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The study of music composed for film has been gathering pace in recent years as soundtracks have begun to find their way into the concert hall. It’s a relationship that has been an integral part of the cinema experience from its ‘silent’, piano-accompanied beginnings to the competing contemporary claims for attention of the jukebox and the symphony orchestra.

In the wake of the form’s newfound profile and respectability, academic interest has begun to move discussion about music’s role in film towards a fuller, more exacting interrogation of its point and purpose, its aesthetic principles and its contribution to how audiences receive and respond to moving images.

The Oxford Handbook of Film Music Studies takes a wide-ranging, inter-disciplinary approach that embraces film studies, musicology, music theory and cognitive science to offer a compact but comprehensive overview of current lines of argument and inquiry. Its broad-based purview also accommodates considerations of music in television, early arcade and video games and cartoons as well as the influence of opera, melodrama, 19th-century theatre practice and differences in international approach to the use of music in film.

The introductory discussion of ‘central questions’ includes a useful analysis of the classical Hollywood system and a very thorough dissection of Hanns Eisler’s life-long commitment to writing for the cinema. The variegated demands made on music by film-makers are explored in revealing chapters on the film musical, the use of compilation soundtracks and the emergence of music in video games while the exploration of interpretative theory and practice throws up valuable debates on gender, sexuality and psychoanalysis.

With references to several theoretical approaches – genre theory, apparatus theory, transformational theory, auteurship et al – it proves to be an occasionally concentrated read. A minor cavil, though, given the bracing sweep of the book’s interests and its facility for marrying the broad view with close-up detail. It’s not cheap, but it’s certainly worth every penny for its depth and richness.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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