The Idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk in the History and Theory of Film Music

839 Words4 Pages
SCOTT D. PAULIN

The Idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk in the History and Theory of Film Music

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From early prescriptive writings on film-music practice to recent theoretical considerations of the status of music in cinema, the name of Richard Wagner has recurred with a regularity approaching inevitability. His sheer persistence as a figure in the literature has had a tendency to naturalize his position in the genealogy of cinema, making it difficult to assess the true nature and extent of his influence. Wagner is cited as a model (or the model) for film-music composers and performers to follow, and concepts such as the Gesamtkunstwerk, unendliche Melodie, and the Leitmotiv circulate widely, frequently detached from Wagner’s name
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From early prescriptive writings on film-music practice to recent theoretical considerations of the status of music in cinema, the name of Richard Wagner has recurred with a regularity approaching inevitability. His sheer persistence as a figure in the literature has had a tendency to naturalize his position in the genealogy of cinema, making it difficult to assess the true nature and extent of his influence. Wagner is cited as a model (or the model) for film-music composers and performers to follow, and concepts such as the Gesamtkunstwerk, unendliche Melodie, and the Leitmotiv circulate widely, frequently detached from Wagner’s name and from his own theoretical treatment of them. Occasionally his influence is decried; more commonly, however, film music practitioners have received criticism for not being Wagnerian enough. In short, Wagner’s relevance is taken for granted, but the paths through which his influence was passed down to film are unclear and disparate: Secondary and popular writings? “Common knowledge” about his practices? Live experience of the music dramas? Study of his scores? Close reading of his theoretical writings? In most cases, the rather vague nature of the Wagnerist texts suggests that less rigorous routes were probably most prevalent. A critical step back is necessary to determine the meaning of this particular

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