Rhythm Divine: A Toast to Music

The eternal connect between music and cinema

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

Music, the eternal symbol of love, rhythm divine

As per the Wikipedia definition, music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture. But, what is music in an aesthetic sense? Music is a rhythm divine, which on those rare occasions when it strikes the right chords, can make mortals dance, holding sway over their senses with ridiculous ease. Music can be a great healer as well as a ferocious inflictor, and perhaps it is this attribute that makes it unparalleled, both in terms of power and scope. Many religious scriptures and philosophies recognize music as a powerful medium of human expression. The Sama Veda, the third of the four holy Vedas (the canonical sacred texts of the Hindus), is directly associated with music; it consists of a  collection of hymns to be sung as incantations using by priests at sacrifices. The Book of Psalms, a book of the Hebrew Bible, is a compilation of 150 poems, which forms the basis of Israel's religious faith. Islamic scholars and Qur'an commentators elaborate (based upon the concise narratives in the Holy Qur'an) upon Prophet David's rare musical and vocal talents.

The word "music" is derived from the Greek word "mousike" meaning art of the Muses. According to the Greek mythology, the Muses are the goddesses who inspire literature, science and the arts, the source of the ancient knowledge propagated  for centuries encrypted in form of poetic lyrics and myths. This only allude to the fact that music is the oldest form of art known to mankind. Different cultures have had different influences on the art of music. And just like the human civilization, music too has undergone different phases of evolution. On the basis of the archaeological evidence, the earliest forms of music can be traced back to the paleolithic age as obvious from the discovery of flutes, made up of bones with pierced lateral holes, from the prehistoric archaeological sites. Music had great cultural and social importance in Ancient Greece. In fact, the Greek theater revolved around musicians and singers. The Romans and the Byzantines too were greatly influenced by Greek music and contributed to the birth of many new forms. 

Greek music theory became the basis for Western classical music which gradually developed into an art form during the medieval period. It was during this time that music became an essential part of Roman Catholic Church services. Music attained new heights during the Renaissance period wherein the main focus was on secular themes. The Baroque artistic style flourished across Europe during the 17th and the 18th centuries as music expanded both in its range and complexity. In the latter part of the 18th century and early 19th century, music reached its pinnacle. This period is often referred to as the  Classical Period. The best known composers of this period are Johann Christian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert. The period between 1810 AD and 1900 AD is often described as the Romantic era of music as the rigid styles and forms of the Classical era took a rather passionate and expressive form. The 20th century saw music becoming a part of the vernacular as the radio gained popularity. Television,  arguably the greatest invention of the 20th century, made music what it is today—an elixir for the perturbed souls, a panacea for the pessimistic minds, an omnipotent vehicle for the propagation of love, or in other words the sine qua non of human existence on earth.     

Cinema and music share a very intimate relationship. They both have cathartic power to cleanse the soul of all evil. Like the Greek theater of old, cinema often revolves around musicians and singers. Indian cinema over the years has got famous for films that offer a unique blend of music and drama. Hollywood has a standalone genre called "Musical" to demarcate those films that rely heavily on the use of music and songs. Cinema, like music, is fully capable of making mortals dance to its tunes. But unlike music, which can only impact a human being viscerally, cinema can not just permeate viscerally, but can also hold sway over his intellectual faculties with similar ease. The true power of cinema lies in the facet that it can satiate the deepest of human needs and desires. Both music and cinema may have their own individual importance but in actuality it’s the synergy created by their combined effect that’s absolutely divine. 

I am no aficionado when it comes to music, but I do have great admiration for the likes of Amir Khusrow, Tansen, Baiju Bawra, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. (even though I have heard very little of these maestros). Among the modern film composers, I have high regards for Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, and Hans Zimmer. I just adore the films of Charles Chaplin, Fritz Lang, Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick, Satyajit Ray, Guru Dutt, Sergio Leone, David Lean, Andrei Tarkovsky, Terrence Mallick, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and Kar Wai Wong for, among many things, their aural appeal. The evocative manner in which they play with music in their films, seamlessly blending it with movie's various motifs is simply awe-inspiring. 

I would like to end this article by enlisting 10 hypnotic works of cinema off the top of my head which, in my humble opinion, underline the importance of music in cinema as well as in life:

i). Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Directed by Sergio Leone 

Robert De Niro, James Woods in Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Directed by Sergio Leone, both look their faces in the mirror

ii). Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Directed by Stanley Kubrick 

Nicole Kidman as Alice Harford, Stoned and Wearing Sensual Dress, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Directed by Stanley Kubrick

iii). The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Directed by Sergio Leone 

Eli Wallach as Tuco, wearing sombrero, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Directed by Sergio Leone

iv). Dr. Zhivago (1965), Directed by David Lean 

Julie Christie as Lara, ravishing in a red dress, adorning a necklace, Dr. Zhivago (1965), Directed by David Lean

v). The Decalogue (TV mini-series, 1988), Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski 

A short film about killing, the final murder scene, The Decalogue (TV mini-series, 1988), Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski

vi). Stalker (1979), Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky 

The Writer, The Professor and The Stalker, dejected in The Zone, Stalker (1979), Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

vii). Jalsaghar (1958), Directed by Satyajit Ray 

Chhabi Biswas as Huzur Biswambhar Roy, Gangapada Basu as Mahim Ganguly in Jalsaghar (1958), Directed by Satyajit Ray

viii). Amadeus (1984), Directed by Milos Forman 

Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus (1984), Directed by Milos Forman

ix). Pyaasa (1957), Directed by Guru Dutt

Waheeda Rehman, Guru Dutt in Pyaasa (1957), Directed by Guru Dutt

x). Metropolis (1927), Directed by Fritz Lang

The great mechanical invention of C.A. Rotwang - the Inventor, part acted by by Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Metropolis (1927), Directed by Fritz Lang

This article has been written as part of a contest run by IndiBlogger in collaboration with HP to celebrate the launch of HP Connected Music IndiaHP Connected Music IndiBlogger Meet is also being organized on Saturday April 20, 2013 at Hilton Garden Inn, Gurgaon to mark the occasion. 

— Murtaza Ali

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  1. I recommend the films of Minnelli and Argento for stunning choreography between camera and music

  2. Thanks a lot for your recommendation! I have seen very little of the both Minnelli and Argento. Are there any movies in particular that I should start with?

  3. You have brought, here,such a nice book of music & cinema.
    Thanks! :)

  4. Thanks for those kind words, Gayatri... I am really glad you liked it :-)

  5. Subhorup DasguptaApril 22, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    Great list! Your perspective on this list is very interesting. I notice that you have stayed away from musicals other than Amadeus, but All that Jazz (1979) is an interesting film too. It was one of the first to create the same effects that we see with digital editing of music videos. It also uses music almost as a character.

  6. I will surely check it out... Thanks for recommending it!!!

  7. such a perfect mix of music and art!!!

  8. Thanks for those kind words... I am really glad you liked the piece :-)


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