Of Gods and Monsters
Signification in Franz Waxman's film score Bride of Frankenstein
Keywords:Waxman, Bride of Frankenstein, Signification, ombra, tempesta
James Whale’s horror classic Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is iconic not just because of its enduring images and acting performances, but also because of the high quality of its film score. At a time when the cinema soundtrack was still in its infancy, and often reliant on pre-existing music, Waxman’s large-scale through-composed score underpins the action with masterly control and effect. As a classically-trained composer in the German Romantic tradition, Waxman consciously drew on a musical language long associated with the supernatural, now known as ombra. Composers of theatre and even sacred music wanting to generate feelings of awe and horror introduced discontinuous musical elements such as a slow tempo, flat minor keys, tonal uncertainty, unusual harmonies (especially chromatic chords), fragmented or wide-leaping melodic lines, insistent repeated notes, tremolando, syncopated and dotted rhythms, sudden pauses or contrasts in texture or dynamics, and dark timbres with unusual instrumentation, especially trombones. Waxman would also have been familiar with the cue books for silent film – the so-called Kinothek – which included numerous examples of music from the same tradition suitable for accompanying scenes of awe and terror. Another aspect of Waxman’s score is his systematic use of reminiscence motifs for different characters and ideas, a practice most commonly associated with Wagner’s leitmotif, but in fact deriving from much earlier in the nineteenth century. The combination of these techniques strongly contributed to the success of Waxman’s score, and provided a template for composers of horror movie music in subsequent generations.
Adorno, Theodor & Hanns Eisler. 1947. Composing for the films. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bomberger, E. Douglas. 1998 . The Neues Schauspielhaus in Berlin and the premiere of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz. In Opera in context ed. Mark A. Radice, 147-169. Portland: Amadeus Press.
Bush, Richard H. 1989. The music of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. In Film Music I, ed. Clifford McCarty, 143-165. New York: Garland.
Burke, Edmund. 1757. A philosophical enquiry into the origins of our ideas of the sublime and the beautiful. London: J. Dodsley.
Comisso, Irene. 2012. Theory and practice in Erdmann/Becce/Brav’s Allgemeines Handbuch der Film-Musik (1927). Journal of Film Music. 5, Nos. 1–2, 93-100.
Darby, William and Jack du Bois. 1990. American film music: Major composers, techniques, trends 1915–1990. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Donnelly, Kevin J. 2005. The spectre of sound: Music in film and television. London: BFI Publishing.
Erdmann, Hans, Giuseppe Becce and Ludwig Brav. 1927. Allgemeines Handbuch der Film-Musik. Berlin/Leipzig: Schlesinger/Lienau.
Franklin, Peter. 2011. Seeing through music: Gender and modernism in classic Hollywood film scores. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https:/doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195383454.001.0001
Halfyard, Janet K. 2010. Mischief afoot: Supernatural horror-comedies and the Diabolus in musica. In Music in the horror film: Listening to fear, ed. Neil Lerner, 21-37. New York: Routledge.
Hayward, Philip, ed. 2009. Terror tracks: Music, sound and horror cinema. London: Equinox.
Huron, David. 2006. Sweet anticipation: Music and the psychology of expectation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lerner, Neil, ed. 2010. Music in the horror film: Listening to fear. New York: Routledge.
Long, Michael. 2008. Beautiful monsters: Imagining the classic in musical media. Berkeley: University of California Press.
McClelland, Clive. 2012. Ombra: Supernatural music in the eighteenth century. Lanham: Lexington Books.
———. 2014. Ombra and tempesta. In The Oxford handbook of topic theory, ed. Danuta Mirka, 279-300. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Meyer, Stephen C. 2012. Leitmotif: On the application of a word to film music. Journal of Film Music, 5, Nos. 1–2, 101-108.
Mirka, Danuta, ed. 2014. The Oxford handbook of topic theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Neumeyer, David and Nathan Platte. 2012. Franz Waxman’s “Rebecca”: A film score guide. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.
Newcomb, Anthony. 1995. New light(s) on Weber’s Wolf’s Glen Scene. In Opera and the Enlightenment, ed. Thomas Bauman and Marita P. McClymonds, 61-88. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Plebuch, Tobias. 2012. Mysteriosos demystified: Topical strategies within and beyond the silent cinema. Journal of Film Music, 5, Nos. 1–2, 77-92.
Rapée, Ernö. 1924. Motion picture moods for pianists and organists. New York: Schirmer.
Ratner, Leonard G. 1980. Classic music: Expression, form and style. New York: Schirmer.
Rosar, William H. 1983. Music for the monsters: Universal Pictures’ horror film scores of the thirties. Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, Fall, 390-421.
Rosar, William H. 2010. The penumbra of Wagner’s Ombra in two science fiction films from 1951: The Thing from Another World and The Day the Earth Stood Still. In Wagner & Cinema, ed. Jeongwon Joe & Sander L. Gilman, 152-164. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
———. 2012. Knowledge organization in film music and its theatrical origins: Recapitulation and coda. Journal of Film Music, 5, Nos. 1–2, 207-212.
Segal, Rachel. 2010. Franz Waxman: The composer as auteur in golden era Hollywood. PhD diss., U. of Newcastle.
Street, Donald. 1976. The modes of limited transposition. The Musical Times, 117, No. 1604 (October), 819-823. https:/doi.org/10.2307/960176
Wierzbicki, James. 2001. Wedding bells for The Bride of Frankenstein: Symbols and signifiers in the music for a classic horror film. Film & Philosophy, 103-116.
How to Cite
© Equinox Publishing Ltd.
For information regarding our Open Access policy, click here.