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The close relationship between symphonic music and cinema

Since the birth of cinema in 1895, patented by the Lumière brothers, music has always been present in it, even from its beginning, with silent cinema, since sound cinema was not born until 1926. In every known culture there was some form of musical manifestation, the history of music covers all societies and eras. The music of a given society is closely related to other aspects of its culture, such as its economic organization, its technological development, traditions, religious beliefs, etc.
The evolution of music in cinema over the years arose with the need to create music that was related to certain films and not a simple ornament, that had expressive purposes, the first attempts to make thoughtful, created and intended compositions to a certain movie. In a broader sense, music is born with the human being, since it was present, according to some studies, long before the migration of the first groups that left Africa more than 50,000 years ago. It is, therefore, a universal cultural manifestation.


From silent cinema to the present: the evolution of music in cinema

The first appearances of accompaniment music in silent films

Today we see it as unthinkable not to combine something as exciting as cinema and music, soundtracks and songs that have accompanied us for a lifetime. But music in cinema did not begin with the same purpose that is indispensable today. Surprisingly, this has not always been the case. Avoiding the silence and covering up the sound of the coils was the curious function that music fulfilled. Beyond setting the viewer's mood, the sound produced by the projector distracted the audience's attention. It was common to hear musicians playing live, especially pianists. The most modest rooms had a phonograph, others had live orchestras or bands.
However, at least initially, the idea of accompanying films with music was not aimed at reinforcing the cinematographic action, the action-music relationship mattered little. Later, the idea arose of choosing music based on what was being seen. Thus, music from great classics known to the public, such as Mendelssohn, Beethoven or Chopin, began to be used.

The arrival of the first film soundtracks in the 20th century
1908 is the year in which, in practice, the first original soundtrack in the history of cinema emerged, designed to reinforce the expressiveness of certain passages of a film. Composers Camille Saint-Saëns and Mihail Ippolitov-Ivanov created several pieces for the films The Assassination of the Duke of Guise and Stenka Razin.
This fact, however, rather than being seen as an example, was taken with little importance, although as something original. Thus, the rest of the films continued to be accompanied by music known to the majority of the public to cause excitement when listening to them in the background.


The 1930s marked the definitive arrival of original film music

With the 1930s, film scores began to gain great prominence, scores with a romantic style from the late 19th century, such as Wagner and Tchaikovsky, bringing to light great masters who would mark the traces of the history of soundtracks.
According to Max Steiner: “In the 1930s, music was used in dramatic films only when the script demanded it. Producers, directors and musicians were always afraid of being asked where the music came from. That is why they never played music, unless it could be explained by the presence of an orchestra, phonograph or radio.”
The leitmotif was used to characterize the main characters and situations, personalizing the music in the cinema: the first film that demonstrated what could be done with an original score completely synchronized with the images was “King Kong”.
The music known as diegetic, from the term “diegesis”, refers to the development of a story in a fictional world. Music is usually used to enhance certain emotions in the viewer and create a narrative atmosphere, hence the importance of soundtracks in cinema.

With the appearance of television, orchestral music falls into oblivion

The rapid development of television in the United States meant that this country had to be the first to devise new weapons to fight against that homemade show that was stealing its viewers by leaps and bounds.
So many television sets caused the box office to plummet, and that is why in 1948 the film industry began to take measures against that threat and established a blockade of film rentals on television in the hope of suffocating them. However, the great war on television was not delivered until 1952.
And it was during the 1950s that the world of soundtracks, along with Hollywood, began to falter. The studios wanted easy-to-sell melodies and songs to try to overcome the decline in viewers they had suffered; topics that often had nothing to do with the images.
The entertainment of the cinema was exchanged for the free movies they showed, or simply for watching television. This, therefore, put an end to the improvisation that flooded cinemas decades ago, to move, without a doubt, to a critical decade of the fifties.

The resurgence of symphonic music in cinema with John Williams as the protagonist

John Williams is considered one of the most prolific composers in cinema. Williams would begin to emerge in the first half of the 70s when he began working with the famous director Steven Spielberg, composing the music for all of his work – except for three films – since 1974.
Even so, his career, along with that of the other composers, was not easy. The intense excitement of hearing a symphony orchestra play a well-known and epic piece in a large auditorium was diminished. The cuts in music meant that the strength and vitality of the special sound that symphony orchestras have could be equaled. This, added to the evolution of synthesizers, has caused the most avant-garde composers to create orchestral music prepared on a computer.


Instrumental music manages to overcome the crisis and resurfaces in the eighties

The music of Star Wars marked a before and after in the world of cinema, not only for its extraordinary story, but also for its musicalization. The set of orchestral themes for George Lucas's Star Wars series are composed almost entirely for the films by John Williams. This music composed by Williams could be said to be practically the most popular and respected of his (already acclaimed) film work, especially that of the original trilogy.
In the 80s a revolution arrived with the massive use of the synthesizer which, although it had already been used years before, brought with it new composers such as James Horner, Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard and Alan Silvestri. Orchestral music does not disappear, but continues its journey, having a great reception.

Enjoy the best John Williams soundtracks with the FSO
History has shown us the importance of choosing the right music to accompany movies, not only as a way to engage the heart and feelings with the film, but also as an identification. The ability of the first melodies of a soundtrack or song to take us to the film in question or to a characteristic moment in it.