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Course Overview:

With the seismic cultural shifts of the last fifty years, films have become the primary way in which most people first encounter art music, including both the historical classical composers as well as both 20th- and 21st-century composers writing specifically for film (e.g., Copland, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, John Corigliano, Phillip Glass, Tan Dun). Film scores have likewise become a major creative focus for many major composers, made all the more attractive because of the broad exposure they provide. And the film score itself does a great deal to interpret the nuance of a movie scene. Indeed, music in a film not only shapes our understanding of character, situation, time, and place but it also allows us to experience the emotional impact of the narrative. Our approach will primarily be from a humanist, critical, and historical perspective. We will examine the ways that music in film operates on a variety of levels, beginning with the silent film and moving through films of the Golden Era in Hollywood up to the early 60s. As Claudia Gorbman (Unheard Melodies, 1987) writes, “When we shed a tear during a pregnant moment in a film . . . instead of scoffing at its excess, music often is present, a catalyst in the suspension of judgment” (5-6).

Course Objectives:

  1. To be able to identify the most prominent American film composers and demonstrate an understanding of their style;
  2. To be able to trace and give examples of the stylistic history of film scores;

  3. To be able to analyze a segment of a film using the vocabulary, methodologies, and critical paradigms studied in the class.

Recommended Text:

Roger Hickman, Reel Music: Exploring 100 Years of Film Music. W.W. Norton, 2006. Units listed below are from this textbook, but it is not necessary to purchase the text.


Office of Alumni Relations: regional@hamilton.edu, 866-729-0314

Professor of Music Lydia Hamessley, lhamessl@hamilton.edu

Course Schedule:

*All classes are from 8 - 9 p.m.


Unit 6 The Classic Revival 1977–1988
Star Wars (1977; 121 min.)

January 23: WEEK ONE

Unit 1 Exploring Film and Music
Rear Window (1954; 112 min.)

January 30: WEEK TWO

Unit 2 The Silent Film Era 1895–1908
City Lights (1931; 87 min)

February 6: WEEK THREE

Unit 3 The Sound Era Begins 1928–1944
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938; 104 min.)

February 13: WEEK FOUR

Unit 3 The Sound Era Begins 1928–1944, con’t
Casablanca (1942; 102 min.)

February 20: WEEK FIVE

Unit 4 Entering a Cold War 1944–1959
Best Years of Our Lives (1946; 176 min.)

February 27: WEEK SIX

Unit 4 Entering a Cold War 1944–1959, con’t
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951; 122 min.)


Unit 4 Entering a Cold War 1944–1959, con’t
Vertigo (1958; 128 min.)

March 13: WEEK EIGHT

Unit 5 A New American Cinema 1960–1976
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962; 129 min.)