Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Music — Alan Zilberman on How Film Scores Tell the Story

posted by Nell Minow has a fascinatng piece by Alan Zilberman about movie scores and the way certain notes, chords, pauses, and instruments affect our feelings and help the film tell the story. He aske Nicholas Britell of “12 Years a Slave” (soon to be interviewed here) for an example.

He thought for a moment and suggested François Couperin’s “Les Barricades Mysterieuses,” a baroque piece for the solo piano Terrence Malick used in “The Tree of Life.” According to Britell, the key to the piece’s power is the dissonance.

“Throughout the piece, there are certain times where the lines continue a little longer (i.e. “suspensions”). The harmony changes yet they’re still holding an old harmony and then they quickly resolve. This process is something I always find very beautiful. It’s the main technique of a lot of music, where something overstays its welcome by a millisecond then resolves.”


Listen again and it’s easy to hear what Britell is talking about: as one melody continues, the notes from another evaporate as if the music is breathing. It’s easy to see why Malick used “Les Barricades Mysterieuses” in “The Tree of Life.”

The post has links to the music he discusses and to a Spotify playlist. Be sure to check it out.

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