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Film Music as a Problem in German Print Journalism (1907–1930)

FWF-Einzelprojekt P 28792
Projektlaufzeit: 2016–2019

Projektleiter: Dr. Francesco Finocchiaro
Mitarbeiterin: Henriette Engelke, MA


The journalistic discourse on film music in the years 1907–1930 forms the core of this research project. It represents historical evidence of a debate which deals with aesthetic, theoretical, and compositional issues of music in cinema. Prominent composers, musicologists, film theorists, and philosophers contributed to a vast discussion on the problematic identity of film music, which was addressed in parallel in German-language film periodicals as well as in musicological journals.

The research project will provide an aesthetic investigation of the problem of film music during the silent era in light of contemporary film music criticism. This source-based “historical aesthetics” of silent film music has clearly defined purposes, such as: a) charting the historical transformation of the debate on film music from the era of the so-called ‘compilation’ technique to the establishment of recorded sound; b) reconstructing the various editorial politics regarding the journalistic debate and its publishing institutions; c) outlining the wide spread of ideas and categories frequently derived from other areas of knowledge and clarifying the circumstances of their use in the field of film music; d) shedding light upon the influence of musical categories on film aesthetics.

The research team will examine a representative selection of articles, essays and reviews published in a select set of German-language music and cinema periodicals from around 1907 to the early 1930s. Scrutinizing the journals and examining their respective contributions will lead to a corpus of sources that will be incorporated into a web-based research infrastructure. The collection of critical sources in an open access repository will constitute the first step towards a comprehensive scholarly exploration of these documents from an aesthetic point of view. The investigation of the problem of film music in the silent era will lead to a monographic treatise, for which the digital research infrastructure will constitute the documentary section of this aesthetic investigation.

Film music criticism will thus provide the foundation for a new approach to the aesthetics and history of film music in the silent period. Our investigation of film music criticism will restore an indispensable historical dimension of the aesthetic horizon. This cultural-historically informed approach will provide a reassessment of the aesthetics of film music through the lens of historical sources that have thus far remained at the margins of musicological studies. The innovative potential of journalistic discourse as both an aesthetic and historical source is enormous. It represents an intense circulation of ideas and issues that were central to the broader historical debate about the nature of cinema. Furthermore, film music criticism can be considered an intrinsically aesthetic discourse insofar as it conveys in a journalistic format valuable eye- and ear-witness accounts of cinematic music, much of which is, for a variety of reasons, lost.

Projektbeschreibung auf Deutsch

Institut für Musikwissenschaft
Universität Wien
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