Hollywood Harmony: Musical Wonder and the Sound of Cinema.
When composer Dimitri Tiomkin won an Oscar for the score of The High and the Mighty in 1955, he accepted it stating, "I would like to thank Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Strauss, [and] Rimsky-Korsakov" (quoted in Thomas Maremaa, "The Sound of Movie Music," New York Times, 28 March 1976). Tiomkin was finally acknowledging the roots of twentieth-century Hollywood music in nineteenth-century symphonic music. Indeed, in the hands of several composers like Tiomkin, Hollywood film music began to gradually outgrow its roots and form its own aesthetics, functions, and style. It is this musical independence that Frank Lehman defines and investigates in Hollywood Harmony: Musical Wonder and the Sound of Cinema. His focus, implied in the title, is on chromatic harmony and its ability to "sculpt mood and structure narrative" (p. 10). He defends the treatment of harmony that creates the effect of sounding "like film music" to contemporary listeners (p. 7). His "goal is to help listeners understand film scoring practices better" (p. 9) by demonstrating that through the maneuver of harmony, Hollywood composers moved away from nineteenth-century music's influence and established Hollywood music's own sonic principles.
Lehman establishes three main theses. First, he argues that the use of consecutive consonant triads characterizes Hollywood music. Second, he suggests that film-music analysis should center on how pitch design (chords, scales, progressions, and keys) is "interdependent with narrative, visuals, and editing" (p. 8). Third, he asserts that chromatic harmony in Hollywood music results from the negation of tonal norms of centricity, diatonicity, and functionality to triads. Richard Cohn called this "pan-triadic" tonality, or "pantriadicism" (Richard Cohn, Audacious Euphony: Chromaticism and the Consonant Triad's Second Nature [New York: Oxford University Press, 2012], xiv). Lehman devotes his study to demonstrating that Hollywood composers have resorted to the succession of nonfunctional, noncentral, and nondiatonic triads as their chief tonal idiom to achieve expressivity and drama. Therefore, Lehman's methodology relies heavily on music theory. Hollywood Harmony employs roman-numeral analysis and Schenkerian graphics. Transformational theory, however, occurs more prominently in the book, especially through neo-Riemannian theory (NRT), a branch of transformational theory that expands the triadic transformations that Hugo Riemann postulated in the late nineteenth century.
If film music is indebted to late romantic music, then NRT-a theory created to analyze this repertoire-should be a resourceful tool. Lehman demonstrates that NRT can reveal musical meaning and dramatic structures in pantriadic music and proves that Hollywood practices have derived pantriadicism from romantic models. The author does not claim the combination of film music and transformational theory/ NRT to be groundbreaking, but he brings his voice to the scholarship by proposing a broader spectrum than used in previous studies: he does not confine his book to just one composer, filmic genre, or time period; he treats Hollywood film music as a genre. Thus, his theses and methodology serve not only within the limits of the book but also to widen the borders between filmmusic studies and both music theory and musicology.
The book moves from general conventions on how chromatic harmony interacts with narrative in Hollywood films to more specific approaches to pantriadicism and NRT. Chapter 1 demonstrates how Hollywood film music conforms to and distances itself from romantic European art music. Harmony "contributes most substantially to the tonal habits of Hollywood" (p. 20), and Lehman discusses practices of chromatic harmony and tonality that exemplify these habits. Chapter 2 furthers the study of chromaticism and tonality as generators of drama. Lehman first discusses a few unique harmonic techniques in Hollywood films and subsequently the expressive effects and dramatic functions of pantriadic harmony in Hollywood films, introducing the reader to the basics of NRT and marking the borders between NRT's own aesthetics and that of other theories, such as Schenkerian analysis and set theory. Chapter 3 focuses on NRT's principles and procedures of triadic transformations. It introduces fourteen neo-Riemannian operations (NROs)--that is, fourteen ways through which triads displace pitches to transform into others, free of any diatonic or functional quality. It also includes graphic and visual means through which NRT approaches pantriadicism. In chapter 4, the author applies NRT tenets and NROs introduced in the previous chapter to several scores, identifies five topics that reveal how film music achieves expressivity through nonfunctional triads, and proves that NRT is an efficient tool to analyze a type of music that is neither completely tonal nor atonal. Chapter 5 explains the book's subtitle, "musical wonder and the sound of cinema." It focuses on how pantriadicism creates the effect of wonder on spectators and shapes their perception of time, using Howard Shore's music for the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a specific example. Chapter 6 demonstrates that pantriadicism can coexist with conventional forms of tonality because, within a "triadic tonality space" (p. 203) that encompasses different forms of organizing pitch, it is but one of many harmonic tools alongside diatonicity, centricity, and functionality. In all six chapters, the author mentions a vast number of scores, either just as passing examples or in deep analyses. They span from classic Hollywood to the present, from roughly the 1930s to as late as 2017.
In the companion website, readers can listen to music examples, which are good reductions of the orchestrations and very effective assets. Lehman provides descriptions of the scene or actual lines of characters that cue a musical event or change so the reader knows what is happening synchronically between music and image. Readers can always watch the scenes on their own (or may already be familiar with the film in question), but the music examples, analyses, and cue descriptions suffice to understand the author's points and the dramatic impacts that he claims music has in the selected scenes.
Lehman presents didactic introductions and explanations of NRT and NROs that readers can follow as in a textbook. As he acknowledges, the tone gets more technical, but as readers becomes more familiar with the methodology and theory, NRT opens their ears to the intricacies of music underscoring and gives it meaning and substance. NRT allows discussions on "harmonic motivicism," "harmonic genetic material[s]" (pp. 149-53), and patterning, among other compositional techniques, which Lehman uses to explore both inter- and intratextual musical traits in Hollywood films. Particularly interesting are the associations that the NROs have acquired with specific moods, dramatic content, filmic genres, and expressive content in Hollywood films, to the point that they have become conventional.
The author gradually lets go of the hands of the readers, who are left to interpret NRT symbols and graphics by themselves as the author focuses on major points. For example, in chapter 5, when he discusses music and narrative in The Lord of the Rings, Lehman defines the technique of "frisson by leitmotiv," in which a clear statement of a leitmotiv follows a pantriadic passage (with several NROs). He demonstrates that such unambiguous statement of a leitmotiv fulfills the literary/theatrical function of deus ex machina, solving any harmonic question that the spectator might have (p. 179). Thus, Lehman transcends the mechanical and analytical aspects of NROs to attain hermeneutic interpretations that other forms of musical analyses could not accomplish.
Tables 3.1-3.3 summarize the NROs, a resourceful aid to the reader, who can consult them as the author applies the operations in subsequent music examples. The conciseness of these tables makes them great resources to be used even independently from the book. Their only confusing aspect is that one operation, D (for dominant transformation), evinces some contradiction. In table 3.1, "D" is defined as an operation through which a triad transforms into another of the same mode up a perfect fifth. The example next to it, however, and another on table 3.3, both show triad transformations that move down a perfect fifth (C major to F major and F# minor to B minor, respectively), indeed as V-I progressions, which the author claims in the main text to characterize the D operation (pp. 92-93). In table 3.2, which illustrates the operations defined in table 3.1, D is exemplified with C major and C minor triads transforming into G major and minor, respectively, therefore up a fifth. Despite the confusion, the author's main argument remains clear throughout the book, since this is a functional transformation (dominanttonic), and the book focuses on nonfunctional harmony.
Hollywood Harmony is interdisciplinary, exemplifying the academic path toward which musicology and music theory are moving. The first half of the book relies on music theory and analysis, which Lehman combines in the second half with affect theory, psychology, music cognition, and aesthetics. This multilayered approach enables discussions on the conscious/unconscious, intellectual/bodily reactions of spectators watching a Hollywood film. For example, in chapter 5, the author enhances his discussion of the psychological sensations of awe and frisson caused by underscoring music by including David Huron's cognitive model of musical expectation, adding hermeneutical layers to how listeners perceive and experience chromaticism in pantriadic music (pp. 182-83). Lehman's unequaled, interdisciplinary approach allows him not only to define the functions of Hollywood music but also to establish the phenomenological lens for examining responses to it.
Hollywood Harmony successfully demonstrates how Hollywood film music has expanded and innovated on romantic music style by maneuvering harmony as generator of meaning and-more to the author's points-expression and drama. If Lehman's goal is "to provide readers with a pathway to more active, engaged filmgoing" (p. 125), then he has succeeded, for his theses, concepts, methodology, and results encourage the reader to listen closely to and indeed transform what they know about film music. Hollywood Harmony has the potential to enhance our experience in the classroom, in film-music scholarship, and in the movie theater, from the moment lights dim and the first notes of a studio's logo resonate to the final chord accompanying the credits.