Dissertation Index

Author: Motazedian, Tahirih

Title: To Key or Not to Key: Tonal Design in Film Music

Institution: Yale University

Begun: August 2011

Completed: December 2016


Scholars have long been dismissive of the viability of long-range tonal organization in film music. Controversy over questions of authorial intent, aural perception and tonal memory, and the ability of a sound track to function as a cohesive “work” have led scholars to steer clear of (or reject) the concept of tonal design in film. To date, filmic tonal design has been explored by only a few scholars in the context of a few films. Having analyzed over sixty films, my work addresses this lacuna, and establishes a systematic methodology for tonally analyzing film sound tracks. My analyses reveal overarching tonal organization and elaborate networks of harmonic relationships, in which specific keys serve explicit functions within the filmic narrative and structure. In addition to overturning prevalent assumptions about the feasibility of large-scale tonality in film, my findings foster a fascinating new level of engagement between a film’s music and narrative, and challenge the sedimented notion that key is an irrelevant parameter in the study of film music.

The following films will be analyzed: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), The English Patient (1996), Breaking and Entering (2006), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Persuasion (1995), Emma (1996), and Amadeus (1984).

Keywords: music theory, film music, tonality, tonal design, Anthony Minghella, Wes Anderson


Chapter 1 - The Debate Over Tonal Design
Chapter 2 - Methodology
Chapter 3 - Analysis (Minghella Films)
Chapter 4 - Analysis (Anderson Films)
Chapter 5 - Analysis (Miscellaneous Films)
Chapter 6 - Discussion


Tahirih Motazedian
Vassar College

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