Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Carl Fischer Motion Picture Music Guide, Part 3

Another set of short articles from the Motion Picture Music Guide, this time covering topics such as the advantage of medleys, the use of well-known songs for accompanying film and the leitmotif. Part one of this series is located here. Part two is located here.
Serious Selections

It is customary when no special action is being carried on in the picture, to fill out in musical score with a selection in accordance with the dominating mood in the picture. It should be taken that those parts of the selection which are dramatic (agitatos, mysteriosos, etc.) are omitted. (p. 32).

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Every library should contain a few old Medleys to be used in cases where the action in teh picture goes back one or more decades. The Medleys listed here cover a period of about the last thirty-five years and contain the popular Songs and Dances of that time. They can be used in whole, or in part. (p. 33)

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The Use of Well-Known Songs

Music should represent in sound the emotions of the characters on the screen and should also interpret the action. This function of the orchestra is well within its scope. After much experimentation, arrangers of music for the motion picture have come to the conclusion that standard published works are most satisfactory for this purpose. But occasionally, there are times and situations when a well known popular song may be employed with telling effect. For example, in a domestic life comedy, when the situation reveals a backsliding husband about to return home to an angry wife, it would be quite in order for the orchestra to strike up the dashing theme of "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight." The significance of this particular song lies in its being universally known. It happens to be one of the few in which the melody is characteristic of the title. But the audience will not think of the melody so much as the words of the song. And when these interpret a situation, the effect of the picture is enhanced. What really happens is that the audience adds another title to whatever the screen may have flashed. That title in the instance cited, is "There'll Be a Hot Time," etc. It would be manifestly ludicrous for an orchestra to play this melody simply because it has a brisk rhythm. The audience would think of the words, and if these did not add to the action of the scenes they accompanied, the picture would appear ridiculous.

The nature of popular music is adaptable to farces and to light comedies, but the compositions selected should have more than a titular relationship with the photoplay they are chosen to accompany. If the composition has no great popular vogue, the music alone will carry the necessary significance, but if the music is fairly well known, orchestra leaders must take into consideration what effect the words of the song, if the composition be a song, will have on an audience. (p.33)

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Modern Orchestra Arrangements

The modern arrangements in the Carl Fischer Orchestra Catalogue are fully cued. This permits of any portion being played first by part of the orchestra, pianissimo and gradually (or instantaneously) being brought up to full orchestra, fortissimo or vice versa. Excellent effects can often be obtained by this method.


Good motion picture music should blend unerringly with the picture, and should be made to appear to the audience as an inseparable part of the picture itself, and not a separate and distinct attraction. (p. 34)

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The Use of the Music Theme

The use of the "theme" in motion pictures is neither more nor less than applying to the film drama a principle Wagner introduced in opera. Wagner in his scores associates a certain theme, motive or air with the appearance of his leading characters. When they take the stage the melody with which they are identified is heard. This effective musical device has great possibilities in the picture drama, and is valuable in giving unity to music and dramatic action. The picture musician has wide freedom in the choice of his "theme" material. Most important to remember, however, is that the first requisite is a genuinely melodious theme, one which will bear repetition. A theme of pleasing outline, suave, graceful and pronouncedly melodic in type, is sufficient to establish clearly the identity of the character whose appearance it accompanies.

A theme such as that described may be varied in tempo and played either ff or pp, as the varying of the stage action may demand—the effect will be the same. It will make the role with which it is identified "stand out." The use of the "leading" theme is naturally best adapted for larger and more elaborate picture productions, in which the appearance and stage action of principals is broken up to some degree by minor incident. Yet the idea may, on occasion, if the picture conditions are favorable, be employed in smaller pictures as well. At all events the use of the theme is an idea on which the intelligent moving picture musician can ring his own variations. And in many cases he will find it of great value in "making the music fit the picture." (p. 36)
Source: Julius S. Seredy in collaboration with Chas. J. Roberts and M. Lester Lake, Motion Picture Music Guide to the Carl Fischer Modern Orchestra Catalog Indicating All the Themes and Motives Suitable for Motion Pictures and Showing their Practical Application to the Screen (New York: Carl Fischer, 1922).