“Music is one of the most effective ways of preparing an audience and reinforcing points that you wish to impose on it.”

Stanley Kubrick, film director

The London Philharmonic Orchestra has been recording film soundtracks for almost 50 years – from Lawrence of Arabia by composer Michael Jarre, to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit with composer Howard Shore, to Thor: The Dark World by Brian Tyler. In this part of The Studio, we talk to film music experts, find out their advice for would-be film composers, and suggest starting points for your own music.



Playlist: Introduction to Narrative Film Music
In October 2016, Dr Vasco Hexel, composer and academic, gave a talk to LPO Soundworks participants about the roles music can play in narrative film – that is, any film that tells a story. The full playlist features Vasco giving an introduction to his talk, plus highlights from the live talk itself.


Dr Vasco Hexel - Introduction to Narrative Film Music

Videos in the playlist:

• Introduction to narrative film music
• Setting the scene
• Linking scenes
• Emotion and meaning
• Creating characters

Explore more

  • • Star Wars. In video 4, Vasco talks about the 'Imperial March' from John Williams' Star Wars scores, used to represent the character of Darth Vader. You can listen to the March and find out how the musical elements of the theme evoke Darth Vader's evil and powerful nature here.
  • • James Bond. In the same video, Vasco mentions the way the classic James Bond theme is used and has evolved over time, appearing in subtler ways in later films. Find out more about this in more detail. 
  • • The Leitmotif. Vasco mentions the term leitmotif - an important idea in film music. A leitmotif (German for "leading motif") is a short musical idea that a composer links to a particular person, place, object or emotion.  The theme from the 'Imperial March', for example, is Darth Vader's leitmotif. A leitmotif quickly tells us about a character's main traits, and can be transformed to reflect what is happening in the narrative - perhaps played in different keys or instrumentation. John Williams uses leitmotifs throughout his Star Wars scores, and also in other soundtracks, such as Harry Potter scores (most famously Hedwig's Theme). You can also hear leitmotifs throughout Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings trilogy: have a look at an in-depth breakdown of how they are used. For a flavour of the making of a soundtrack, watch a behind-the-scenes film of the LPO recording of The Hobbit.

Playlist: Film Music - the Industry
How does a composer start writing music for a film? How does the relationship between director and composer work?  What is a temp track? Find out what happens in the industry from film composer Alex Harwood, and see the LPO behind the scenes recording the soundtrack to The Hobbit, with insights from composer Howard Shore.


Film Music - the Industry

Videos in the playlist:

• Alex Harwood - composing for film
• The Hobbit - Making Of Music

Playlist: Most Influential Film Scores
In a genre that’s only just over 100 years old, composers continue to innovate alongside the development of narrative film and technology.  Which film scores have been the most influential to date? Our film music experts give their opinions in the playlist below.

Most Influential Film Scores

Videos in the playlist:

• Dr Vasco Hexel - Top 3 influential film scores
• Alex Harwood - Top 5 film scores

Explore more

  • • If you enjoy Max Steiner's classic score for King Kong (1933), which laid down the 'ground rules' for film music, check out his soundtracks for Gone with the Wind (1939) and Casablanca (1943). 
  • • The LPO's The Genius of Film Music 1960-1980 CD includes tracks by Nino Rota and Bernard Herrmann's famous score for Psycho (1960). 
  • • Vasco recommends Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score for Arrival (2016) as an example of an unusual take on the genre, which could become influential in the future Jóhannsson explains how he created the soundworld for the film, and the ideas in the narrative that it reflects in this podcast.
  • • To find out more about Alex Harwood's recommended composers, James Horner's website includes clips of his work, and you can hear music from Michael Giacchino on this website.


Creative Area

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