The Sound of the Nightmares


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.

Cinematic Soundscapes

T. O. 34, dir. Vittorio Carpigano, music by Raffaele Gervasio, 1942 (screenshot)

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.

See the full article on Amadeus.

Die Filmmusik von gestern

Daniele De Vecchi, Anna Tonini Bossi, Tiziana Columbro, and Francesco Finocchiaro

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.

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).