Journal Article

Transformational Analysis and the Representation of Genius in Film Music

Frank Lehman

in Music Theory Spectrum

Published on behalf of Society for Music Theory

Volume 35, issue 1, pages 1-22
Published in print April 2013 | ISSN: 0195-6167
Published online April 2013 | e-ISSN: 1533-8339 | DOI:
Transformational Analysis and the Representation of Genius in Film Music

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Neo-Riemannian theory offers an auspicious toolkit for analyzing film music—a repertoire in which dramatic exigency takes precedence over functional tonal logic. The ability of neo-Riemannian theory to model harmonic progressions as dynamic and contextually determined, particularly with association-laden chromatic motions, suits it eminently to Hollywood scoring practice. This transformational approach is tested on James Horner’s music for the film. A Beautiful Mind. In this score, Horner illustrates the mental life of the mathematician John Nash with wildly chromatic but firmly triadic music. A group generated by the operators L, R, and S provides the transformational fount for a “Genius complex” that represents intense intellection. Three cues from A Beautiful Mind are analyzed. Collectively, their tonal spaces reveal a distinctly transformational contribution to narrative and characterization. These readings further evince a tension between the logical teleology of sequential patterning with the radically contingent, even game-like quality of Horner’s triadic manipulations.

Keywords: film music; transformation theory; neo-Riemannian analysis; network; James Horner; A Beautiful Mind; narrative; tonal space; breakthrough

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