Is Film Music Music?
Of course. But a comment on a recent post along these lines did get me to thinking. In a comment to a post on the Oscar nominations, Tom the Dog remarked that he couldn't imagine listening to film scores--how they'd be "boring" to listen to. Noted film score fan Jaquandor responded that one can easily listen to a film score "because it's music." And, again, I agree.
But. I just got a handful of scores I'd been very curious to hear--Thomas Newman's Finding Nemo and John Williams' Oscar-nominated scores for Munich and Memoirs of a Geisha. And they are all, in very different ways, great--and certainly music. But. I was listening to a cut off of the Munich score. I haven't seen the film so can't offer up any context, but the track, "Encounter in London and Bomb Malfunctions" would seem to be a suspense-moment piece, all about slowly building tension. As such, it was pretty basic stuff--a metronomic pulse in the percussion with a slow wash of strings gradually filling in underneath, some moody stabs in the strings, some sudden crescendos. More drums.
And I at that moment kind of realized what Tom's point was. The music was, well, boring. But it was fine scoring--very appropriate for that moment in film, or so I'd imagine. I realized that while much film music both enhances the screen images and stands alone as engaging musical thoughts on their own, some film music simply doesn't hold up well absent the images.
The classic example for me is Jaws. I got the Jaws score some years back, figuring that, hey, it was Jaws--probably one of the most iconic uses of music in a film ever. And it is. It's one of Williams most inspired and brilliant creations ever, that simple two-note motif. Da-dum. Da-dum. But to put on a pair of headphones and just listen to that - Da-dum. Da-dum. - I haven't done that since I bought the thing. It just doesn't work as pure music.
But of course, much film music does. I put on my headphones to listen to the scores of Revenge of the Sith, Braveheart, The Hours, Shawshank Redemption, A.I., and many, many others quite often. And, yes, some of them have cuts that work less well as "pure music." But on the whole, these scores stand up very well, when approached just as music, and not as image accompaniment. Just not always.