The fact that the music of films often has powerful effects on its audience is undisputed. Careful examination of the reasons behind these effects, however, has been largely ignored. We tend to compare previously unassociated dramatic pieces we hear to film music – but what piece cannot be compared to film music nowadays? Every pre-composed piece or spontaneous melodic fragment is potential fodder for a cinematic soundtrack. The real questions lie in how and why people have been compelled to combine drama with music throughout history. This essay attempts to clarify some of music’s manifold roles in cinema and the reasons behind them by using as an example composer Bernard Herrmann’s Citizen Kane soundtrack.
In order to address these issues, a brief overview of the history of music in cinema is required. The root of music in film harks back to the Greek melodrams (the precursor in both literal language and event to the melodramas of today), a cross between a play and fledgling opera in which spoken word is accompanied by music. As time passed, melodrams developed into opera, giving rise to types of performances known as number opera (those composed of a collection of closed pieces) and continuous opera (those including nonstop music), divisions that film soundtracks would later echo. Wagner’s full-fledged support of program music at this time, as opposed to the absolute music that had previously reigned supreme, resulted in his novel invention of leitmotifs (first used in his Ring cycle), or themes recurring throughout a work that were meant to evoke associations with an idea, character, or place. Wagner also put forth his idealistic notion of pairing all of the arts together in an opera – for example, music (the score), poetry (libretto), and painting (scenery) – without giving precedence to any of them. He called the finished product a total work of art, or Gesamtkunstwerk, which was seen as a revolutionary idea at the time, but did not become enormously popular.
Almost three centuries later, Eadweard Muybridge’s invention of high speed photography (moving pictures that captured motion) eventually led to the production of silent films. The first known pairing of music with film, however, did not occur until December 28, 1895, when a Parisian family, the Lumieres, gave a screening with piano accompaniment to test public reaction to their films.
The idea caught on quickly, and less than two months later entire orchestras were accompanying films in London theaters. The exact reasoning behind using music in conjunction with the silent film is the subject of much speculation. Popular opinion among music theorists holds that its purpose was manifold: to cover up the sound of a noisy projector, and later, when technology quieted the latter, to alleviate uncomfortable silence.
 Hanns Eisler even proposed that music was used to reassure the film’s viewers of life and take their mind off of their own mortality in the face of the ghostly presence silent actors onscreen might seem to represent.
 Whatever the case, music at the time was surely not intended to affect the film’s emotional import. Film music during this period was unanimously seen as secondary to the visual aspects of the film itself; thus, the compositions played ranged from light popular music to traditional classical, with no relation to the subject of the film whatsoever.
 The first rudimentary step in using music meant to evoke or enhance emotion in films came some years later (directors had finally began to realize that unrelated music detracted from the movies in which they were used) in the form of music handbooks, compendiums of musical themes meant to suit a particular action, style, scene, or mood, drawing on Wagner’s leitmotif principle. These themes were categorized by general names such as “Nature,” “Nation and Society,” and “Church and State,” as well as more specific ones, like “Happy,” “Climbing,” “Night: threatening mood,” and “Impending doom: ‘something is going to happen.'”
 Although audiences were not always aware of the exact names of these themes, the action onscreen usually gave viewers ideas to associate with them, making the music programmatic by default.
 Shortly afterward, The Jazz Singer, the first movie with talking sequences, ushered in the era of “talkies” in 1927, presenting new challenges to the film director and score composer alike.By the 1930s, producers and directors felt that there should be some logical reason for any music appearing in a film. This sometimes ruined the intended effect of the music by providing ludicrously comedic situations that destroyed the mood of the film. Max Steiner, in his book We Make the Movies, recalled that “a love scene might take place in the woods and in order to justify the music thought necessary to accompany it, a wandering violinist would be brought in for no reason at all. Or, again, a shepherd would be seen herding his sheep and playing his flute, to the accompaniment of a fifty-piece orchestra.
 Film directors had two choices during this period: to use music constantly in the background, as in the continuous operas and silent films, or not at all.
 Since scoring a film during this period necessitated a great amount of music, it was unheard of for one person to compose the entire score for a movie. Instead, people would collaborate, using common thematic material in a current popular style to hold the movie together. This practice had its roots in the pasticcio opera of the eighteenth century, which patched together pieces by different composers within one work.
 In the next 20 years, production developments enabled films to be produced at breakneck speed, necessitating speedy score composition. Sometimes there was simply not enough time to compose a unique score, so film composers began to rely on “a large number of habits, formulas, and clichés . . . [including] the brass-blasting Main Title . . . the love theme, and the glamorizing of heroines by the use of ‘beautiful’ string motifs . . . the underscoring of natural cataclysms such as earthquakes and forest fires.”
Amidst all this, Orson Welles collaborated with one of the greatest American film composers, Bernard Herrmann, to produce Citizen Kane in 1941. It was Herrmann’s first film score, and was unique in its use of specially composed music to create an ambience or reveal the psychological goings-on of the movie’s characters (an important aspect of film during this time period). Prior to Citizen Kane, the music of movies had been considered secondary to the visual aspect of the films. Now music was taking a more substantial role – working in tandem with the images and dialogue to enhance the mood and emotion of the film.
The beginning of Citizen Kane shows a gate adorned with a “No Trespassing” sign, which the camera gradually rises past to show the house of Kane’s inner dream world. The scoring here and throughout the film employs small combinations of strings and woodwinds in an attempt to avoid the lush orchestral sound then popular, an appropriate gesture for the soundtrack of such an unconventional film. The motif of Kane’s power occurs in the first two bars of the score, becomes a ragtime later in the film, then a hornpipe polka, is used satirically in ‘Oh, Mr. Kane,’ and finally has its meaning reversed to represent the best part of Kane’s nature at the end of the finale. The other repeated motif, “Rosebud,” also occurs very early in the film, presented by different groupings of flutes, bass clarinets, and bassoons in order to create a sense of dark mystery. In Citizen Kane, Herrmann would sometimes purposely use music that worked with the sound effects in the film to produce this effect. The opera rehearsal scene in which the camera slowly pans up the walls of the opera hall from Kane’s second wife beginning her singing debut to two stagehands on a parallel looking disgusted is one such example. Herrmann attempts to portray the illusion of height by increasing the reverberation of the voice while still keeping it live. Incidentally, he also makes Kane’s wife’s voice sound strained by purposely composing an aria (“Salaambo’s Aria”) in a range much too high for a normal soprano to sing.
The film’s frequent use of montage allows the score to create continuity between the images and the passing of time that would otherwise seem awkward and disjointed. In a montage scene showing Kane’s busy activities as a newspaperman, Herrmann interweaves traditional 18th century dances (gallops, polkas, hornpipes, and schottisches) into a modernized “miniature ballet suite,” as the composer puts it, that serves as a common thread between the quick flashes of Kane’s activities. In a later montage, beginning when Kane and his first wife, Emily, are eating breakfast, a theme is introduced that returns in increasingly frantic variations throughout the montage to show the detrimental effect the passing of time has on their relationship. The theme is first presented in an elegant, leisurely waltz-like motif as a young, fancily-dressed Kane and his wife exchange loving words, then fades out 56 seconds later.
It returns as a sprightly, jaunty variation for 17 seconds, backing Emily as she complains to Kane about his demanding work schedule, at which point a single muted trumpet neutrally leads into a second harried, 30-second minor variation. It begins with a woodwind chorus composed of ceaseless, disturbing minor leaps, which a muted brass ensemble answers. Here Emily is upset with Kane’s newspaper’s criticism of the president, whom she believes should be honored by virtue of his position alone, in stark contrast to Kane’s blunt statements of idiocy and corruption. The fourth segment combines the waltz, now more tentative, with a subdued version of the leaping second variation, interspersed with interplay between a bassoon motif and a flute echoing it in minor.
At this point in the film, Emily is arguing with Kane over the appropriateness of hanging an unidentified gift one of his friends has given their young son in the nursery. The music lets us know something is wrong while still retaining a disturbingly playful attitude, perhaps reinforcing Kane’s refusal to take Emily seriously. After 20 seconds, the variation dies out softly, segueing into the fifth, which immediately sets a frantic, headlong pace. Groups of low woodwinds brass imitate one another’s minor, heavily accented theme, and occasionally combine in bursts to evoke the feeling of tension between Emily and Kane as they coldly argue about what Kane prints in his newspaper. With a sinister swell of brass, this variation leads into the sixth and final segment, a return to the slow waltz of the theme, except now tinged with anxiety. Beats two and three are not the normal upbeats of a waltz but the repeated warning plucks of a harp on the same pitch with no harmony. The film shows Emily and Kane silently eating breakfast across from one another, reading rival newspapers.
Up to this point we have dealt with ways in which a film score enhances the impact and the audience’s understanding of the physical events of the film as well as the psychological perceptions of its characters, but not exactly how music has this emotional effect. Several current theories exist that attempt to explain this phenomena. It is thought that the mood a listener perceives in a piece of music “may evoke mood-congruent memories . . . through so-called ‘spread-of-activation’ in neural networks associated with emotional reactions (Bower, 1981).” In other words, when audiences assign music a particular emotional quality, it could be not only a result of the image on the screen but also of an unconscious neural process that awakens the feelings memories associated with the same mood have elicited in the past. In this case, however, the “memory” is provided by the action in the film. The tension the audience feels when Kane and Emily fight is in part spurred by their own memories of tense situations. This neural evocation gives music its unique power to move in time and exist at two different points in time at once. The music is being processed in the present as the action on the screen unfolds, but simultaneously back to points in time in the film’s structure as well as in the listener’s memory in which previous associations the same motif inspired earlier become subconsciously integrated into the listener’s experience of the film. In this way movie music retains a sort of fluid “extra dimension” that the visual aspect of film does not possess. Films are usually a series of camera angles and shots. The only manner in which a film can show simultaneous events is to break up the screen into sections, or quickly flash between different scenes. Music can use its in a sense timeless quality increase audience comprehensibility and enhance the effect of these shots by serving as “a kind of binding veneer that holds a film together,” uniting a series of different shots. Music, while interweaving continuous melodic lines or atmospheres, can effectively present two or more uninterrupted moods (associated with certain characters, places, or dialogue) at a time without compromising the integrity of the full screen or the chronological movement of the film.
Music creates tension by setting up anticipations and prolonging their resolution. The minor chords in the variations of the breakfast montage are intrinsically unsettling, aside from the fact that they occur within normally upbeat dance forms. We are disturbed when we hear minor When a piece of music like the variations of the montage “goes out of its way to violate the very expectations that it sets up, we call it ‘expressive,'” but expressive of what? What are our expectations, or anticipations, and how are they violated? This depends on the cultural framework with which the piece is associated. For example, Europeans and Americans associate the waltz with a certain formal sophistication, sentimentality, and elegance. Dances like those used in the newspaper and breakfast montage scenes in Citizen Kane are normally associated with frivolity and gaiety, so to mix major and minor dance motifs paired with images and dialogue of characters arguing heightens the contrast between sight and sound, increasing the sense of tension perceptible between Ellen and Kane. The overtones produced by minor triads do not overlap as well as those of major chords, which means that the minor echoes played by the flutes in the fourth variation of the breakfast montage violate the expectations of the Western harmonic system, adding to the scene’s sense of uneasiness. Rhythm and intonation also play a part in the emotional effect film music has on its audience. Rhythms familiar to a culture, like those of the waltz for Westerners, will make the events screen assume more familiarity in the minds of viewers, and regularity of rhythm will cause soothing, safe effects. In contrast, the sudden tempo changes of the variations in the breakfast montage jolt our perceived notions of rhythm. It has been suggested that the intonation of a piece of music, as well as its phrasing and style of attack, have similarities in some respects to human speech. Dialogue is often backed by music in films, lending words more, less, or opposing emphasis, depending on what the music seems to “say.”
In the end, the exact means by which film music triggers emotional responses in its audience is unknown. The score of a movie like Citizen Kane uses many techniques to enhance the mood and emotion associated with what is onscreen: logical emulations of reality, like the increased reverberations of a singer’s voice as it travels higher into a small space, neurological mood/memory stimulation, and innate cultural characteristics such as melody, style, rhythm, and intonation, but ultimately the exact means music employs to make us feel more strongly during a movie are uncertain. Most likely, the emotional effects the score of a film has on its audience are due to a complex intermeshing of factors, simultaneously personal, neurological, cultural, and universal. All aspects of perception in the music Hermann’s score work together, just as the pairing of music with film works to make Citizen Kane a modern version of Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk. The “why” of music’s role in cinema is able to be somewhat conclusively studied, but the “how” continues to remain elusive. When discussing how his music affects our emotions so strongly in Citizen Kane and in general, Herrmann put it best: “I know instinctively about it, but I don’t know intellectually.”
 Tony Thomas, Film Score: The Art & Craft of Movie Music (Burbank: Riverwood Press, 1991), 175.
 Roy M. Prendergast, Film Music: A Neglected Art (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992), 5.
 Ibid., 5.
Ibid., 6-7. It is interesting to note that on page 25, Prendergast observes that “[i]n those early days musicians’ professionalism left much to be desired since, in many theaters, the orchestra would play through a certain number of compositions and then simply get up and leave the film and the audience,” perhaps an unwitting example of the height of absolute music.
Robert Jourdain, Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy (New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1997), 294-5.
 Prendergast, 29.
 Ibid., 24.
 Ibid., 29
 Ibid., 38.
 Citizen Kane. dir. Orson Welles, Mercury Productions, Inc. Universal City, CA:
1941, c2001, video recording.
John Huntley and Roger Manvell, The Technique of Film Music (Britain: Focal Press Limited, 1957), 148.
Scoring Films: Bernard Herrmann. dir. David Raksin, Creative Arts Television Archive.
: 1976, c1997, video recording.
 Prendergast, 56.
 Patrik N. Juslin and John A. Sloboda, Music and Emotion: Theory and Research (New York:
Press, 2001), 95.
 Jourdain, 312.
 Juslin and Sloboda, 146.
 Jourdain, 313.
 Juslin and Sloboda, 137.
 Rita Aiello and John Sloboda, Musical Perspectives (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 42.
 Huntley and Manvell, 148.
 Thomas, 180.
**For Bibliography, see Additional Resources.