A Fistful of Drama: Musical Form in the Dollars Trilogy

by Kausalik, Emily Anne

Abstract (Summary)
In 1964, Italian film director Sergio Leone forever influenced the Western genre with his landmark film Per un pugno di dollari (A Fistful of Dollars). With its stylized violence, barren landscapes, endless deserts, crafty villains, and rogue hero with no name, this film established a new kind of Western: austere, stylish, cynical, and violent. Complementing this new style was an eclectic and abrasive music track by composer Ennio Morricone. His unique orchestration, timbres, and pacing defined a style of film composition that would influence innumerable films to come. A Fistful of Dollars grossed over $4.3 million in its domestic run, and acted as the launching point for two more immensely successful spaghetti Westerns, Per qualche dollaro in più (For a Few Dollars More, 1965), and Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966). These films also featured scores by Morricone, and all three together are frequently referred to as the Dollars trilogy. In his Dollars trilogy, Leone emphasizes dramatic episodes through careful musical placement. The cues created by Morricone and utilized by Leone help accentuate the plot line of each film by using material developed in the main title theme throughout the movie. This method is referred to as developmental scoring, a compositional type first described by Roy M. Prendergast in Film Music: A Neglected Art. There, he defines the "developmental score" as a compositional method of unification where the title theme serves the function of an exposition in a classical sonata-allegro form, presenting material to be used throughout the score. Naturally a developmental score cannot contain the same musical functions as the classical sonata or rondo form, as there are not any preconceived formal musical expectations in a film's soundtrack. There are, however, similar generic characteristics. The episodic nature of a Western aligns itself well with that of a sonata or rondo; different zones and action-spaces are carefully placed into an overarching dramatic line that set forth important ideas, repeats them over time, provides contrast and tension, and finally builds toward a triumphant return of thematic material to close out the work. Using the title music as a starting point, this document aims to address the local and long-term dramatic structures created by the soundtracks of the Dollars trilogy. Drawing on two important bodies of analytical work – Philip Tagg and Bob Clarida's Ten Little Title Tunes and William Caplin's Classical Form – each title theme is shown to contain micro-cells of musical gestures that carry associations of other musical forms, particularly pop songs, folk tunes, and television and film themes connected to the Old American West. Fragments of these titles carry coded messages of the West, as well as important information regarding the protagonists, villains, and locations of the three films. These musical cells – as well as their instrumentation, timbres, tonal areas, and melodic shape – are then used to generate the remaining tunes of the soundtrack. The result is a highly inter-connected score that shapes the dramatic episodes of the Dollars trilogy films while magnifying the mythology of Leone's American West.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Bowling Green State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:film music philip tagg roy prendergast ennio morricone sergio leone spaghetti westerns william caplin dollars trilogy


Date of Publication:01/01/2008

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