Dissertation Index

Author: Lehman, Frank M

Title: Reading Tonality Through Film: Transformational Hermeneutics and the Music of Hollywood

Institution: Harvard University

Begun: January 2009

Completed: May 2012


Film musicology is growing at a heartening pace, but the discipline is still bereft of sustained contributions from music theory. The current study seizes the opportunity presented by the under-analyzed repertoire of film music, offering an argument for applying the techniques of transformational analysis, and neo-Riemannian analysis in particular, to the interpretation of music for the moving image. Film musical style and form respond strongly to a transformational approach, which adapts well to both the triadic chromaticism characteristic of Hollywood’s harmonic practice and the dynamic and contingent condition of musical design inherent to the medium. Concurrently, the analytic tools and conceptual structure of neo-Riemannian theory benefit from exposure to a fresh repertoire with different analytic needs than those of art music.

In this dissertation, the author scrutinizes the capacity for tonality to act as a unifying and dramatically potent force in film. With parameters of effective cinematic tonal design established, the adapted transformational methodology responds faithfully to the expressive and temporal qualities of the soundtrack. The author develops a model for harmonic associativity and a general hermeneutics of transformation, extrapolated from analyses of scores from John Williams, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, and many others. The power of the transformational approach to capture tonal phenomena through spatial representations is marshaled to perform critical readings of scores for A Beautiful Mind and Star Trek. Not only can the neo-Riemannian stance illuminate the way film music works, but it can train the listener and analyst to perceive and enjoy film with more sensitive ears.

Keywords: film music, transformation theory, transformation, neo-Riemannian, film, hermeneutics, tonality, John Williams, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith


Preface: "Of Soundtracks and Sparrows"

Chapter 1: The Elements of Hollywood Tonal Style
I. John Williams and the “Hollywood Sound”
II. Late Romanticism and (New) Hollywood Musical Practice
III. Tonal Idiom
IV. Pitch Resources
V. Voice Leading and Contour
VI. Triadic Chromaticism
VII. Tonality
VIII. Transformational Methodology
IX. Figural Transformational Analysis
X. Formal Transformational Analysis

Chapter 2: Approaches to Film Tonality
I. Harmonic Reason and Purpose
II. The Big Picture: Film-Spanning Structure and Design
III. Extended Techniques: Multiple Tonics
IV. Extended Techniques: Associative Tonality
V. The Trouble with Tonality
VI. Evaluation

Chapter 3: Expressive Tonality and Transformational Associativity
I. Expressive Tonality Revisited
II. “A Field Guide to the Harmonic Progressions of Hollywood”
III. Distant Tritones
IV. Devious Tarnhelms
V. Loose Signification and Intratextual Imprints

Chapter 4: Transformational Hermeneutics — Space, Temporality, Continuity
I. Arts of Interpretation
II. Transformational Decision Points
1. Operation Attribution
2. Network Spatio-Temporal Design
3. Harmonic Hierarchy
4. Transformational Continuity
III. Thematic Transformation in James Newton Howard
1. King Kong
2. The Sixth Sense
IV. Space and Perspective in Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings
1. “Aniron”
2. “Argonath”
V. Continuity and Change in Danny Elfman’s Spiderman
1. “Main Title”
2. “Costume Montage”

Chapter 5: Patterns and Paranoia in A Beautiful Mind
I. Apophenia and Pattern Madness
II. James Horner and the Music of Genius
III. The LRS Group and Horner Space
IV. Idea and Epiphany
V. A Kaleidoscope of Transformations
VI. Tonal Labors Lost
VII. Tonal Labors Won
VIII. An Appetite for Patterns

Chapter 6: Sublime Sequences and Spaces in Star Trek
I. Sci-Fi Sublimity
II. Star Trek Chromaticism
III. The Motion Picture: Tonal Language and Transformations
IV. Introductory Triptych
1. Hexatonicism and Cyclical Embedding in “Ilia’s Theme”
2. Tonal Prolongation and Deflection in “Main Title”
3. Meta-Idiomatic Design in “Klingon Battle”
V. Strange Proceedings in “The Cloud”
VI. V’Ger Revealed
VII. The Belly of the Behemoth
VIII. Unframed Symmetries



Frank Lehman
85 Hancock Street, Apartment 9
Cambridge, MA 02139


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