Mus 179: Film Music










Harvey Mudd College, Spring 2011

Professor Bill Alves
Fridays 1:15-4:00
Galileo McAlister Auditorium

Textbook: Reel Music: Exploring 100 Years of Film Music by Roger Hickman

This course is an exploration of the history and aesthetics of the use of music in cinema, primarily the Hollywood film from the so-called silent era to the present. (We will not cover musicals, documentaries, or short films.) The course will include the development of skills of listening analysis and writing about music in the context of narrative film. There are no prerequisities; no background in music or film history is required.

Course Assignments


In-class spotting30%

Assignments: There will be several short assignments that will include reading and listening responses and online quizzes. Readings will come both from the textbook and articles on Sakai, and listening lists will be online at the Claremont Libraries website.

In-class spotting: About half of each class session will be devoted to a film screening. During this screening you will note the time and content of music cues, a process known as spotting. If you are absent on the day of a film screening, you can make up the spotting assignment only if the absence was excused.

Paper: You will create a spotting sheet and write a 1500-word interpretive analysis on the score for a single feature-length film (not a musical). Your grade will depend in part on the submission of a film selection, spotting sheet and outline, bibliography, and revision.

Presentation: You will present to the class an interpretative analysis of a single scene from the film that you have written your paper on. These presentations will be evaluated in part by peers. The time you spend speaking during the presentation may not exceed 10 minutes.


Because of the seminar format of this course, your attendance and participation in class discussions is vital to the success of everyone's experience. Your conscientious participation in the peer evaluation process is also very important. Therefore, each unexcused absence beyond the first will result in one letter grade deduction from your final grade in the class. Examples of reasons for excused absences include illness (with note from student health), family death, and religious holidays. Examples of unexcused absences include clinic trips, travel for sports, visits to grad schools, and airline travel for spring break.

Course outline

These dates may be revised depending on class progress.

DateTopicsIn-class filmAssignments due
Jan. 21Aesthetics of film music, Music and the Silent FilmJohn Williams: Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone
Jan. 28Leitmotifs and the Romantic LegacyMax Steiner: CasablancaAssignment 1 due
Feb. 4Modernism in early sound filmsAaron Copland: Of Mice and MenAssignment 2 due
Film choice form submitted
Feb. 11The 1940s and 50s and the Decline of the Studio SystemDavid Raksin: LauraAssignment 3 due
Feb. 18Bernard HerrmannBernard Herrmann: PsychoAssignment 4 due
Paper bibliography due
Feb. 25The Western from the 1930s to the 1960sEnnio Morricone: The Good, the Bad, and the UglyAssignment 5 due
Paper spotting sheet, outline due
Mar. 4No classAssignment 6 due
Mar. 11Modernism in the 1960s and 70sJerry Goldsmith: The OmenPaper due
Mar. 18Spring break
Mar. 25Caesar Chavez Day
Apr. 1John Williams and the return of Romanticism
John Williams: ET: The Extraterrestrial
Apr. 8Guest Speaker
Apr. 15PresentationsJohn Corigliano: The Red Violin
Apr. 22The influence of Minimalism
Philip Glass: The IllusionistPaper revision
Apr. 29Presentations

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Updated on December 27, 2010 by Bill Alves (alves