David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Twelve-tone Film Scores

Here are three that Wikipedia lists and a fourth I dug up. There must be many others that use serialism at least partly, but I don’t know them offhand. Anyone want to chime in?

Benjamin Frankel: The Prisoner (1955)

Ernest Gold: On the Beach (1959)

Benjamin Frankel: Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

David Shire: Taking of Pelham 1-2-3

Update: Not 12-tone, but since Morricone came up in the comments, this is one of my favorites of his, featuring Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza:


  1. Patrick Murtha

    10 March 2009 at 07:32

    Not being technically trained in music, I can’t say if the scores I’ll mention are serial/twelve tone, but they are unquestionably modernist. That’s an interesting subject in itself, modernist film scores. (Kubrick, of course, used pre-existing works by modernist composers in 2001 and The Shining, but specially composed modernist scores are even more interesting.)

    Check out Roberto Gerhard’s striking score for This Sporting Life (1963) — Gerhard unquestionably used twelve tone technique in many of his concert works.

    Ennio Morricone’s score for Fists in the Pocket (1965) is unlike any other Morricone I’ve heard.

    Piero Piccioni’s score for Francesco Rosi’s Hand Over the City (1963) is so startling as to be an independent player in the drama, as Jon Brion’s amazing score for Punch-Drunk Love (2002) was, many years later.

  2. If you want quintessential modernism in film, take Giovanni Fusco’s score for Michelagenlo Antonioni’s “L’Eclisse.” Antonioni was a modernist filmmaker and the score to this film is quite dissonant. When asked in an interview what musical piece Fusco felt most resembled Antonioni’s films, he said Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire.” We have traces of such in the elliptical ending:

    In the introduction, listen as the Italian pop song is abruptly invaded by the doom and gloom of Pusco’s harrowing modernist score:

    Although, Waggish, having read your excellent Béla Tarr writings, I am aware you are not a big fan of Antonioni.

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