in the aesthetic expectations of the present era.
Francesco Finocchiaro, Aporias of Film Restoration: The Musical Documents of the Silent Era between Film Philology and Market Strategies, «Acta Musicologica», XCII/2, 2020, pp. 180-199.
Between the 1910s and 20s, countless film adaptations of operas originated as a consequence of the medial competition between cinema and the bourgeois cultural institution par excellence: opera. Film adaptations aspired to lend artistic and cultural dignity to the new medium of cinema and, at the same time, actualized operatic subjects, adapting them to the cinema’s sense of naturalism and immediacy.
The processes of adaptation carried out by filmmakers could take on a variety of characteristics, as a result not only of the varying practical needs of a particular adaptation, but also of different aesthetic paradigms of cinema, that is, the different ways of conceiving its semiotic modes of discourse and the hierarchical configuration of the artistic languages embedded in it.
This article compares the adaptational strategies in four films––Cecil DeMille’s Carmen (1915), Albert Capellani’s La vie de Bohème (1916), Jacques Feyder’s Carmen (1926), and Richard Strauss & Robert Wiene’s Rosenkavalier (1926)––that represent just as many different modes of engagement with their operatic originals. These instances are interpreted as different solutions to the very same aesthetic problem: i.e., how to translate operatic dramaturgy into a cinematic means of expression.
Francesco Finocchiaro, Operatic Works in Silent Cinema: Toward a Translational Theory of Film Adaptations, «Music and the Moving Image», XIII/3, 2020, pp. 49-71
Cos’è la musica per film? Qual è il suo statuto estetico? È possibile delinearne i confini e qualificarla come uno specifico genere musicale? Quali sono le sue funzioni drammaturgiche e quali le tipologie formali?
Domande di questo genere hanno accompagnato il cinema sin dai suoi albori, in modo particolare dalla metà degli anni Dieci del Novecento, allorché il nuovo medium cinematografico elaborò un linguaggio espressivo complesso, con leggi e convenzioni estetiche proprie. In quel contesto, l’esigenza di affrancare l’accompagnamento musicale dalle condizioni di casualità e precarietà dei primordi si fece sentire con sempre maggiore insistenza: il cosiddetto “film d’arte”, con i suoi adattamenti di capolavori della letteratura e del teatro e le ricostruzioni di importanti eventi storici, richiedeva una musica che fosse all’altezza del proprio ruolo.
Francesco Finocchiaro, Hans Erdmann e il dibattito sulla musica per il cinema muto nel giornalismo cinematografico di lingua tedesca, “Poli-femo”, 2019, nn. 17-18, Special Issue Ton sur ton, Lo stile della saggistica critica sulle arti I, pp. 111–128
In Italy, the rise of fascism in 1922 marked the beginning of a massive operation aimed at standardizing, under the banner of ideology, every aspect of political and social life, including artistic and cultural events. The program of indoctrination of the masses and construction of consensus put in place by the fascist regime relied mainly on the widespread use of a mass-culture industry. First between the 20s and 30s, then more heavily in the late-30s and 40s, fascist ideology tried to infiltrate the whole spectrum of cultural production, starting with its (only apparently) more harmless mass-media manifestations, especially radio and cinema.
The intellectuals of the fascist regime fully understood the persuasive and manipulative power inherent to the new media: they recognized above all the political-cultural function of cinema, which gradually became the medium par excellence for influencing collective behavior. The prevailing, in the fascist cultural policy, of Giuseppe Bottai’s position, who favored a non-invasive use of propaganda, determined the preference for films in a light comic style that were able to deal with international models, primarily Hollywood. Italian fiction movies of the 20s and 30s––particularly the comic-sentimental genre known as “white telephones”––were essentially products of escapism, intended to be passively received. Not requiring any particular cultural or intellectual background, they reached people of all social classes. Such routine cinematic products were accepted as a given: as entertainment products rated for consumption, they favored abandonment, passive vision, uncritical reception. The words “Do not speak about politics, here” (Qui non si parla di politica), affixed to the walls of public venues, were a fake truce offer aimed at circumventing the spectator’s critical defenses.
Francesco Finocchiaro, Musica e cinema nel ventennio fascista, “Quaderni del CSCI”, 15, 2019, Special Issue All’ascolto del cinema italiano: musiche, voci, rumori, edited by R. Calabretto, M. Cosci, and E. Mosconi, pp. 24–30 (read it here).
Arnold Schönberg’s early works have long been at the centre of renewed musicological interest. This growing interest is closely linked to a new historiographical trend within Schönbergforschung, which has worked to free itself from the cumbersome authority of the composer and to abandon earlier apologetic positions. In this process of emancipation, a decisive step has been the decision to question Schönberg’s authorial image, starting with a critical reconsideration of his artistic evolution. An important contribution to the definition of this new historiographical framework comes from an examination of the early works by the Viennese composer, particularly from the period prior to Verklärte Nacht op. 4 (1899).
The work of the young Schönberg is enveloped in what Max Reger called the “Brahmsian fog”, apparent in Schönberg’s preference for dances, Lieder with piano and other chamber music, as well as his obsessive application of developing variations, eg. in the Quartet in D major (1897). Once he had reached a saturation point in his commitment to Brahmsian techniques, he turned to a style of composing that Schönberg himself would have defined as “more progressive”. Two unfinished symphonic poems composed between the spring and summer of 1898, Frühlings Tod and Toter Winkel, with texts by Nikolaus Lenau and Gustav Falke, respectively, provide evidence of a new poetics: they represent the first attempt by Schönberg to establish, both on formal and thematic levels, a connection with the artistic and literary avant-gardes of his time.
Francesco Finocchiaro, Il poema sinfonico nell’opera giovanile di Arnold Schönberg, “Gli spazi della musica”, vol. 8 (2019), Glosse sull’Espressionismo, pp. 12–32 (Read the full article here).
Talking about the role of the voice in cinema means questioning what, despite appearances, can be said to be one of the cinematic text’s most complex and problematic components. Today’s consumer of the film industry’s products, addicted to the modern code of audiovisual texts, can hardly imagine the alienating effect of a type of show that, in its early form, was instead completely devoid of the voice and almost total renounced to the verbal medium, except for small intertitles.
As Rudolf Arnheim wrote in his Film as Art (1957), the silent cinema, with its exaggerated facial mimicry and gestures, had nonetheless coined a universal language, one that was immediately understandable in all parts of the world, regardless of linguistic barriers: a gestural language, impossible to replace with words.
The art of silent cinema had introduced a new existential paradigm: Der sichtbare Mensch (The visible man), as in the title of Balázs’s book of 1924. This man could be neither listened to nor read since he was forced to express himself through a visual language. Now, by putting verbal language and words at the center of the film medium, sound cinema determined the rise of a new medial language.
Francesco Finocchiaro, Il cinema parlante. Spunti per una drammaturgia della voce da Fritz Lang a Terrence Malick. In La voce mediatizzata, edited by Marida Rizzuti and Stefano Lombardi Vallauri. Milan: Mimesis, 2019, pp. 69–92 (read it here).
Music-related articles from 1923 to 1930 in film trade magazine Reichsfilmblatt have been fully inventoried and digitally disclosed. Journalistic sources are available online, in the form of a full-text transcription, in the open-access database FMJ Archive.
Another milestone for the FMJ Project and its remaining research team. Italian people say: “Meglio soli che mal’accompagnati!”.
The Poliziano Ensemble
Francesco FInocchiaro and Julie Brown
Francesco Finocchiaro and Elisabeth Trautwein-Heymann
Great uncertainty surrounds the status of film music in the silent era. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the musical accompaniments of film screenings were mainly made in the form of compilation, i.e. collages of pre-existing music, taken freely from the operatic and symphonic repertoire, also from operettas, dance, variety songs, and matched to the story in a crude and rather predictable way.
From the second decade of the twentieth century, the major European and American publishers began to publish and distribute ready-made pieces for music accompaniments. These pieces of music were not specific to a particular film, but were designed to accompany common film situations (e.g. Short Storm, Chase, Night Vision, Dangerous Situation) or to give a scene a generic emotional mood (e.g. Desperation, Mystery, Anguish, Dramatic Climax). Each piece of music was accompanied by a more or less detailed description, referring to the context in which it could be used in the film. Music was used to express the whole spectrum of human feelings, from “amorous passion” to “profound desperation,” from “lyrical expression” to “dramatic conflict”: the musical component was left to portray the inner emotions of that Visible Man – the title of a famous work by Béla Balázs (1924) – conditioned to express himself on-screen only through gestures.
A considerable number of these compilation repertoires was archived in the research project “Film Music as a Problem in German Print Journalism (1907-1930),” carried out at the University of Vienna. The collection comes from a bequest of composer Edgar Haase (1901–1967), a specialist in film music and director of various salon orchestras. The legacy was augmented by donations from heirs and further research in European libraries, including the Musiksammlung of the National Library of Austria and the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin. The archive contains over 500 sets of orchestral parts, from the most important collections of German, English and American mood music (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). Such a vast compendium provides a reliable historical picture of the daily practice of musical accompaniment in cinemas and stands as an informative document with enormous potential for the reconstruction of the art and aesthetics of film composition in the silent era.
As director of the Viennese research project, Francesco Finocchiaro presented the musical background as part of a conference/concert, with the participation of Julie Brown (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Elisabeth Trautwein-Heymann. The Montfort Quartet, together with some Poliziano instrumentalists, performed a selection of pieces from the mood music collections.
At the IAML 2019 Conference, Francesco Finocchiaro presented the FMJ Archive. The paper outlined the database’s concept, design, and scope, with a particular focus on research methods, technical concerns, and theoretical issues.
Francesco Finocchiaro, FMJ Archive: a Digital Database for German-Language Film Music Journalism, IAML 2019 Conference, Jagiellonian University Kraków, 14-19 July 2019.
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