Simon Wood

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Music Criticism


James Deaville


Despite centuries of debate, the issue of meaning in music remains one of the most important and contested issues in the discourse of musicology. The integration of music and narrative film would seem to provide a rich source of material for those interested in this argument; however, despite the extraordinary success the medium has enjoyed, clearly suggesting that the musical/narrative associations constructed within a large number of films resonate within the consciousness of the general public, the film score has received little attention from world of musical scholarship.

Through an application of the theories of post-Freudien French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and American philosopher Mark Johnson's theory of "image schemata," this thesis will construct a methodology for the analysis of narrative film music. An overview of the relevant theoretical concepts is followed by illustrative musical examples. The views of film music composers, followed by a discussion of the interaction of visual and musical stimuli, will then serve as a foundation for the consideration of the role of a culturally dependent system of musical syntax in the construction of meaning within a film score. Finally, the interaction of these three concepts (psychoanalysis, image schemata and cultural syntax), is demonstrated in an analysis of the musical scores of two films: Star Trek 11: The Wrath ofKhan (music by James Homer) and The Piano (music by Michael Nyman).

These analyses will support conclusions which position the various approaches to film scoring on a continuum located between the extremes of integration based on psychoanalysis and cultural syntax, both of which operate in a process informed by the structure of image schemata. This continuum offers a system by which a variety of film scores may be analyzed and discussed in a rigorous and consistent manner, as well as offering a methodology by which the construction of meaning in music as a whole may be better understood.

McMaster University Library

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