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Affect and Feelings: The Persuasive Power of Film Music



In musical composition composers rely on the audience’s inherent understanding of sound and musical affect. As the art form developed, the segregation of popular, folk and “academic” music became more evident, thus leading contemporary concert music (different from pop, rock, electronic and folk music) to be labeled under the larger realm of “classical” music. What general audiences associate with classical music is the work of Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, other composers of the past and present, orchestral or instrumental music written by “classically” trained composers. This separation often makes the general audience think of classical music as museum pieces, which are not (in most cases) a part of everyday life or popular culture. However, classical music is experienced regularly through film. The musical language encountered in film is mostly informed by so called “classical” music, ranging from Gregorian chant, highly complex dissonant music, to electronic or pop music.

The marriage of music and film allowed for an exploration of musical range in terms of genre, sound world, musical material and emotionality to create affective responses inherent in the audience. This exploration resulted in the use of well-known musical signifiers called tropes to elicit said affective response. Some of these tropes pre-dated film music, others grew from conventions imposed by early composers of the genre, and some were created by iconic films or other musical genres. Utilizing tropes, film composers accompany, convey and shape the narrative of the film.

Focusing on film music, in this dissertation, musical affect and narrative through the use of musical tropes is explored.


This quintet for Piano and String Quartet utilizes some of the film music tropes mentioned in Volume I to create an implied narrative. However the programmatic narrative of the piece isn’t revealed to the audience in hopes that the recognizable tropes help convey the meaning of the narrative.

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