History of Film Music


Authored by Jack Freeman


Course Code: OLART-220

Next semester
starts April 1

Level 2

Level 2

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


If you’re even considering a career in film scoring, the material offered in this course is an essential introduction to understanding the traditional role of composers, as well as what the future of scoring looks like. Beginning in the late 1800s with silent films and through to the present day, this course provides an overview of the major stylistic trends and musical influences that led to the development of film scoring as a vital and living dramatic art form. 

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Films are never produced in a vacuum, but are products of their time and place; likewise, the music that is designed to support and accompany these films is no exception. To understand the concepts of clichés, archetypes, and other associative devices used by film composers, the student must go back to the original source, and consider the historical context. Even if you are taking the course for interest’s sake alone, you will be able to better appreciate the art and craft of effective film music, as you come to understand that nothing you hear happens by chance.

We will discuss and analyze the lives and works of significant composers, ranging from the romantic/operatic orchestral tradition to the influences of popular styles such as jazz, rock, and song scores. We will also examine more recent trends including electronic/synthesized scores and the influence of world music.

Each week’s lesson will begin with an introduction by your instructor containing an overview of a particular theme or topic; a look at the larger historical context of that topic; and substantial analysis of a variety of supporting materials (film and audio clips as well as thematic and harmonic score examples) both self-guided and with the direction of the instructor.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Analyze and identify the characteristics of music associated with major genres of films
  • Chart the influence of each generation of film composers on the next
  • Identify archetypes, role models, and clichés used in significant film scores
  • Connect films and film music to their eras
  • Think critically about the ways in which music is paired with visuals
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Lesson 1: Early Film Music

  • Functions of Film Music in the Silent Film Era
  • Functions of the Musical Score
  • Musical Accompaniment in Silent Films
  • Assignment 1: Types of Music in Silent Films

Lesson 2: Late Silent Era and the Transition to Sound Film

  • The Kinetoscope
  • Imagery in Early Films
  • The Vitascope
  • The Great Train Robbery
  • Camille Saint-Saëns and L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise
  • The Edison Kinetogram
  • The Music Cue Sheet
  • Mood Headings
  • The First Successful Compiled Score
  • Discussion: Compare and Contrast Approaches
  • Theater Ensembles Replaced by the Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Organ
  • Motion Picture Moods
  • International Filmmakers Compete with Hollywood
  • The Jazz Singer
  • Assignment 2: The Theater Organ

Lesson 3: Early Sound Film and Romantic Influences

  • Technical Methods of Sound Synchronization
  • Challenges with Early Sound Films
  • The “Talkies” and the End of an Era
  • Discussion: The Cost of Sound
  • Oscar-Winning Composers
  • Influences of the Late Romantic Era
  • The European Émigrés: Max Steiner
  • The European Émigrés: Franz Waxman
  • The European Émigrés: Erich Korngold
  • Assignment 3: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)    

Lesson 4: The Hollywood Studio System

  • The Major Studios, Part 1: The Big Five
  • The Major Studios, Part 2: The Little Three
  • Structure of the Hollywood Studio System
  • Discussion: Now Hiring
  • Alfred Newman and the Studio System
  • The Newman Dynasty
  • The Fox String Sound
  • The Newman System
  • The Newman Family Tree
  • The Music of Alfred Newman: The Prisoner of Zenda
  • The Music of Alfred Newman: The Song of Bernadette
  • The Music of Alfred Newman: Captain from Castile
  • Herbert Stothart
  • Roy Webb
  • Assignment 4: Roles in the Music Department 

Lesson 5: European Nationalism And Film Noir

  • European Nationalism in the Pre-War Era
  • Expressionism
  • Discussion: Concert Composers and Expressionism
  • Elements of Film Noir
  • Bernard Herrmann: The Father of Modern Music in Film Noir
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • Citizen Kane: Main Title
  • Citizen Kane: Montage and Final Sequence
  • Adolph Deutsch
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • David Raksin    
  • Laura (1944)    
  • Miklós Rózsa    
  • Assignment 5: Citizen Kane as Film Noir    

Lesson 6: American Nationalism and Americana

  • Aspects of Americana    
  • Aaron Copland: Founder of the Americana Sound
  • A Survey of the Americana Style through the Years    
  • Hugo Friedhofer: Breaking out of The Box
  • Hugo Friedhofer: The Young Lions    
  • Discussion: Stirring the Melting Pot    
  • Alex North    
  • Elmer Bernstein    
  • Hollywood in the Age of McCarthy    
  • Dimitri Tiomkin: The Russian Americana Composer and Songwriter    
  • Discussion: An Era of Change    
  • Wilder and Waxman: Sunset Boulevard    
  • Further Exploration: Avant-Garde    
  • Further Exploration: The Electronic Invasion    
  • Assignment 6: The Best Years of Our Lives    

Lesson 7: The Decline of the Studios and the Rise of Popular Music

  • The Studio System in Decline    
  • Fighting Back with Innovation: 3D Movies    
  • Fighting Back with Innovation: Wide-Screen Projection    
  • Fighting Back with Innovation: Technicolor    
  • Fighting Back with Innovation: Drive-In Movies     
  • Fighting Back with Innovation: Stereo Sound    
  • Hollywood Blockbuster Films: Victor Young and Around the World in 80 Days    
  • Hollywood Blockbuster Films: Elmer Bernstein and The Ten Commandments    
  • Hollywood Blockbuster Films: Malcolm Arnold and The Bridge on the River Kwai    
  • Hollywood Blockbuster Films: Miklós Rózsa and Ben-Hur    
  • Hollywood Blockbuster Films: Alex North and Spartacus    
  • Hollywood Blockbuster Films: Maurice Jarre and Doctor Zhivago   
  • The Rise of Popular Music: Henry Mancini and Touch of Evil    
  • Henry Mancini: Peter Gunn    
  • Henry Mancini: Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Days of Wine and Roses    
  • Henry Mancini: The Pink Panther Strikes Again     
  • Discussion: It's a Hit!     
  • Adolph Deutsch and Some Like It Hot    
  • Assignment 7: Hollywood Strikes Back

Lesson 8: Birth of a New Era: The New Wave and the New Hollywood

  • The Rising New Wave      
  • Profile of a New Wave Composer: Georges Delerue    
  • Shoot the Piano Player    
  • Day for Night    
  • Hitchcock and Herrmann    
  • Vertigo    
  • Psycho    
  • New Approaches for the New Hollywood: Quincy Jones    
  • Elmer Bernstein and To Kill a Mockingbird    
  • The Spaghetti Western    
  • The Composer of the Spaghetti Western: Ennio Morricone    
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly   
  • Truffaut’s Tribute to Hitchcock: Fahrenheit 451    
  • The Pop Song Takes Over: The Graduate    
  • Appearance of Two New Types of Film Composer    
  • The Song Score    
  • Easy Rider    
  • Changing Times    
  • The Adapted Scores of Stanley Kubrick    
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey    
  • Discussion: Main Title Comparison    
  • Composers of Marketable Film Scores    
  • Writers of Rich, Melodic Themes    
  • Writers of Hard-Driving Grooves with Jazz or Rock Instrumentation    
  • Songwriters Who Could Also Provide Underscore    
  • Hollywood’s Anti-heroes and their Scores    
  • Nino Rota and The Godfather    
  • The Godfather and Building Suspense    
  • Assignment 8.2: The Godfather and Building Suspense    
  • Jerry Goldsmith: Tradition plus Innovation Equals Perfection    
  • Planet of the Apes    
  • Patton    
  • Chinatown   
  • The Original American Gladiator and the Dawn of Neoclassicism    
  • A Neoclassical Landmark Score: Jaws    

Lesson 9: Classic Revival, Postmodern Influences 

  • Postmodernism: Identifying an Elusive Idea    
  • Discussion: A Postmodern Era?    
  • Back to the Golden Age: John Williams    
  • John Williams and Star Wars    
  • Assignment 9.1: Analysis of Williams’s Motivic Approach    
  • John Williams and Close Encounters of the Third Kind    
  • John Williams and Raiders of the Lost Ark    
  • John Williams and E.T. the Extraterrestrial    
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture    
  • James Horner and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan    
  • Basil Poledouris and Conan the Barbarian    
  • Assignment 9.2: Comparison of Two Film Scores    

Lesson 10: Synthesis and Hybrid Scores: Other Time and Other Places 

  • Music Synthesis: A Primer    
  • A Gallery of Classic Synths and Samplers
  • From the Disco to the Movie Theater: Giorgio Moroder    
  • Rise of the Machines: Wendy Carlos    
  • From Science Fiction to Horror: John Carpenter    
  • Self-Taught Synth Legend: Vangelis    
  • Jerry Goldsmith and Runaway    
  • Tangerine Dream and Sorcerer    
  • Goldsmith or Tangerine Dream?    
  • Maurice Jarre and Witness    
  • Popular Music Hits its Stride    
  • A Return to Eclectic and Adapted Scores    
  • Discussion: Revisiting the Adapted Score    
  • Assignment 10: Starting Your Comparison Paper

Lesson 11: World Music, Exotic Locales; A Return to the Symphony 

  • World Music Film Composers: Ravi Shankar     
  • World Music Film Composers: Maurice Jarre    
  • World Music Film Composers: John Williams    
  • World Music Film Composers: Byrne, Sakamoto, and Su    
  • World Music Film Composers: John Barry    
  • World Music Film Composers: Ennio Morricone    
  • Americana Revisited: Ennio Morricone    
  • Americana Revisited: Bill Conti    
  • Americana Revisited: Randy Newman    
  • Americana Revisited: James Horner    
  • Americana Revisited: Bruce Broughton    
  • In Response to Vietnam    
  • Discussion: Context Is King    
  • Back to the Blockbuster: Alan Silvestri and Back to the Future    
  • Back to the Blockbuster: Alan Silvestri and Who Framed Roger Rabbit    
  • Michael Kamen and Lethal Weapon   
  • Danny Elfman and Batman    
  • David Grusin and The Milagro Beanfield War    
  • Back to the Blockbuster: Hans Zimmer and Rain Man    
  • Back to the Studio System
  • Back to the Past: James Horner and Glory    
  • Back to the Past: James Horner and Titanic    
  • Back to the Past: John Williams and Far and Away    
  • Back to the Past: John Williams and Schindler’s List    
  • Back to the Past: Luis Bacalov and Il Postino
  • Assignment 11: John Williams and the Far and Away “Land Race” Sequence    
  • Back to the Musical: Alan Menken and Beauty and the Beast    
  • Back to the Musical: Hans Zimmer and The Lion King    
  • Back to Americana: Terence Blanchard and Malcolm X    
  • Back to the Newman Family: David Newman and Galaxy Quest   
  • Back to the Newman Family: Thomas Newman and American Beauty    
  • Back to Classic Film Genres: James Newton Howard and The Fugitive    
  • Back to Classic Film Genres: James Newton Howard and The Sixth Sense    
  • Back to Classic Film Genres: Rachel Portman and Chocolat    
  • Back to Classic Film Genres: Don Davis and The Matrix     

Lesson 12: The New Millennium 

  • Further Developments in the New Millennium
  • Concert Composers Crossover: Philip Glass and Kundun   
  • Concert Composers Crossover: Tan Dun and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon    
  • Concert Composers Crossover: John Corigliano and The Red Violin    
  • Concert Composers Crossover: Elliot Goldenthal and Frida    
  • In the Shadow of 9/11: Moulin Rouge!    
  • In the Shadow of 9/11: The Triplets of Belleville    
  • In the Shadow of 9/11: Finding Nemo    
  • In the Shadow of 9/11: Spider-Man    
  • In the Shadow of 9/11: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone    
  • Howard Shore and The Lord of the Rings    
  • Michael Giacchino and Star Trek    
  • Marco Beltrami and The Hurt Locker    
  • Carter Burwell and True Grit    
  • International Film Composers Come to the Fore
  • Alexandre Desplat and The King’s Speech    
  • Ramin Djawadi and Iron Man    
  • Joe Hisaishi and Spirited Away    
  • Alberto Iglesias and The Kite Runner    
  • Clint Mansell and Black Swan    
  • Dario Marianelli and Atonement    
  • John Powell and How to Train Your Dragon    
  • A.R. Rahman and 127 Hours
  • Gustavo Santaolalla and Babel    
  • Discussion: Looking Back, Looking Around    
  • Assignment 12: Comparison Paper


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
This course does not have any prerequisites.


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Jack Freeman

Author & Instructor

Jack Freeman has been teaching courses in film music editing, composition, and history at Berklee College of Music since 1991. He also supervises and designs facilities and classrooms in support of the Berklee curriculum. Freeman has extensive experience in film and video production, working in the fields of network broadcast, cable, and community television, and is well-versed in a wide variety of analog and non-linear editing platforms. He has given seminars and demonstrations in film music for the "Grammy in the Schools" program among others, and has composed original music for a variety of documentary, industrial, and experimental films and video productions.

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A native of Saskatchewan, Canada, Freeman received a bachelor of music in education degree from the University of Regina (SK), and a bachelor of music degree in film scoring from Berklee College of Music. He was an artist in residence for the Saskatchewan Band Association, conducting numerous clinics and workshops across the province, and composing and publishing several works for concert band. Freeman continues to play trombone and piano in a variety of settings in the Boston area, and assists non-profit groups in video production. Read Less


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