Assignment 1

Two of the points for this Assignment “The short critical commentary on music in film that you produced in Project Two” and Your notes from Project Four on your chosen contemporary composer and his music” can also be found under Projects, but are also copied below:

  1. Commentary on film

For this exercise I had to have a closer look into a film score and how the music is used within a film. As I am personally very interested in film music, I found it difficult to decide on just one film. I will add some further film scores under Additional work, which I’ll come back to over the progress of this course to make some further entries.

For the main exercise I chose to analyse the music of “The Imitation Game”, written by Alexandre Desplat. This film has several breath-taking motifs, which mostly orientate on the melody and chord progression of the main theme.

The main theme is also the main character’s Leitmotif. It starts with a motif on the piano, which creates a broken-chord harmony. Even when the underlying chords are changing to match the melody, the piano chord stays the same throughout. Thus, a clash of harmonies is created, which reflect the difficulties Alan Turing (the main character) has to harmonise with the world around him. Interestingly, towards the centre of the film, when Turing makes progress with his machine and has a few friends to talk to, the theme can be heard without the piano chords, indicating that he’s now feeling more comfortable. As he faces struggles again at the end, the theme can be heard fully again.

Even though the title music can be heard in different versions throughout, it’s not the very first theme of the film. In the first scene one can see two policemen investigating about Alan Turing, the motif is slightly mysterious, but also has the broken – chord harmony from the title music. This theme is always connected to the police. One further leitmotif is the one of Turing’s first love, which always comes up, during a flashback or when Turing thinks about him, the melody is played by the piano only and is structurally similar to the main motif.

Overall, only little incidental music is used throughout the film. Most of the music was in the foreground. There were only to examples of diegetic music, which were two songs heard from a gramophone.

What I found especially interesting about the used themes is, that almost all of them had a rapidly played, mostly high-pitched broken-chord harmony, similar to the main theme. This creates an image of turning gear wheels, working in Turing’s head as well as in the machine he builds.

2. Notes on a contemporary composer and his music

Exercise: Exploring contemporary classical composition

For this exercise I decided to do some research about the Italian composer Luciano Berio, as his music is high in variety and I’ve seen his name several times over the progress of this course unit.

Beiro was born in 1925, in Oneglia, Italy and died in Rome, in 2003. He is still seen as one of the most important Italian composers of this generation. He was highly influenced by his father Ernesto and grandfather Adolfo Beiro, which were both leading figures in the musical life of the town. A further important influence was his friend Bruno Maderna, who taught him about classical harmonic rules as well as electronic music. In 1955 Beiro and Maderna founded the studio “di Fonologia Musicale”, where Beiro composed “Mutazioni”, “Perspectives” and “Differences”. 11, 12

He initially wanted to become a pianist, but injured his hand during the war, which interestingly didn’t affect his music as much as other composers. He studied composition at the Conservatory in Milan and was active as a student and a teacher. He taught composition in several schools and universities all over the globe. The American minimalists Steve Reich and Terry Riley were among others under Berio’s students.  12, 13, 14

Berios work is characterised by his passion of the theatrical and his engagement with music of the past as well as the present. Interestingly, the majority of Berio’s compositions reflect his fascination with the human voice, which was even more intensified during his marriage to the American singer and actress Cathy Berberian between 1950 and 1966. After divorcing his second wife in the 70s, he worked primarily in Italy, and established his own electronic studio “Tempo Reale” in Florence in 1980.1,2,4,

After 2000 Berio worked as president of te National Academy of St. Cecilia. He was furthermore often invited to conduct pieces for the Los Angeles Philarmonic and was working on an orchestration for an opera from Monteverdi.13, 15

As already mentioned, he used a high variety of musical styles, moving from Baroque vocal styles to modern techniques of serialism and the use of electronics and computer technology. His most well-known piece is probably “Sinfonia”, which is a perfect example of a multifaceted composition, a fascinating collection of quotation from Samuel Beckett to Gustav Mahler. Beiro furthermore directly reworked music by Brahms and Schubert. In addition to the already mentioned “Sinfonia” some of his greatest works are Epifanie; Circles, and Coro, which are all mentioned in my listening log. 11, 13 14, 15

Having had a brief look over his works, I had the impression, that he often adapted and transformed the music of others, and sometimes even rewrote his own music. Overall I found it fascinating how he explored new musical styles, especially by using human voices in such a unique way, that they would form completely new sound. Furthermore, Berios had a tendency to serialism and applied most of its rules especially on his early pieces, but also always managed it well to balance between a mathematical and a harmonic structure. His music seems to go beyond all traditional borders; between sound and noise, spoken and sung words as well as electronic and acoustic sounds.14

11 Thompson, W. (2001). The Great Composers- An illustrated guide to the lives, key works and influences of over 100 renowned composers. London: Joanna Lorenz, p. 247

12 Durfourcq, N; Hindley, G; Green, B; Helm, E; Paine,D; Smalley, and Walsh, S. (1983) The Larousse encyclopedia of music. p. 105

13 Giomi, F. (2003). In memoriam: Luciano Berio: a testimony. Organised Sound. [online]. Vol. 8. (Iss.2.) pp. 231 – 232. Available at: [Accessed: 26.05.2020]

14 Osmond – Smith, D. (2012). Two Fragments of “The Music of Luciano Berio”. Twentieth Century Music. [online] Vol. 9. (Iss. 1 – 2), pp. 39 – 62. Available at: [Accessed: 26.05.2020]

15 Brennan, C. (2004). Luciano Berio. Newsmakers 2004 Cumulation. [online] edited by Laura Avery, vol. 4, Gale, 2004, pp. 516-517. Gale eBooks. Available at: [Accessed: 26.05.2020]

3. Reflection on Course Unit 1

As this is my first course to study with the OCA I was surprised about the amount and range of pieces I had to listen to for this course unit. I often find it difficult to know how much detail I should put into a reflective commentary about one piece, but the more pieces I wrote down, the easier it became to capture it all in one paragraph. Furthermore, I had a great insight in different types of musical genres of the 20th and 21st century, which also gave me some great ideas for structuring my own music.

Even though I still wouldn’t listen to it in my free time, over the progress of this course I started to enjoy listening to atonal music. I normally prefer harmonic pieces, where one can find a structure just by listening to it. Nevertheless, with the amount of pieces I’ve listened to, my interest for them, how they are structured and to find out what the composer’s intention was, increased as well.

As I am really interested in film music, I especially enjoyed the exercise in Project 2, where I had to create a short analysis of the music in a film of my choice. Having chosen more than one film, I found out in how many different ways one strong theme can be used and developed throughout a whole film.

The week in which I had to write down every piece of music I hear was especially difficult. Initially I didn’t know whether I should listen to any music at all, as I wasn’t sure whether I would normally listen to it. Furthermore, constantly keeping a notebook with me and trying to write everything down involved took up a lot of time and I often had to set myself reminders to stay aware of the music surrounding me. Nevertheless, this exercise was particularly interesting, as I had no idea about the huge amount of music that surrounds our lives without us noticing it.

For some exercises, for example the film music or the research about the contemporary composer, I would have liked to write more than the recommended work count. Especially whilst doing some research about Luciano Berio, I found a huge amount of resources to cite from and was slightly unsure on what details to include during writing the text. For the film music, I would have liked to include a few more examples to explain in which other ways the themes were used and how exactly they affected the scenes of the film.

As English isn’t my first langue I am aware that there is still plenty of room for improvement on my academic writing style, which I’m constantly working on. Overall I think that I still need to work on finding out what is important in a reflective comment, such as knowing what to listen for in the listening log entries as well as finding out the most important points within a research point.