"Romantic minimalist": meaning and emotion in the film music of Michael Nyman

Michael O'Shaughnessy

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The thesis explores a number of different approaches for understanding Nyman’s film music, suggesting that each of these can shed some light on his work. It looks at: how Nyman has been written about and understood by critics and in the press; Nyman as a major exponent of minimalism in film music, an important development in the last thirty years that has, as yet, received little in depth analysis; the way Nyman has contributed significantly to the development of film music practice, initially through his collaboration with Peter Greenaway, and subsequently with other film directors; the way his music has been recycled in different film contexts, either using the same piece of music in different films or using music in a film which was originally written for a completely different situation; this practice raises important questions about the polysemic ‘transferability’ of film music and therefore about the ways in which it conveys both meaning and emotion the way Nyman’s music can be understood both archetypally and ideologically. The thesis will start by looking at the ways in which questions of meaning and emotion have been understood, first in relation to music alone, and second in relation to film music; it is concerned with the overall question of how music and narrative images can combine. It will then consider each of the Nyman areas mentioned above and examine them in relation to the question of the music’s meaning and emotional affect. The thesis will draw on the work of music theorists Susan McClary, Nicholas Cook, and Pwyll ap Sion (who has written extensively on Nyman), and film music theorists such as Claudia Gorbman, Royal Brown, and Jeff Smith; it is an interdisciplinary approach using methods of analysis drawn from both musicology and film studies. It will offer interpretations of Nyman’s film music, by looking at: his film music practice; the ways in which ‘Nyman’ has been discursively constructed by critics and reviewers; how his film music relates to narrative; detailed analysis of particular musical pieces in relation to minimalism and the ‘transferability’ of film music; and the possible meanings of his music in both archetypal and ideological terms. It will argue that all of the above approaches are important and useful in understanding the role of Nyman’s film music in particular and of film music in general.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2010

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