From Opera to Film

Module code: W3002
Level 5
15 credits in autumn semester
Teaching method: Seminar, Lecture
Assessment modes: Coursework

This module is split into two five-week units and will examine the history of musical narrative from classical opera to film music. Its focus will be the audio-visual study of musical 'texts', uncovering the technical means by which music creates metaphors of linear plot and development. The module concentrates on opera and film, although it also considers some more abstract instrumental music, such as the symphonic poem.

The work of Richard Strauss, for example, occupies a space between the language of late romantic opera and 20th century film music, made more explicit in the work of Eric Korngold, whose operas lead directly into his film scores of the 1930s and 1940s.

You will also consider post-war scores in which the role of music is more complex than the mere ghosting of visual action. The 'psychological' music motifs in Hermann's scores for Hitchcock's Psycho and Vertigo are cases in point; these works have operatic links, with the 'irrational' music of Schoenberg's Erwartung and Berg's Lulu. Essays are balanced with regular aural analysis training in opera and film music. No prior technical knowledge of music is needed to study this module, nor an ability to read music; the objects of study are audio-visual, not written scores.

Module learning outcomes

  • Articulate (both in critical writing and in response to visual-aural examples) the differing approaches to continuity in a variety of musical-narrative styles in both opera and film genres
  • Identify parallels and precedents for early Hollywood film music in opera and late nineteenth-century symphonic repertoire
  • Demonstrate an understanding and critical awareness both of music's inner workings and its cultural/social roles and functions
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the social, cultural economic and aesthetic importance of contemporary media