When you watch a film, you are often absorbed into the world and plot before you. A great screenplay means great success, however, one often doesn’t stop to think about what else really makes a film so gripping. Try imagining your favourite film without music; it just wouldn’t be the same.
Music brings so much to the table; suspense, thrill, joy, excitement, sadness and so on. Think of it as a qualifier, amplifying the atmosphere and heightening the mood. With most sad scenes comes the accompanying slow, minor tonality strings, with most fast paced action scenes comes the staccatoed articulation, the upbeat semiquavers and full orchestra. A good soundtrack makes the film as much as a good script.
A composer has, in many ways, a lot more creative freedom than a director. Very little budget restriction, no casting and no limits on what can or can’t be achieved. However, often with this, comes underappreciation. While many critically acclaimed composers such as John Williams have the spotlight, many composers get brushed away in the grand scheme of things. What most people don’t understand is the great complexity and difficulty that comes with scoring for a screenplay. Mirroring the action on the screen, getting dynamic and instrumental cues perfectly in sync, setting and establishing mood, all vital things a composer has to deal with.
Whether or not people really understand or even notice the presence of music in certain scenes, it is doing its job. Embellishing the ambience can often be just a difficult task as the choice of set, lighting, expression of words etc. A poorly scored film would have that critical thing missing from it that may not be overtly obvious to most. However, when scored well, the music adds so much to the film that very quickly, composers and the soundtrack can become instantly linked and associated with films and franchises. Film composers often set musical standards that one comes to expect from subsequent films, incorporate their own personal style and write for a plethora of moods.
In many ways, having ties to films can greatly increase the popularity of composers. If the screenplay is successful, scenes can highlight the musical score behind the movie magic. Associating certain instrumentation or techniques with a franchise of films could just be a subtle way of composers guaranteeing their spot as composer in future films.
Leitmotifs allow the audience to connect with certain characters, places or moods, a great device that instantly can set scenes or let viewers know what or who is about to feature.
It was customary in Tudor and Stuart drama to include at least one song in every play. Music has been used as a plot device or accompanying feature of theatrical performances for centuries, and often is what can leave a lasting impression as much as an actor’s skills.
One could argue that film/theatrical music is more important and recognised than other orchestral music, due to its use and obligatory role in productions. Whether or not this is true, it is undeniable that film/theatrical music is vital and has shaped the course of music in many ways and that life would not be the same without it.