9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Representing the Baroque: (The Portrayal of Historical Period in Film Music)

Miguel Mera

In the case of music which attempts to approximate to a sense of musical period, although being an entirely new piece, film composers tend to trade on popular ideas of authenticity plundered from musicology. Certain instrumental sounds become synonymous with certain cultures and certain eras. This becomes a kind of stylistic shorthand which cinema audiences absorb and accept without even realizing it.1
Lack’s comment implies the stylistic dilemma that is faced by composers in the representation of a musical period in narrative cinema. Not only must their scores engender a sense of authenticity, but they must also satisfy the narrative demands of the drama. In the specific case of the Baroque era, fitting “rather square”2  phrasing into predetermined timings and the dramatic ‘limitations’ of the orchestration, instrumentation, and harmonic language have led to the emergence of a hybrid, pseudo-baroque musical language. This dialectic can be seen, for example, in George Fenton’s score for the film Dangerous Liaisons (Frears, 1988).

Fenton’s musical material for the film is extensively drawn from J. S. Bach’s Konzert für vier Cembali (BWV 1065) and Vivaldi’s La Cetra concerto Op. 9 No. 9 (2nd Movement) rather than the more geographically accurate Lully or Couperin, or the more historically accurate Dussek, Pleyel or Haydn. Such spatio-temporal subtlety would be lost on the audience as “scholarship is no substitute for drama.”3  This paper therefore aims to examine the way that film music can embody, and even emulate the Baroque, whilst retaining the specific musical attributes required by cinematic narrative.
1 Lack, R. Twenty Four Frames Under (London, Quartet Books, 1997:169)
2 Prendergast, R. Film Music: A Neglected Art (New York, W.W. Norton, 1992:151)
3 Burnand, D. Sarnaker B. ‘Film Music and National Identity’ in National Identities (Vol. 1 No. 1, 1999:13)

Conference Timetable
List of Participants
Last updated on 28 March 2000 by Yo Tomita