In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Music and Cinema, Classical Hollywood

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies and Research Guides
  • Music Titles and Credits
  • Anthologies
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Disciplinary Overviews
  • Theory and Analytical Description
  • Aesthetics and Interpretation
  • Eisler and Adorno
  • Musicals
  • Television
  • Popular Music and Jazz
  • Concert Music in Film
  • Composers
  • Directors and Producers
  • Film Score Guides

Cinema and Media Studies Music and Cinema, Classical Hollywood
David Neumeyer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0118


Commercial film production in the United States developed rapidly after World War I. Theater programs focused on full-length narrative feature films along with secondary one-to-two-reel films such as newsreels, comedy shorts, travelogues, and (by the late 1920s) cartoons. Industry consolidation favored efficient large-scale production practices. Performance practices with respect to sound and music remained quite diverse until the introduction of recorded sound (which happened first in newsreels and shorts, then moved to feature films by 1926 and 1927), the rapid development of sound technology in the period 1927–1932 (the latter date being when reliable post-production re-recording became possible), and the establishment of a consistent soundtrack aesthetic (between 1935 and 1938). Thus, the period of classical Hollywood film—or what is often called the “Studio Era” or the “Golden Age of Hollywood Cinema”—encompasses the radically different sound practices of live performance and recorded sound. Typically in the literature, however, “Classical Hollywood Film” means the sound-film era stretching from roughly 1930 to 1960 (though the end date can reasonably be pushed as far as 1972, when Dolby stereo was introduced, and the contemporary era of sound design began in earnest). The silent era is covered in a separate article; the sound era is the topic of the present article. The aesthetic of the integrated monaural soundtrack that was developed by the mid-to-late 1930s and whose priorities were immediacy (Rick Altman’s “for-me-ness”) and narrative clarity, not acoustic realism, prevailed throughout this period, despite changes in production and exhibition structures in the late 1940s, the introduction of widescreen ratios in the 1950s, and the increasing use of popular music as underscore (background music) in the 1960s. The establishment of studio music departments in the late 1920s, combined with the conventionalizing pressures of intense production (the major Hollywood studios together were releasing more than 500 feature films a year by the mid-1930s), produced an identifiable “classical practice” for music in the context of feature film narrative and its soundtrack aesthetic. Although many people wrote about theoretical and practice-related issues from the earliest years of the cinema, film studies in a disciplinary sense only came into being with the French filmologues in the 1950s, after which it moved into American college literature and communications departments in the 1960s and early 1970s. Film music studies came later (Gorbman 1987 being the establishing document), and sound studies later still (only in the first decade of the 21st century).

Bibliographies and Research Guides

Two major contemporary research guides for the study of film music have been published: Pool and Wright 2011 and Sherk 2011. Everett 2004 includes chapters on film musicals. Among bibliographies, Wescott 1985 was comprehensive for its time period; it is updated by Anderson and Wright 1995 and Stilwell 2002. More recent publications can be traced using standard periodical indices (Film & Television Literature Index 2006–, RILM, and Music Index 1949–).

  • Anderson, Gillian, and H. Stephen Wright, eds. Film Music Bibliography I. Hollywood: Society for the Preservation of Film Music, 1995.

    Updates Wescott 1985, including some corrections, and is organized in a parallel manner. The publisher has been renamed the Film Music Society.

  • Everett, William. Musical: A Research Guide to Musical Theater and Film. London: Routledge, 2004.

    Chapter 3 is on film musicals, but later chapters on individual works and creative personnel include useful information as well.

  • Film & Television Literature Index. 2006–.

    Extensive and continually updated coverage of articles in film and television periodicals, plus some related journals. Music journals are often missed; use RILM or Music Index for those. Continues Film Literature Index 1973–2004.

  • Music Index. 1949–.

    Extensive coverage of articles in music periodicals, including both research- and practice-oriented journals. Like Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM) 1967–, it should be used as an adjunct to Film & Television Literature Index for film music articles.

  • Pool, Jeannie Gayle, and H. Stephen Wright. A Research Guide to Film and Television Music in the United States. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2011.

    Somewhat more limited in scope than the title suggests, this volume focuses on primary sources such as musical scores, cue sheets (listings of the musical numbers in a film), and recordings. Chapters on related topics include location of archives and preservation issues. See Sherk 2011 for a guide to published literature on film music.

  • Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM). 1967–.

    Extensive coverage of articles in music periodicals, including both research- and practice-oriented journals. Especially useful for article abstracts. Like Music Index, it should be used as an adjunct to Film & Television Literature Index for film music articles.

  • Sherk, Warren M. Film and Television Music: A Guide to Books, Articles, and Composer Interviews. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2011.

    This supersedes Wescott 1985 and Anderson and Wright 1995. Extensive (600+ pages) and very well organized bibliography includes content synopses of its entries. Sections include books, composer biographies, songwriter and lyricist biographies, silent film music, four categories of periodicals, and composer society newsletters.

  • Stilwell, Robynn. “Music in Films: A Critical Review of Literature, 1980–1996.” Journal of Film Music 1.1 (2002): 19–61.

    Topically organized bibliography begins on p. 49. Excellent coverage of the literature in its time frame; also includes French, German, and Italian sources. The critical survey creates strong contexts in which to place the cited items.

  • Wescott, Steven D. A Comprehensive Bibliography of Music for Film and TV. Detroit Studies in Music Bibliography 54. Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1985.

    Well organized by section: history, composers, aesthetics, special topics, and research. Includes television and sound technology. Anderson 1995 and Stilwell 2002 are more up-to-date resources on the same topic.

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