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Are long-lined melodies the best melodies?


Quintus
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We all love a good theme, and being JW fans, we're well used to being treated to lovely well fleshed-out really long melodies dominating the overall sound   of them. The Force Theme is probably his most instantly recognisable and one of his finest melodies ever, and it's a satisfyingly long one. The various permutations we hear will make full use of the scintillating luxury of each of the many notes from which the theme is comprised, each one inevitable yet as vital as the rest, the end result of which can in itself feel like a little bit of rich musical storytelling with a beginning, middle and end.

 

"Long-lined" melodies are arguably one of the Maestro's strongest points, and I'd like us to share and talk about our favourites here. And are longer melodies naturally the better sorts of melodies? I personally can't think of anything more musically satisfying than listening to and following the prolonged flow of a great well developed musical signature for a character, or a place. It's terrifically evocative! Or do you agree but with reservations? Can short motifs alternatively be just as stimulating to your ear? Is there a reward and the same sense of musical completion in melodies made up of only a handful of notes?

 

Serious question: has Giacchino ever really written one of these? If he hasn't, or not with much regularity, then perhaps it's the main reason why I can't get into his work. 

 

Other composers are well capable of a good really long melody, too. Let's list some if you please. If YouTube is to feature, please provide handy timings to the melody in question. Speeds things up. 

 

The longest incidental melody (existing without being a part of a bigger main theme) I can think of is Zimmer's heroic action music for Maximus in Gladiator. Do you know it? It's what we hear whenever the character rides horseback, sword in hand. Surely one of the longest melodies in a film score...

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Just now, Quintus said:

Serious question: has Giacchino ever really written one of these? If he hasn't, or not with much regularity, then perhaps it's the main reason why I can't get into his work. 

 

 

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With reservations.

 

A) it automatically rules out less 'romantic' approaches that are just as valid

B) the chance for a fuck up is bigger: the longer it becomes the more chance you have that you don't like part of it.

 

That being said, i always found this flowing Delerue piece the perfect embodiment of the kind of melody you describe; it just never seems to end!

 

 

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Like Pub points out, there's more opportunity to fuck up in a lengthy line. Can easily become tiresome.  Giacchino is guilty of this, but there are some very fine ones in Lost.  I think I prefer shorter musical structures that manage to say as much or more in a compact form, and I believe those are ultimately harder to compose, but I enjoy plenty that would fit in this thread.  Will search for favorites later. 

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Ludwig, that post was a marvel. I've always loved how you so eloquently break down music as a scholar of Williams' craft, and always somehow get all to it all make perfect sense to a non-trained layman like myself. Brilliant!

 

20 minutes ago, Ludwig said:

Like many of Williams' themes, the Force Theme has four short ideas. The first sets the mood of a slow, arduous struggle mixed with a tinge of militarism but also forlornness that suggests the whole struggle is unlikely to succeed. The second idea begins like the first, but moves more quickly through the same first four notes before attempting to reach up higher, only to be cut down a notch and fall back by a note - the struggle, it seems, moves two steps forward and one step backward. This relationship between the ideas, I think, creates an appealing sort of musical narrative, as though we are hearing the same character undergo trials and tribulations. The third idea once again begins with the same four notes as the first, but this time reaches a powerful climax, as though the character has reached a pivotal moment that will decide matters. And the fourth idea, again like many of Williams' themes, gives way to something new, suggesting a kind of conclusion for the character. The theme's two halves also map neatly onto narrative-like parts of introduction + conflict, then climax + conclusion, which is not unique to the Force Theme, but when combined with everything else, tends to give it this gravitas that adds so much depth to its surface meaning of depicting the Force and the Jedi.

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From this description and from start to finish I knew precisely the beats and flows of the individual parts you broke this down into. I've contemplated this melody (and the E.T. one) in exactly the same way as yourself, over the years. The psychological conditioning and emotional momentum which Williams builds into the very finest of his themes is astonishing... and so easy to take for granted.

 

52 minutes ago, publicist said:

With reservations.

 

A) it automatically rules out less 'romantic' approaches that are just as valid

B) the chance for a fuck up is bigger: the longer it becomes the more chance you have that you don't like part of it.

 

That being said, i always found this flowing Delerue piece the perfect embodiment of the kind of melody you describe; it just never seems to end!

 

 

 

That was sickly sugary but undeniably very nice, which coming from Delerue could only ever be. Is the album worth it?

 

45 minutes ago, mrbellamy said:

This one's a contender for my #1

 

 

 

I can't believe I've never heard this before. It's going in my car.

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Like with most Morricone's and Delerue's it's best to sample all that stuff on compilations.

 

As for Johnny, i inevitably prefer stuff that isn't 'Star Wars' or 'E. T.' - my best blockbuster bets are the big slave children march from 'Temple of Doom', the grail theme(s) from 'Last Crusade' & the love theme from 'Superman'  and then 'Cinderella Liberty' (wonderful blues-tinged tune), the end credits from 'Jaws 2' (marvelously constructed hymn) and probably a baker's dozen of such themes. 

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The End Credits to Jaws 2 I was going to start a thread about one time actually because I think it's terribly underrated. It's a stunner, and that fanfare could sell me an endless amount of Pixar movies.

 

Most recently, I suppose I've been most impressed by this longer melody from Destiny, which is almost exactly a minute long in its purest form. The other permutations of it, including the heroic action version, are beastly (then again I've heard them a hundred times so they're bound to be 'up there' for me).

 

 

 

(Heroic @ 3:00)

 

I know I sound like a broken record, but if Giacchino could knock out something like that, I'd finally convert. 

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17 minutes ago, TheGreyPilgrim said:

I think I prefer shorter musical structures that manage to say as much or more in a compact form, and I believe those are ultimately harder to compose

 

While John Barry didn't exactly wrote short melodies, he had a knack for coming up with great signatures. Jerry mustn't even be mentioned.

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Probably his beloved Zimmer's

 

 

But a great simple idea that is really only a hook but characterizes the movie is Goldsmith's rejected 'Alien Nation' score (really only two chords with pitch bended):

 

 

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28 minutes ago, Quintus said:

 

Really? Can you explain what you mean?

 

I just think that to capture an idea in a smaller musical space is more difficult than it is to capture the same idea in a larger space.  If you have 16 or 32 bars to make your point, you don't have to be as concise - which can lead to its own problems of course, but it does make it easier to encompass everything you need to.  But being constricted to two or even one bar, and still "saying something," that's sort of a compositional holy grail, I believe.

 

Pub points to essentially the two most salient examples that I would cite as well.  Jerry of course could do this in his sleep, and I think we must credit Shore as well, since for his leitmotivic approach to Middle-Earth to work, he had to use, well, motives, rather than big fleshed out tunes which tend to be unwieldy for such applications, though there are some of those in there as well.  

 

Another fantastic example of saying a lot with as little as possible:

 

 

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The Batman one is awfully random really, but i give it a C for effort. A great little signature is Tom Newman's marimba piece that opens 'American Beauty'.

 

 

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20 minutes ago, TheGreyPilgrim said:

 

I just think that to capture an idea in a smaller musical space is more difficult than it is to capture the same idea in a larger space.  If you have 16 or 32 bars to make your point, you don't have to be as concise - which can lead to its own problems of course, but it does make it easier to encompass everything you need to.  But being constricted to two or even one bar, and still "saying something," that's sort of a compositional holy grail, I believe.

 

 

Well I suspected that is what you meant, but I don't agree and I think this is where we diverge. One could apply the same angle to a DJ who produces original techno, or trance music: a short compact idea designed to work as a repetitious continuous beat is of course valid music, and it requires a degree of skill to get right. But I don't think those "ditties" (sincerely don't mean to come off as dismissive there) are on the same level of melodic complexity as something more fully developed musically and aesthetically as heard in some other genre. Then again, maybe that's were the lines between something like melody and musical 'ideas' start to blur. 

 

I think Hand of Fate is fabulous btw. 

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57 minutes ago, Quintus said:

The End Credits to Jaws 2 I was going to start a thread about one time actually because I think it's terribly underrated. It's a stunner, and that fanfare could sell me an endless amount of Pixar movies.

 

Most recently, I suppose I've been most impressed by this longer melody from Destiny, which is almost exactly a minute long in its purest form. The other permutations of it, including the heroic action version, are beastly (then again I've heard them a hundred times so they're bound to be 'up there' for me).

 

 

 

(Heroic @ 3:00)

 

I know I sound like a broken record, but if Giacchino could knock out something like that, I'd finally convert. 

 

Glad to see some recommendations from this score, since I still haven't heard any of it.

 

 

Here are a few from Giacchino that I think make the grade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 minutes ago, Quintus said:

 

Well I suspected that is what you meant, but I don't agree and I think this is where we divergence. One could apply the same angle to a DJ who produces original techno, or trance music: a short compact idea designed to work as a repetitious continuous beat is of course valid music, and it requires a degree of skill to get right. But I don't think those "ditties" (sincerely don't mean to come off as dismissive there) are on the same level of melodic complexity as something more fully developed musically and aesthetically as heard in some other another genre. Then again, maybe that's were the lines between something like melody and musical ideas start to blur. 

 

No, of course they aren't as complex, by their nature.  But what I'm getting at is that it is harder to pull off "rightness" in that compact form, as a composer, and I think the rewards can be greater for the listener if done well.

 

Actually, the Interstellar example Pub posted starts on what I would definitely call a long lined tune - I think I named it "Loss" in my analysis post - the organ chaconne figure is the example of motivic rightness I would have pointed to.

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18 minutes ago, publicist said:

The Batman one is awfully random really, but i give it a C for effort. A great little signature is Tom Newman's marimba piece that opens 'American Beauty'.

 

American Beauty is great for those brief motives/rhythms/harmonies that instantly hook, probably my favorite score that is completely built around such "micro" ideas. "Any Other Name" and "Root Beer" also qualify imo.

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10 minutes ago, TheGreyPilgrim said:

No, of course they aren't as complex, by their nature.  But what I'm getting at is that it is harder to pull off "rightness" in that compact form, as a composer, and I think the rewards can be greater for the listener if done well.

 

1

 

Hmm, in the case of film scores, I think the meaning the listener invests into the accompanying images is key in that regard. 

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The best kinds of melodies are those which manage to convey whatever it is the composer wants to say in a coherent and lucid manner. 

 

This is what I like most about Williams' music - even if it's the most complex orchestral cue, the music is always crystal clear.

 

And now, here's one of my favourite recent examples of a long melody:

 

 

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4 minutes ago, Quintus said:

 

Hmm, in the case of film scores, I think the meaning the listener invests into the accompanying images is key in that regard. 

 

It's a huge part of why any film music works, but especially so with these smaller cellular ideas.  Some of it is instinct and musical craft, but some of it is pure chance... the Batman example might seem "awfully random," and who knows how much whittling was truly done to arrive at it, but it blows me away to this day how iconic those two notes have become.  Something so utterly elemental but instantly recognizable and evocative.  It very nicely mirrors the whole thrust of Wayne's choice of the Bat persona.  Be it through luck, craft, or a mixture of both, I ultimately just find myself more impressed by this sort of thing I guess.  Again, not to at all say a long tune isn't enjoyable and marvel-worthy.

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I think it didn't really work out in the Batman example (except for notoriety by sheer penetration), it sounds like half-assed Wagner done on a garage synth.

 

The most recent example where i found the drawn-out main theme wonderfully shaped was JNH's Huntsman.

 

 

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Here are some that I think you'll appreciate, Quintus:

 

 

 

I really dig the simplicity of that one from Destiny.  Treads so, so close to shitty chordal cliches, but slips right past them into badass tune territory.

 

Some more that come to mind:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Excellent thread.  Do not forget, both long form and motif can be combined for maximum effect.  Example:

 

Here you get the 5 note motif as a counterpoint to a very long lined melody.  Utter genius. Great composers will interweave motif and extended themes. For example, Beethoven will make his melody transform into a background accompaniment for a new theme.   Melodic transformation by way of thematic development has been around for hundreds of years. 

 

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7 hours ago, TheGreyPilgrim said:

Like Pub points out, there's more opportunity to fuck up in a lengthy line. Can easily become tiresome.  Giacchino is guilty of this, but there are some very fine ones in Lost.  I think I prefer shorter musical structures that manage to say as much or more in a compact form, and I believe those are ultimately harder to compose, but I enjoy plenty that would fit in this thread.  Will search for favorites later. 

LOST is full of them, but they're lengthy mostly because of the spare nature of the score and how he developed the soundscape for that show. So a simple melody may run longer than normally just because of the scene it accompanies. However, that isn't also the rule and he'll bust out these gorgeous string melodies that'll bring me to the brink of tears. One of my favorites is Claire's theme and this rendition from Season 3. Slow and sparse in the beginning but it transforms beautifully in the middle before coming back to the simple theme, and we even get another one of his signature motifs towards the end. What do you think of this cue, @Quintus?

 

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I would say that largely yes, long-lined melodies are more satisfying than the shorter ones. They've got a structure to appreciate, and there's more time to feel like the melody is somehow telling a story.

 

However, it's already been said that the requirement for a long melody also reveals times when the composer hasn't done it for you. Now and then I come across a piece which just seems to meander a bit and I just get the feeling that the composer was struggling to complete the melody.

 

While we're on Lost, I've always loved this bit:

 

 

As for JNH's The Huntsman, I prefer this statement of his theme. I love these moments where the film doesn't require the composer to abort his theme halfway through and he can just settle down and state it several times.

 

 

 

And to provide some Zimmer-JW balance in this thread, a couple of Zimmer melodies that I think are beautiful:

 

 

 

(by the way, I have yet to understand why most people hated this film. I loved it, and thought Zimmer came up with a few of his better melodies)

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12 hours ago, karelm said:

Do not forget, both long form and motif can be combined for maximum effect.

 

This. Long and short themes can be both great, it really depends on what you want to do with the theme, so it's not only a matter of idiom. Take Jurassic Park, which has two rather lengthy main themes, but mostly builds on the 4 note raptor motif.

 

I've always admired the opening of Bruckner's 7th. It begins with the primary theme stated unisono (with just some basic string harmonies added), and that single melody lasts a whole minute or longer - 1:30-2:40 in this recording:

 

 

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17 hours ago, Quintus said:

(From the OP):

Can short motifs alternatively be just as stimulating to your ear? Is there a reward and the same sense of musical completion in melodies made up of only a handful of notes?

 

I would say that short motifs don't have the same sense of completion, but then that can be exploited as a resource in itself in that short motifs can be strung together to form themes that have a sort of endless quality to them. And to my mind, the master of this type of theme was Bernard Herrmann. His main themes for the trio of Hitchcock films, VertigoNorth by Northwest, and Psycho all draw on the short motif to compose a longer theme, and they've become some of the most prominent scores in film history, particularly their main themes. That Herrmann avoided broader melodies was something he was acutely aware of - I love this quote from an interview with him in 1976:

 

Quote

“You know, the reason I don’t like this tune business is that a tune has to have eight or sixteen bars, which limits you as a composer. Once you start, you’ve got to finish—eight or sixteen bars. Otherwise, the audience doesn’t know what the hell it’s all about. It’s putting handcuffs on yourself.”

 

Of course he did write broader eight- or sixteen-bar tunes, one of the most celebrated being that for the breakfast montage in Citizen Kane:

 

 

But on the whole, Herrmann's best-known themes are those composed of strings of short motifs, and I think they serve Hitchcock's goal of creating suspense much better than any long-lined melody could have since, as in the films' narratives themselves, we don't know if or when the continual buildup will be released.

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On 4/29/2017 at 5:08 PM, Quintus said:

 

 

Well I suspected that is what you meant, but I don't agree and I think this is where we diverge. One could apply the same angle to a DJ who produces original techno, or trance music: a short compact idea designed to work as a repetitious continuous beat is of course valid music, and it requires a degree of skill to get right. But I don't think those "ditties" (sincerely don't mean to come off as dismissive there) are on the same level of melodic complexity as something more fully developed musically and aesthetically as heard in some other genre. Then again, maybe that's were the lines between something like melody and musical 'ideas' start to blur. 

 

I think Hand of Fate is fabulous btw. 

 

Hmmm, I'm not sure it's as simple as that. 

 

A longer line melody gives the composer more degrees of freedom in terms of time and usually pitch as well, within the melody. So yes, it's more complex in that immediate sense. A compact musical idea doesn't offer the same degrees of freedom in that immediate way.

 

But once you start zooming out of that immediate line of melody or musical idea, the perspective changes a little. Now the compact musical idea affords the composer far greater degrees of freedom than a long line melody.

 

The simplicity of the ditty allows, if the composer chooses to take advantage of it, far more degrees of freedom (which lets you do complex things) for the overall piece. The complex melody, on the other hand, constrains what you can do around it. Without simplifying the long-line melody, it becomes tough to get it to fit with other things. So as an example: the Force theme in full usually sounds a out of breath and clunky when it's presented in a frenetic action context....and so usually it's not, at least not without streamlining and shedding some lines. 

 

So it's really a matter of deciding where the composer wants their degrees of freedom and complexity. The melody? Or what's around the melody?

 

To illustrate it at an extreme: if you simplify the musical idea enough, say just one note, you can actually do all kinds of wacky stuff, and as long as that one note persists it provides a gravitational center for a cogent narrative. I believe that's called the tonic note?

 

 

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