Jump to content
ComposerEthan

Use of Themes/Motifs in Film Score

Recommended Posts

This is brought up by my friend: How important are themes and motifs in Film Scores? My friend says that themes aren't important, but it depends on the composer to use them or not. I for one love themes and love how those melodies are twisted and and developed depending on the scene. It's the main reason I love film score.

I don't like it when a score lacks themes or there is just ONE theme to a movie that is just reused. For example, Toy Story 1 and 3 lack specific themes (Toy Story 2 actually has a motif for Buzz Lightyear). Another example is Back to the Future or Cars 2 (which i think is a very weak Michael Giacchino score).

What do you think? Are themes important in movies?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think you'll find many people on a John Williams fanboard that cateogrically dismiss themes or motifs, as they are central to the structure of his scores. That said, I don't think they are always necessarily the best approach, and I think many others would agree. That said, it really depends how broadly you define "motif." Off the top of my head, I can't think of a piece of music I like that doesn't have some unifying/developing idea, whether it's a melody, a type of instrumentation, a rhythmic idea, stylistic decision, etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think themes and motifs bring a strength to many film scores that would otherwise be lacking. I don't believe every single score must have a series of themes for each character and concept, but you won't find many films that don't have at least a main title theme serving as a musical center to the story. And the development of motifs is one of the more fascinating aspects when studying a film score.

I don't like it when a score lacks themes or there is just ONE theme to a movie that is just reused. For example, Toy Story 1 and 3 lack specific themes (Toy Story 2 actually has a motif for Buzz Lightyear). Another example is Back to the Future or Cars 2 (which i think is a very weak Michael Giacchino score).

Actually, the first Toy Story film did have a couple of themes that had a few iterations—including one for Buzz Lightyear (which made its most thrilling and infamous appearance during the key scene at the end of the movie). And Back to the Future had a couple as well. As indy indicated (indycated?), it depends on what you would include under the umbrella definition of either "theme"—which would be a broader, more detailed melodies—or "motif," which can be as short as a two-note phrasings. The second and third BTTF films explored a broader thematic palette, but even the first one featured several. Aside from the main theme, which offers two themes in one, the quick, six-note descending gliss that became a hallmark of the score (first heard at :06 of "Delorean Reveal") is another; the five-note "sentimental" theme that opens "Marty's Letter" also appears multiple times. Dig deeper, and you'll likely find more.

Like I said, that's what makes this particular vein of musical study so interesting. Even scores that give the impression of being thematically barren will often surprise you with little gems hidden among the broader strokes.

- Uni

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My friend says that themes aren't important

Themes and motives are the most important aspects of film scores, in my opinion.

So, the Alien score by Goldsmith is no good at all?

my opinion: "themes are not important".

they are important to the general public so as to to digest film music more easily and have something to grab on...

Of course, it depends again what one considers a theme.

Someone might say that Stravinsky's Rite of Spring doesn't have themes, and another can say that it's loaded with themes.

It depends on if you understand a theme as a tonal only theme or not.

in that respect, yes, tonal themes aren't important so as to consider a film score a good one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My friend says that themes aren't important

Themes and motives are the most important aspects of film scores, in my opinion.

So, the Alien score by Goldsmith is no good at all?

There are plenty of themes and short motifs in Goldsmith's ALIEN. Same goes for PLANET OF THE APES.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My friend says that themes aren't important

Themes and motives are the most important aspects of film scores, in my opinion.

So, the Alien score by Goldsmith is no good at all?

There are plenty of themes and short motifs in Goldsmith's ALIEN. Same goes for PLANET OF THE APES.

Yeah, I know, but I have a hunch that the original poster and Bloodboal, were referring to traditionally tonal themes only.

Or else, yes, I agree with indy4, that there is no music at all that doesn't have any unifying element, a motif or something so this discussion has no point in that respect.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes. Ripley has a great theme (that is almost absent in the final cut)

And Ethan, BTTF is your example of a score with no theme? The entire trilogy is based around the strong main theme!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have listened to Alien several times but never bothered to think on it from a leitmotivic angle. Is there a breakdown of the different ideas somewhere?

I think existence of themes and motifs is far too natural, and above all, fun, to drop it. It's just too inmediate of a tool. Even an largely atmospheric score can use themes. Existence of themes, however, does not great music make.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, I know, but I have a hunch that the original poster and Bloodboal, were referring to traditionally tonal themes only.

Actually, Ethan specified themes and motifs. As I said in my post, motifs need not be tonal at all. Alien has more in the way of motifs than themes, but it does have both (so I'm not completely certain why you used it as an example).

Or else, yes, I agree with indy4, that there is no music at all that doesn't have any unifying element, a motif or something so this discussion has no point in that respect.

Of course it does. Unified musical structure isn't the automatic equal of a theme. And a theme—in this context, anyway—is a deliberate context provided by a composer for a specific reason, tied directly into the dramatic pretense of a story. It's more than just organized. Themes stand out over and above the coordinated form of the rest of the music.

Which, again, makes movie music so interesting, along with discussions like this that work to help us better understand it.

- Uni

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ripley's Theme is the only real theme in Jerry's Alien score, and even that doesn't appear that often. That score is all about mood and ambience

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nostromo theme - First played in the rejected Main Title by solo trumpet.

Nostromo motif - Chordal motif - interchange between i-IV - first heard at 1:06.

Time motif - 3:04 - Famous hypnotic flute motif. Goes through several harmonic changes. Usually accompanied by a timpani pedal point. Used in sequels as a theme for Ripley.

Ascending fourths - Initially heard at 0:13 in the same rejected Main Title. An augmented fourth followed by a perfect fourth, then the same pattern repeated a major seventh higher. i.e. C-F#B Bb-E-A Ab-D-G and etc. This is probably the most extensively used of all these motifs, even used to form huge totally chromatic tone pyramids - such as at the beginning of The Shaft. The oscillating alto flute/clarinet pattern in Here Kitty also derives from this.

Derelict theme - 0:15 in the rescored Main Title

Minor seventh cluster - A huge chord built out of stacked minor sevenths intervals (C-Bb-Ab-Gb-E-D). First heard at the very beginning of the rejected Main Title. Later at 2:06 in the rescored Hanging On (here it appears with a sister chord built out of stacked major sevenths C-B-Bb-A-Ab etc.like the famous PSYCHO shower chord) and at 0:04 in Sleepy Alien.

2 note Alien motif - Played by brass, strings or fluttertonguing serpent. 0:02 in The Cupboard, Out the Door, 1:46 in The Eggs.

There's probably more, but that's all I can think of ATM.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My friend says that themes aren't important

Themes and motives are the most important aspects of film scores, in my opinion.

So, the Alien score by Goldsmith is no good at all?

my opinion: "themes are not important".

they are important to the general public so as to to digest film music more easily and have something to grab on...

Of course, it depends again what one considers a theme.

Someone might say that Stravinsky's Rite of Spring doesn't have themes, and another can say that it's loaded with themes.

It depends on if you understand a theme as a tonal only theme or not.

in that respect, yes, tonal themes aren't important so as to consider a film score a good one.

Alien and Rite of Spring has tons of themes and motifs.

I personally don't think themes are exactly neccessary in music (especially concert hall music). But I'd definitely prefer them in film scores.

This is how I look at scores. A good film score is like a good novel. The themes are the characters. They can be flat and uninspired, or creative and quite extensively thought out. It's how the composer chooses to develop these "characters" that determine how awesome the "story" is. And that's why I really appreciate scores like LotR

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes. Ripley has a great theme (that is almost absent in the final cut)

And Ethan, BTTF is your example of a score with no theme? The entire trilogy is based around the strong main theme!

My apologies, I was referring to it as a film with ONE theme (same with Cars 2). But you're right, I do remember that recurring gliss happening a lot in the score. And now I remember that in the 3rd film, we have a theme for the 1885 version of Hill Valley.

Is there an analysis of all the themes in the trilogy?

IMHO, I believe that a motif or theme has to at least be recurring enough to stick in your mind or easy enough to pick out. I just admire Williams' style of giving many things motifs that pop up occasionally or more than once. I especially love his short little ideas, like the Droid Motifs, Imperial Motif, Qui-Gon's theme, etc.

I just wish more composers out there used more themes and motifs for characters and places.

I think themes and motifs bring a strength to many film scores that would otherwise be lacking. I don't believe every single score must have a series of themes for each character and concept, but you won't find many films that don't have at least a main title theme serving as a musical center to the story. And the development of motifs is one of the more fascinating aspects when studying a film score.

I don't like it when a score lacks themes or there is just ONE theme to a movie that is just reused. For example, Toy Story 1 and 3 lack specific themes (Toy Story 2 actually has a motif for Buzz Lightyear). Another example is Back to the Future or Cars 2 (which i think is a very weak Michael Giacchino score).

Actually, the first Toy Story film did have a couple of themes that had a few iterations—including one for Buzz Lightyear (which made its most thrilling and infamous appearance during the key scene at the end of the movie).

- Uni

That's right, but I think Buzz Lightyear's theme was the Rebel Fanfare like motif? And the finale scene used the "Infinity and Beyond Theme". I forgot the article, but I remember someone referring to it as such. That "infinity" theme came up in Toy Story 3. I just believe that the Toy Story scores were a very missed opportunity for musical ideas. For example, in 3 I remember there a Harmonica/Bass idea that plays during Sunnyside that never comes up again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not aware of any online analysis of the BTTF scores, but off the top of my head there are a whole handful of themes

-Main Theme (which has 2 parts, the Fanfare and the Main Theme)

-The glissando

-Sentimental Theme

-Griff's Theme from BTTF2

-Alternate 1985 theme

-Clara's Theme

-Old West Theme

Probably more...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll try to add some more commentary later; this is a quick dash-off. To the best of my knowledge, themes from the first film with their first statements (some of these become more definitely themes in the sequels do to their reuse there):

Friendship/Sentimental Theme

"Logo" - 0:00 (see also "Marty's Letter")

Main Theme

A section - "Einstein Disintegrated" - 0:05

B section - "Logo" - 0:12

Time Chords (or "gliss," but really more of a quick arpeggiation)

"DeLorean Reveal" - 0:06

Doc

"Einstein Disintegrates" - 0:16

Silvestri actually weaves together the time chords with the initial driving material from 0:16 in a more melodic way to make a sort of theme of the basic material. This begins at 0:23 of the track.

Mission Motive

"85 Twin Pines Mall" - 0:28

Tension Motive

"Peabody Barn; Marty Ditches Delorean" - 0:00

Discovery Motive

"Retrieve DeLorean" - 0:35

Biff/Danger Ostinato

"Skateboard Chase" - 1:08

Return Theme/Time Travel Theme

"Doc Returns" - (0:49)

This is particularly interesting, because the second disc of original versions shows that Silvestri initially used this in "Einstein Disintegrates" after the initial demonstration, which is why I gave it the two names.

These aren't necessarily the strongest or most prominent examples, but they are the first of each, and should give you an idea of what you're listening for. Silvestri actually does a lot to form the score out of these smaller bits, with the main theme being the biggie. You can take it further, though, because the main theme (particularly the A section) has several uniquely identifiable settings that serve different purposes and almost become functionally different themes in a way.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the bit you're thinking of is what I called the "Mission Motive." What do you mean by PIcture Motive? What I called the "Tension Motive" plays in the Peabody barn scene and during the scene where George confronts Biff.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the bit you're thinking of is what I called the "Mission Motive." What do you mean by PIcture Motive? What I called the "Tension Motive" plays in the Peabody barn scene and during the scene where George confronts Biff.

The Fanfare bit is later in the cue, right before the Main Theme appears.

What I mean by the picture motif, is that Piano/celeste bit that plays when Marty is looking at the picture, and when he gets into the DeLorean right before it stalls.

Also, a little off-topic, but whats the difference with the alternates?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Despite what filmtracks might think, a motif doesn't have to be melodic or hummable. It can also be harmonic (a signature chord or chord progression - John Barry and Bernard Herrmann liked this device a lot), rhythmic or timbral (a certain instrument or instrumental combination).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...