At about the age of eleven, I began to consider becoming a film score composer. I had bought my very first CD: the score for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. My parents having pronounced the movie too “dark” for me to watch at my age, I grasped the nearest thing possible that would bring to life the trilogy I had so determinedly read. When the friend who had introduced the books was scheduled to came over one day soon after, I queued up “Concerning Hobbits” so that it would be playing as I answered the door. I still remember the shy audacity with which I stood still and waited for her to recognize the track, to acknowledge that I had some slight participation in this movie realm.
I think that listening to the score before I saw the film allowed me to appreciate the music on its own terms. Howard Shore’s scores are enthralling to listen to. But film scores must be more than just pleasant listening (though beauty is certainly a feature of the best scores). Shore would win Oscars in the “Best Score” category for both The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King not just because the music he composed was beautiful aurally, but because it was beautiful within a cinematic context. The score is integral to the construction of the Middle Earth of the movies, giving special auras to Rohan and Mordor and the Shire, guiding the audience through the emotions of each scene. Film music is an art that is essential to the hugely collaborative filmmaking process.
Even the earliest films utilized music. Because the technology of the time did not allow for recorded sound, this music had to be supplied live. For many musicians, playing for film showings was a source of income. Pianists played often from classical repertoire and sometimes improvised accompaniment to what was happening on-screen. The chief goal (as it still stands today) was to supply mood and provide emotional cues for the audience. Soon, composers began writing music specifically for films, and larger theatres often had musical ensembles or organists to provide music and sometimes even sound effects.
In an age of electronic music, composers can be far more precise in writing scores and, arguably, more creative. Synthesized sounds can be used, as by the famous film composer Hans Zimmer. His music for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl which he created with Klaus Badelt was, due to time restraints, filled largely with synthesized instruments. Although this and a tight schedule unfortunately detracted from the quality of the score, it is nevertheless widely popular for is catchy themes.
Zimmer, along with most composers, can employ electronic features more intentionally and to great effect.
The purpose of film music has always been chiefly to trigger emotional response or involvement in the audience. For any given scene, there are endless possibilities as to what this emotion could be, and the choice is a collaboration between director, producer(s), and composer. Director Ed Fraiman discusses his “massive musical decision” for a scene from an episode of Merlin in which Lancelot faces off an enormous griffin: “You could have scored the jeopardy, you could have the obvious danger that he’s in, but we’ve actually scored the heroism, the emotion…” Producer Johnny Caps adds that, “At the end of the day, it’s about loyalty and love.”
(And yes, you will watch this, and you will enjoy it, cheesy monsters, magic spells, Colin Morgan’s ears, and all.)
I no longer desire to be a film composer myself, but I still admire them. They have a massive job to pull off; and though it is a collaborative project, in the end it is the responsibility of the composer to portray the emotion and the mood that carries the scene—and the film.