Movies have climaxes. Movies have emotions heightened by music. Therefore film music has climaxes, too. And film and music aren’t the only things that have climaxes, either. Let’s not beat around the bush and call things by their names. Film music can be orgasmic.
Whether we’re musically erudite or just casual listeners, we know that music follows a progression of chords and scales. After hearing a given set of notes and rhythms, the ear naturally expects a very specific resolution. This is the very nature of tonal music. However, great music comes from finding ways of offering alternatives to the expected.
Bernard Herrmann was the master of not giving that resolution at all, giving birth to a very efficient feeling of non-resolution, and thus becoming the meanest teaser in film history. But orgasmic music isn’t about cheating the ear from that resolution. It’s about building up to it, delaying it, increasing expectations for it, and finally delivering it with a bang.
Those moments are rare. But they are James Horner’s specialty. A perfect example is in his score for Searching for Bobby Fischer. At 0:51 of the track Josh and Vinnie, there begins a whirling melody that constantly cheats us of its natural progression, increases in speed, layers on the orchestration, until it finally climaxes at 2:22.
Of course action music lends itself particularly well to this principle. An example is at 5:20 of Tir Asleen in Horner’s Willow, reaching its explosive (and lengthy) conclusion at 5:53. Another goes from 4:05 to 4:33 of the track The Zeppelin of his score for The Rocketeer.
A classic scene of literature received such a treatment in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame with Alan Menken’s masterful score. The track Sanctuary has the distinction of constantly building up climax after climax as the chorus repeats “Gloria”, reaching yet new heights when you think it can’t possibly achieve any more, until it finally explodes at 3:11.
But two orgasmic moments in film music dominate in their popularity. First is John Williams’ classic explosion of the Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope during the Battle of Yavin from 8:07 to 8:27. The other was featured in so many movie trailers that most people think of it as “that preview music” rather than the score it was originally composed for. It is James Horner’s legendary Bishop’s Countdown from Aliens.
Anyone feel like a smoke?