To The Fore Music Definition Essay

For other uses, see Avant-garde (disambiguation).

The avant-garde ();[1] from French, "advance guard" or "vanguard", literally "fore-guard")[2] are people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society.[2][3][4] It may be characterized by nontraditional, aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability,[5] and it may offer a critique of the relationship between producer and consumer.[3]

The avant-garde pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm. The avant-garde is considered by some to be a hallmark of modernism, as distinct from postmodernism[citation needed]. Many artists have aligned themselves with the avant-garde movement and still continue to do so, tracing a history from Dada through the Situationists to postmodern artists such as the Language poets around 1981.[6][not in citation given]

The avant-garde also promotes radical social reforms. It was this meaning that was evoked by the Saint SimonianOlinde Rodrigues in his essay "L'artiste, le savant et l'industriel" ("The artist, the scientist and the industrialist", 1825), which contains the first recorded use of "avant-garde" in its now customary sense: there, Rodrigues calls on artists to "serve as [the people's] avant-garde", insisting that "the power of the arts is indeed the most immediate and fastest way" to social, political and economic reform.[7]


Several writers have attempted to map the parameters of avant-garde activity. The Italian essayist Renato Poggioli provides one of the earliest analyses of vanguardism as a cultural phenomenon in his 1962 book Teoria dell'arte d'avanguardia (The Theory of the Avant-Garde).[8] Surveying the historical, social, psychological and philosophical aspects of vanguardism, Poggioli reaches beyond individual instances of art, poetry, and music to show that vanguardists may share certain ideals or values which manifest themselves in the non-conformist lifestyles they adopt: He sees vanguard culture as a variety or subcategory of Bohemianism.[9] Other authors have attempted both to clarify and to extend Poggioli's study. The German literary critic Peter Bürger's Theory of the Avant-Garde (1974) looks at the Establishment's embrace of socially critical works of art and suggests that in complicity with capitalism, "art as an institution neutralizes the political content of the individual work".[10]

Bürger's essay also greatly influenced the work of contemporary American art-historians such as the German Benjamin H. D. Buchloh (born 1941). Buchloh, in the collection of essays Neo-avantgarde and Culture Industry (2000) critically argues for a dialectical approach to these positions.[11] Subsequent criticism theorized the limitations of these approaches, noting their circumscribed areas of analysis, including Eurocentric, chauvinist, and genre-specific definitions.[12]

Relation to mainstream society[edit]

Further information: Mainstream

See also: Media culture and Spectacle (critical theory)

The concept of avant-garde refers primarily to artists, writers, composers and thinkers whose work is opposed to mainstream cultural values and often has a trenchant social or political edge. Many writers, critics and theorists made assertions about vanguard culture during the formative years of modernism, although the initial definitive statement on the avant-garde was the essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch by New York art critic Clement Greenberg, published in Partisan Review in 1939.[13] Greenberg argued that vanguard culture has historically been opposed to "high" or "mainstream" culture, and that it has also rejected the artificially synthesized mass culture that has been produced by industrialization. Each of these media is a direct product of Capitalism—they are all now substantial industries—and as such they are driven by the same profit-fixated motives of other sectors of manufacturing, not the ideals of true art. For Greenberg, these forms were therefore kitsch: phony, faked or mechanical culture, which often pretended to be more than they were by using formal devices stolen from vanguard culture. For instance, during the 1930s the advertising industry was quick to take visual mannerisms from surrealism, but this does not mean that 1930s advertising photographs are truly surreal.

Various members of the Frankfurt School argued similar views: thus Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in their essay The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass-Deception (1944), and also Walter Benjamin in his highly influential "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1935, rev. 1939).[14] Where Greenberg used the German word kitsch to describe the antithesis of avant-garde culture, members of the Frankfurt School coined the term "mass culture" to indicate that this bogus culture is constantly being manufactured by a newly emerged culture industry (comprising commercial publishing houses, the movie industry, the record industry, and the electronic media).[15] They also pointed out that the rise of this industry meant that artistic excellence was displaced by sales figures as a measure of worth: a novel, for example, was judged meritorious solely on whether it became a best-seller, music succumbed to ratings charts and to the blunt commercial logic of the Gold disc. In this way the autonomous artistic merit so dear to the vanguardist was abandoned and sales increasingly became the measure, and justification, of everything. Consumer culture now ruled.[15]

The avant-garde's co-option by the global capitalist market, by neoliberal economies, and by what Guy Debord called The Society of the Spectacle, have made contemporary critics speculate on the possibility of a meaningful avant-garde today. Paul Mann's Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde demonstrates how completely the avant-garde is embedded within institutional structures today, a thought also pursued by Richard Schechner in his analyses of avant-garde performance.[16]

Despite the central arguments of Greenberg, Adorno and others, various sectors of the mainstream culture industry have co-opted and misapplied the term "avant-garde" since the 1960s, chiefly as a marketing tool to publicise popular music and commercial cinema. It has become common to describe successful rock musicians and celebrated film-makers as "avant-garde", the very word having been stripped of its proper meaning. Noting this important conceptual shift, major contemporary theorists such as Matei Calinescu in Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism (1987),[page needed] and Hans Bertens in The Idea of the Postmodern: A History (1995),[page needed] have suggested that this is a sign our culture has entered a new post-modern age, when the former modernist ways of thinking and behaving have been rendered redundant.[17]

Nevertheless, an incisive critique of vanguardism as against the views of mainstream society was offered by the New York critic Harold Rosenberg in the late 1960s.[18] Trying to strike a balance between the insights of Renato Poggioli and the claims of Clement Greenberg, Rosenberg suggested that from the mid-1960s onward progressive culture ceased to fulfill its former adversarial role. Since then it has been flanked by what he called "avant-garde ghosts to the one side, and a changing mass culture on the other", both of which it interacts with to varying degrees. This has seen culture become, in his words, "a profession one of whose aspects is the pretense of overthrowing it".[19]



Main article: Avant-garde music

Avant-garde in music can refer to any form of music working within traditional structures while seeking to breach boundaries in some manner.[20] The term is used loosely to describe the work of any musicians who radically depart from tradition altogether.[21] By this definition, some avant-garde composers of the 20th century include Arnold Schoenberg,[22]Charles Ives,[23]Igor Stravinsky,[22]Anton Webern,[24]George Antheil (in his earliest works only), Alban Berg,[24]Henry Cowell (in his earliest works), Philip Glass, Harry Partch, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Richard Strauss (in his earliest work),[25]Karlheinz Stockhausen,[26]Edgard Varèse, and Iannis Xenakis.[22] Although most avant-garde composers have been men, this is not exclusively the case. Women avant-gardists include Pauline Oliveros, Diamanda Galás, Meredith Monk, and Laurie Anderson.[27]

There is another definition of "Avant-gardism" that distinguishes it from "modernism": Peter Bürger, for example, says avant-gardism rejects the "institution of art" and challenges social and artistic values, and so necessarily involves political, social, and cultural factors.[21] According to the composer and musicologist Larry Sitsky, modernist composers from the early 20th century who do not qualify as avant-gardists include Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Igor Stravinsky; later modernist composers who do not fall into the category of avant-gardists include Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, György Ligeti, Witold Lutosławski, and Luciano Berio, since "their modernism was not conceived for the purpose of goading an audience."[28]


Main article: Experimental theatre

Whereas the avant-garde has a significant history in 20th-century music, it is more pronounced in theatre and performance art, and often in conjunction with music and sound design innovations, as well as developments in visual media design. There are movements in theatre history that are characterized by their contributions to the avant-garde traditions in both the United States and Europe. Among these are Fluxus, Happenings, and Neo-Dada.

Art movements[edit]

Latinoamerican vanguards

See also[edit]


  1. ^"avant-garde adjective - Definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage notes - Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary at". 
  2. ^ ab"Avant-garde". Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  3. ^ abJohn Picchione, The New Avant-garde in Italy: Theoretical Debate and Poetic Practices (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), p. 64 ISBN 978-0-8020-8994-6.
  4. ^Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, English translation by Michael Shaw, Forward by Jochen Schulte-Sasse, Theory and History of Literature, Volume 4 (Manchester University Press, University of Minnesota Press, 1984),[page needed]
  5. ^Kostelanetz, Richard, A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes, Routledge, May 13, 2013, ISBN 1136806202
  6. ^UBU Web List of artists from Dada to the present day aligning themselves with the avant-garde
  7. ^Matei Calinescu, The Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1987),[page needed].
  8. ^Sascha Bru and Gunther Martens, The Invention of Politics in the European Avant-Garde (1906–1940) (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), p. 21. ISBN 9042019093.
  9. ^Renato Poggioli (1968). The Theory of the Avant-Garde. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 11. ISBN 0-674-88216-4. , translated from the Italian by Gerald Fitzgerald
  10. ^Peter Bürger (1974). Theorie der Avantgarde. Suhrkamp Verlag.  English translation (University of Minnesota Press) 1984: 90.
  11. ^Benjamin Buchloh, Neo-avantgarde and Culture Industry: Essays on European and American Art from 1955 to 1975 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001) ISBN 0-262-02454-3.
  12. ^James M. Harding: Cutting Performances: Collage Events, Feminist Artists, and the American Avant-Garde (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010):[page needed].
  13. ^Greenberg, Clement (Fall 1939). "Avant-Garde and Kitsch". The Partisan Review. Vol. 6 no. 5. pp. 34–49. Retrieved 24 January 2018. 
  14. ^Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" Archived 5 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine. by[full citation needed]
  15. ^ abTheodor W. Adorno (1963), "Culture Industry Reconsidered: Selected Essays on Mass Culture", London: Routledge, 1991
  16. ^Richard Schechner, "The Conservative Avant-Garde." New Literary History 41.4 (Autumn 2010): 895–913.
  17. ^Calinescu 1987,[page needed]; Bertens 1995.[page needed]
  18. ^Harold Rosenberg, The De-Definition of Art: Action Art to Pop to Earthworks (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), p. 219 ISBN 0-226-72673-8. Originally published: New York: Horizon Press, 1972; reprinted New York: Collier Books, 1973.
  19. ^George Dickie, ""Symposium on Marxist Aesthetic Thought: Commentary on the Papers by Rudich, San Juan, and Morawski", Arts in Society: Art and Social Experience: Our Changing Outlook on Culture 12, no. 2 (Summer–Fall 1975): p. 232.
  20. ^David Nicholls (ed.), The Cambridge History of American Music (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 122–24. ISBN 0-521-45429-8ISBN 978-0-521-54554-9
  21. ^ abJim Samson, "Avant garde", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001).
  22. ^ abcLarry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), xiv. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.
  23. ^Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), 222. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.
  24. ^ abLarry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), 50. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.
  25. ^Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), xiii–xiv. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.
  26. ^Elliot Schwartz, Barney Childs, and James Fox (eds.), Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music (New York: Da Capo Press, 1998), 379. ISBN 0-306-80819-6
  27. ^Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), xvii. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.
  28. ^Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), xv. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.

Further reading[edit]

  • Barron, Stephanie, and Maurice Tuchman. 1980. The Avant-garde in Russia, 1910–1930: New Perspectives: Los Angeles County Museum of Art [and] Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art ISBN 0-87587-095-3 (pbk.); Cambridge, MA: Distributed by the MIT PressISBN 0-262-20040-6 (pbk.)
  • Bazin, Germain. 1969. The Avant-garde in Painting. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-20422-X
  • Berg, Hubert van den, and Walter Fähnders (eds.). 2009. Metzler Lexikon Avantgarde. Stuttgart: Metzler. ISBN 3-476-01866-0(in German)
  • Crane, Diana. 1987. The Transformation of the Avant-garde: The New York Art World, 1940–1985. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-11789-8
  • Daly, Selina, and Monica Insinga (eds.). 2013. The European Avant-garde: Text and Image. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars. ISBN 978-1443840545.
  • Fernández-Medina, Nicolás, and Maria Truglio (eds.). Modernism and the Avant-garde Body in Spain and Italy. Routledge, 2016.
  • Harding, James M., and John Rouse, eds. Not the Other Avant-Garde: The Transnational Foundations of Avant-Garde Performance. University of Michigan, 2006.
  • Kostelanetz, Richard, and H. R. Brittain. 2000. A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes, second edition. New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0-02-865379-3. Paperback edition 2001, New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-93764-7 (pbk.)
  • Kramer, Hilton. 1973. The Age of the Avant-garde; An Art Chronicle of 19561972. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-10238-4
  • Léger, Marc James (ed.). 2014. The Idea of the Avant Garde—And What It Means Today. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press; Oakland: Left Curve. ISBN 9780719096914.
  • Maerhofer, John W. 2009. Rethinking the Vanguard: Aesthetic and Political Positions in the Modernist Debate, 1917–1962. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press. ISBN 1-4438-1135-1
  • Mann, Paul. The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde. Indiana University Press, 1991.
  • Novero, Cecilia. 2010. Antidiets of the Avant-Garde: From Futurist Cooking to Eat Art. (University of Minnesota Press)
  • Pronko, Leonard Cabell. 1962. Avant-garde: The Experimental Theater in France. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Roberts, John. 2015. Revolutionary Time and the Avant-Garde. London and New York: Verso. ISBN 9781781689127 (cloth); ISBN 9781781689134 (pbk).
  • Schechner, Richard. "The Five Avant-Gardes or ... [and] ... or None?" The Twentieth-Century Performance Reader, 2nd ed., ed. Michael Huxley and Noel Witts (New York and London: Routledge, 2002).
  • Schmidt-Burkhardt, Astrit. 2005. Stammbäume der Kunst: Zur Genealogie der Avantgarde. Berlin Akademie Verlag. ISBN 3-05-004066-1 [online version is available]
  • Sell, Mike. The Avant-Garde: Race, Religion, War. Seagull Books, 2011.
  • Shishanov, V. A. 2007. Vitebskii muzei sovremennogo iskusstva: istoriia sozdaniia i kollektsii (1918–1941). Minsk: Medisont. ISBN 978-985-6530-68-8Online edition(in Russian)

External links[edit]

  • Historic Avant-Garde Periodicals for Digital Research, The Blue Mountain Project, Princeton University Library
  • Avant-garde and Modernist Magazines (Monoskop)
  • Magazines in Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Centre Pompidou, Paris
  • Periodicals in Iowa Digital Library, University of Iowa Libraries
  • Digital Dada Library of International Dada Archive, University of Iowa Libraries
  • Magazines in Digital Collections of Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
  • Avant-Garde Periodicals Meet Digital Archives, New York Public Library
  • Dada, Surrealism, & De Stijl Magazines on UbuWeb Historical
  • Index of Modernist Magazines, Davidson College
  • Modernist Journal Project, Brown University and University of Tulsa
  • Spanish and Italian Modernist Studies Forum, Pennsylvania State University

The classical Hollywood score arose from an “intersection of changing technology, aesthetics and economics” (Kalinak 1992, p.66) and, as Cooke (2008, p.67) argues, resulted in a “formulaic product designed to appeal to a mass spectatorship”. Cooke (2008, p.183) goes on to suggest that “the diversification of musical styles and techniques in narrative cinema from the 1950s onwards was partly caused by momentous changes in the film industry” which included the the rise of the commercial theme song as an important revenue stream for film studios as well as the emergence of rock and roll and wider youth culture. This lead to both the consolidation and expansion of existing practices of orchestral scoring as well as the diversification of types of music being in film scores. In classical film music, Gorbman (1987, p.73) argues that 7 principles for composition, mixing and editing can be seen at work: invisibility; inaudibility; signifier of emotion; narrative cueing that can be referential or connotative; continuity; unity and, finally, that any of the previous principles can be violated in the service of the other principles. The purpose of this study is to compare examples of post-classical scoring to the first two of these principles, invisibility and inaudibility, to better understand both the consolidation and expansion of these practices put forward by Cooke. 

Classical Hollywood film music has an “inherent necessity not to draw attention to itself” (Sabaneev cited in Cooke 2008, p.74) and is “a stimulus that we hear but, by and large, fail to listen to” (Kalinak 1992, p.3) which “works toward the goal of a transparent or invisible discourse” (Gorbman 1987, p.72). Machin (2010, p.155) argues that “It should not be something of which the audience is conscious” but rather “it should unobtrusively contribute to the film experience”. In his study of Post-Classical film scoring, Donnelly (1998, p.143) argues that whist “many contemporary scores bare some resemblance to studio era film music, industrial imperatives and aesthetic concerns have not remained static” and so we cannot consider contemporary film music to be a direct continuation of classical cinema scoring. So whilst Donnelly (1998, p.143) has observed that post-classical film scores, such as those by John Williams for Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy (Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983)) and those by Danny Elfman for Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) share classical Hollywood’s usage of the long orchestral score, they are not simply a continuation of a tradition of “underscoring” [1]. For example, in the ‘Party Man’ sequence, Donnelly (1998, p.148) observes how the music dominates the visual rhythm of the scene, with the actions of the Joker and his gang directly reflecting the rhythms within the music of the score. This sequence is evidence of a breaking from the traditions of the classical Hollywood style, where the “music regularly takes a back seat to other elements of the film” and is “rarely foregrounded in this manner”.

Vernallis (2013, p.42) argues that one way in which post-classical cinema deviates from the classical style is through its foregrounding of “striking audiovisual effects” and through her analysis of Michael Bay’s Transformers (2007) argues that “much of Transformers’ meaning and power stems from the soundtrack” (Vernallis 2013, p.50). She argues that the Transformers are “sound-dependant” with much of their power, strength and meaning being derived from the use of sound. There is a blurring of the distinction between sound-design and soundtrack which can be clearly observed in the New York City sequence where “sound collages” of “metal”, “para-animal cries” and other “mechanical” sounds are used as if they “were parts of the melodic line played on timpani and marimba” (Vernallis 2013, p.51). These “sound collages” are far from the invisible underscoring of the classic Hollywood style, rather, they become foregrounded and serve as being of equal importance to the visuals they appear alongside. It could even be suggested, as Donnelly does of Elfman’s scoring in the Batman films, that this type of scoring draws on an increased musical literacy among the audience [2] (Donnelly 1998, p.148) and allows for the use of “culturally coded” instruments and timbres to create musical clichés which become a foregrounded effect where “design and music coalesce in to a world of dazzling visuals and explosive musical sound” (Donnelly 1998, pp.151–2). 

Interestingly, the foregrounding of the film soundtrack serves a commercial purpose as well as an artistic one. In addition to it’s use in creating and enhancing meaning on screen, a foregrounded score is advantageous to film studios as it allows for the commercial exploitation of the score in it’s own right. Cooke (2008, p.415) has observed that from as early as the 1920s film studios were taking advantage of “synergistic marketing” techniques to “sell films on the back of hit songs and vice verse”. Donnelly’s (1998, pp.148–9) study of Batman “demonstrates a situation where commercial logic has foregrounded aspect’s of the films music”, most notably in the use of Prince’s music in association with the on screen appearance of Joker. The film was accompanied by two soundtrack LPs (Donnelly 1998, pp.144–5), one of Elfman’s classical score and another of Prince’s music. This release represented the synergy of Warner’s recording and cinematic arms working together to cross-promote their products along side each other. Donnelly (1998, pp.148–9) argues that this association of the Joker with the music of Prince creates a situation where Joker represents the “triumph of musical logic over cinematic logic” in contrast to Batman’s invoking of his musical theme which represents the “subordination of musical logic to cinematic logic”. Whilst this may serve an artistic purpose, subconsciously representing to an audience the difference between Batman’s representation of the traditional value of justice through traditional scoring techniques and Joker’s representation of chaos through the interruption of these scoring techniques, there is also a commercial imperative being served through the score.

In describing the role of the music in Inception (2010), Director Christopher Nolan (Making of the Inception Soundtrack 2011) explains how “the momentum of the film is entirely defined by the structure of the music”. Composer Hans Zimmer scores the film, not from the edited movie, but rather from the script: “I wrote the whole score without seeing the movie” describes Zimmer (Sawdey 2010). It is only in the editing process where, as Nolan describes, the music and visuals are brought together to find “interesting points of synchronisation” (Making of the Inception Soundtrack 2011). This brings us back to Donnelly’s assertion that changes in film scoring have come about through changes in industrial imperative. If “most film music in the Golden Age was scored for a full orchestra and employed a tonal and harmonic language” (Cooke pp.83–4) where film music was produced by a “production line” of full-time “composers, arrangers and musicians” (Donnelly 1998, p.144) then we can see in the practices of Zimmer, that post-classical scoring is completely different. Working with a wide rage of sound sources, of which the orchestra is just one, Zimmer creates his music within the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) where it can be layered and manipulated, and later, edited to allow for the music and visuals to come together. His practice is enabled by the progression of digital technology and the changes in industrial practices outlined by Donnelly. As a result, Nolan describes Zimmer as being “a minimalist composer with a maximalist production sense” creating “simple and specific pieces” but recording them on “a colossal scale” to create a score with such “movement and drive” that Nolan “let the music take over everything”. Contrasting this approach with that of the the classical Hollywood composers, who “composed and recorded after shooting of the image track was completed… working to a rough cut of the film” (Cooke 2008, p.73) to create soundtracks where “volume, mood, and rhythm must be subordinated to the dramatic and emotional dictates of the film narrative” (Gorbman 1987, p.76) we see a huge divergence in approach and the resulting musical material. In his use of electronics and technology we see antecedents in the work of Bebe and Louis Baron and their pioneering score for Forbidden Planet (1956) which was the first entirely electronic hollywood score: a score which pioneered not only it’s use of electronic sound sources, but also of recording technologies (Holmes 2008, p.86), a thread we see continued in Zimmer’s work today. 

In Nolan and Zimmer’s latest collaboration, Interstellar (2014), this divergence of approach has come to the fore, as discussions around the music’s subservience to the narrative action have been held after audiences have complained the the volume of the music drowns out the dialogue (Kilkenny 2014). Kilkenny argues that the loudness of the music serves its own narrative and artistic purpose: in a movie where “emotion is the overriding principle” Zimmer’s soundtrack “supersedes the nonsensical aspects, conveying a sonic experience so powerful it overwhelms the tiny, logic-based details.” Ann Hornaday for the Washington Post (2014) has argued that by foregrounding the musical score of the film to a place where it demands to be attended to by the audience, directors are creating a “sonic soup”. Whilst the dense layering of sound can create “a certain realistic density” (Fincher cited in Hornaday 2014) that reflects an “aural realism” it can also be used by directors for “strong-arming [the] audience to the brink — and sometimes beyond — of, not just comfort, but coherence.” Whether this approach is an act of “indifference, ambivalence or outright antagonism” on the part of directors, as suggested by by Hornaday, or rather serves a greater artistic and narrative purpose, as suggested by by Kilkenny, it is clear these post-classical scores have diverged away from the passive, subservient role of the classical Hollywood style.

Howard Shaw’s scores for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003)) have earned him three oscars as well being recognised through performances of the scores across the globe by some of the most well renowned orchestras in the world (Shore 2014). This partnership has since been renewed for The Hobbit trilogy (An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and The Battle of Five Armies (unreleased)). Already in the popularity of Shore’s works, their repeated performances separate from the visual elements of the film and their critical recognition in their own right, we see a separation away from the frequently backgrounded and unnoticed classical Hollywood score. Adams (cited in Handy 2014) observes an extensive use of themes and leitmotifs in Shore’s work and discovered over 80 unique themes and leitmotifs in the scores for the Lord of the Rings trilogy alone. Whilst the leitmotif is a feature of the classical hollywood score, we observe in Shore’s work, not a direct continuation of this tradition, but a development and evolution of its use. An example of this can be found in An Unexpected Journey (2012) where, in the ‘Misty Mountains’ scene, the dwarves are gathered in Bilbo Baggins’ living room. The song they sing together, ‘Misty Mountains’, establishes a melodic theme that will later become the dwarves’ leitmotif, representing their unity and uprooted sense of belonging throughout the rest of the film and proceeding trilogy. By foregrounding the score through it’s diegetic appearance, where the dwarves sing together in a style reminiscent of musical theatre, the audience are led to have a greater awareness of the musical theme when it appears later in the film. This creates a deeper understanding of its meaning and closer emotional bond with what it represents. A re-working of the song, ‘Song of the Lonely Mountain’ was also recorded by Neil Finn for the official soundtrack and played over the ending credits to the film, providing a further opportunity for commercial synergy.

In conclusion, we can see that where the classical Hollywood score arose from and was shaped by the requirements of it’s own particular set of changing technologies, aesthetics and economics, so too has the post-classical score. Through “striking audio visual effects” composers are able to draw on culturally coded sounds and timbres and create soundtracks and visuals that work together to create meanings which would not be possible were the music simply subservient to the visuals. In the work of Zimmer we see how technology has enabled a new way of working, allowing Zimmer to create soundtracks that combine diverse musical sources that dominate the visual momentum and narrative of the film. We have also seen that the commercial opportunity for music and film to be sold in synergy can influence creative choices of film making and scoring: bringing music out from an invisible and inaudible role to serve a commercial, as well as artistic, purpose.


 [1] “music written specifically to accompany speech” (Cooke 2008, p.76)

[2] Another example of post-classical scoring playing upon the audience’s culturally coded expectations are found where Mera (cited in Wall 2010, p.156) has observed that in High Anxiety (1978) the common place assumptions of the invisibility of non-diegetic music are parodied by Mel Brooks, who looks around for the source of the loud music which plays when he is told bad news: the audience’s familiarity and acceptance of the surreality of non-diegetic music is being drawn upon as a source of humour when it breaks from it’s unconscious role in the background, subservient to the other elements of the film, and unexpectedly enters the film world dietetically and interrupts the film’s narrative flow.


COOKE, M., 2008. A history of film music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

DONNELLY, K. J.,1998. The classical film score forever?: Batman, Batman Returns and post-classical film music. In: NEALE, S., and M. SMITH, eds. Contemporary Hollywood Cinema. London: Routledge, pp.142–55

GORBMAN, C., 1987. Unheard melodies: narrative film music. London: BFI

HANDY, B., 2014. 'Lord of the rings' composer Howard Shore talks hobbits, his start on 'SNL' and working With Martin Scorsese [online][viewed 1 December 2014]. Available from:

HOLMES, T., 2008. Electronic and experimental music. 3rd edition. London: Routledge

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FINN, N., 2012. Song of the lonely mountain [MP3]. UK: Watertower Music

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