Mus 67: Film Music










Harvey Mudd College, Fall 2020

Professor Bill Alves
Fridays 12:45-3:45
online via Zoom

Textbook: Reel Music: Exploring 100 Years of Film Music, second edition, by Roger Hickman

This course is an exploration of the history and aesthetics of the use of music in cinema, primarily the Hollywood film from the so-called silent era to the present. (We will not cover musicals, documentaries, or short films.) The course will include the development of skills of listening analysis and writing about music in the context of narrative film. There are no prerequisities; no background in music or media studies is required.

Course Assignments


Film spotting25%
Presentation responses5%

A completed paper must be submitted in order to pass the class. There is no final exam. Unexcused absences can also affect your grade (see below).

Lectures and in-class meetings: Instead of live lecture presentations, some information will be shown in the form of pre-recorded videos streamed from Google Drive. These presentations will be viewed either during our class meeting time or as homework before each class meeting. Therefore, except for the first class, class meetings over Zoom will usually be shorter than the 12:45 to 3:45 time slot given in the schedule of classes. We will use this freed-up time to watch video presentation and prepare for the next assignments..

Online requirements and etiquette: Because this is a seminar, your participation is valued and crucial for everyone's learning. Because of new circumstances, we have to learn a somewhat different mode of interacting through remote conferencing software. For everyone's best experience, please do your best to follow these guidelines:

I will not be allowing recording of class sessions in Zoom because everyone should feel free to speak openly and to make mistakes. However, this policy is not a license to speak thoughtlessly or disrespectfully. Everyone who is registered for this course belongs here and has valuable contributions to make to our class. Our diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints will enrich the classroom, and our mutual respect will grant us all the grace to make mistakes and learn from them.

Assignments: Assignments will include some video lectures and responses, reading and listening responses, and online quizzes. Readings will come both from the textbook and articles on Sakai, and listening lists will be online at the Claremont Libraries website. These assignments are due the Wednesday before the corresponding Thursday film viewing. Because a whole week's homework is due at once, I encourage you to work on the assignments in advance of the due date and not leave all components until the night they are due.

Film spotting: Because of extra needs for class safety during this semester, we will not have our usual in-person class screenings of films. Instead, I will provide files to be streamed from a Google Drive and viewed at your convenience ("asynchronously"). Please don't download or share these files. As you watch this film, you will write down the time and content of music cues, a process we call spotting. We will discuss the film at the following class. I regret this necessity because of the loss of the experience of viewing and listening to a film with an audience and a large screen in a darkened space. You can recoup some of the advantages of this lost experience by giving the film your whole attention as you watch (don't multitask), by watching on as large a screen as possible, and by darkening the room in which you watch it. Popcorn is optional.

Paper: You will write a 1500-word interpretive analysis on the score for a single feature-length film (not a musical). Your grade will depend in part on the submission of a film selection, spotting sheet, outline, and bibliography.

Presentation: You will present to the class a video interpretative analysis of a single scene or topic from the film that you have written your paper on. These video presentations will be evaluated in part by peers and should not exceed 15 minutes.

Participation: Because of the seminar format of this course, your attendance and participation in class discussions is vital to the success of everyone's experience. Your conscientious participation in the peer evaluation process is also very important. Therefore, each unexcused absence beyond the first will result in one letter grade deduction from your final grade in the class. Examples of reasons for excused absences include illness (with note from student health), family death, and religious holidays.

Accommodations: Harvey Mudd College strives to make all learning experiences as accessible as possible. If the unusual circumstances of this semester present problems for your learning or completion of assignments, please contact me or the Office of Academic Affairs. If you need accommodations for a documented disability, please talk to me or contact the Disability Resource Center ( You will find information about disability resources on the college website:

Course outline

These dates may be revised depending on class progress.

WeekAssignments dueFilm spottingClass meeting
1Fri. Aug. 28 12:45 p.m.
Early history and aesthetics of film music

Lecture videos 1, 2
In-class assignment 1
2Wed. Sep. 2 11:59 p.m.
Hickman chapters 1, 2, 9, pp. 170-175
Lecture video 3
Assignments 2, 3, and 4
Thu. Sep. 3 11:59 p.m.
Max Steiner: Casablanca (1942)
Upload your spotting form to the Sakai dropbox
Fri. Sep. 4 12:45 p.m.
The Romantic Legacy; the practice of film scoring
Lecture video 4
In-class assignment 5
3Wed. Sep. 9 11:59 p.m.
Hickman chapters 3, 4, 11
Lecture video 5
Assignments 6, 7 due
Film choice form due
Thu. Sep. 10 11:59 p.m.
Aaron Copland: Of Mice and Men (1939)
Fri. Sep. 11 12:45 p.m.
Modernism in early sound films
Lecture video 6
In-class assignment 8
4Wed. Sep. 16 11:59 p.m.
Hickman chapters 13, 14, 15
Assignment 9 due
Thu. Sep. 17 11:59 p.m.
Alex North: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Fri. Sep. 18 12:45 p.m.
The 1940s and 50s and the Decline of the Studio System

Lecture video 7
In-class assignment 10
5Wed. Sep. 23 11:59 p.m.
Hickman chapters 17, 18
Assignment 11 due
Paper bibliography due
Sep. 24 11:59 p.m.
Bernard Herrmann: Psycho (1960)
Fri. Sep. 25 12:45 p.m.
Bernard Herrmann

Lecture video 8
In-class assignment 12
6Wed. Sep. 30 11:59 p.m.
Assignment 13 due
Paper spotting sheet, outline due

Hickman chapter 20
Oct. 1 11:59 p.m.
Ennio Morricone: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
Fri. Oct. 2 12:45 p.m.
The Western film score

Lecture video 9
In-class assignment 14
7Wed. Oct. 7 11:59 p.m.
Assignment 15 due
Hickman chapter 19
Oct. 8 11:59 p.m.
Jerry Goldsmith: Alien (1979)
Fri. Oct. 9 12:45 p.m.
Modernism in the 1960s and 70s
Lecture video 10

In-class assignment 16
8Wed. Oct. 14 11:59 p.m.
Paper due
Hickman chapter 21
Thur. Oct. 15 11:59 p.m.
John Williams: ET: The Extraterrestrial (1982)
Fri. Oct. 16 12:45 p.m.
John Williams and the return of Romanticism

Lecture video 11
In-class assignment 17
9Wed. Oct. 21 11:59 p.m.
Hickman chapter 29
Thur. Oct. 22 11:59 p.m.
Philip Glass: The Illusionist (2006)
Fri. Oct. 23 12:45 p.m.
The influence of Minimalism

In-class assignment 18
10Wed. Oct. 28 11:59 p.m.
Upload presentation
Thu. Oct. 29 11:59 p.m.
Tan Dun: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Fri. Oct. 30 12:45 p.m.
Modern Films

In-class assignment 19
11Thu. Nov. 5 11:59 p.m.
View presentations
Fri. Nov. 6 12:45 p.m.
Presentation responses
12Thu. Nov. 12 11:59 p.m.
View presentations
Fri. Nov. 13 12:45 p.m.
Presentation responses
Sat. Nov. 14 12:45 p.m.
View presentations
(If needed)
Presentation responses
13Thu. Nov. 19 11:59 p.m.
(If needed) View presentations
Fri. Nov. 20 12:45 p.m.
Guest Speaker

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Updated on August 5, 2020 by Bill Alves.