Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Playing Mozart: Biopics and the musical (re)invention of a composer

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2009), 3, (1), 21–46.

Abstract

Composer biopics have received scant attention both from musical reception history and from film musicology, though they clearly are key sources for the popular reception of composers, and often are also laboratories for the use of pre-existing music in film. Composer biopics re-invent their subjects in the stories they tell; but they also re-invent them through their music – music which in such films is usually both part of the story told and of its telling. This article takes seven Mozart biopics from between 1940 and 2006 as examples of such musical (re)inventions, and studies typical techniques and effects of using Mozart's music to score stories of his life. The use of pre-existing pieces both as diegetic and nondiegetic music, and crucially in the transition from one to the other, is shown as a central aspect of the way the films capitalise on existing Mozart myths and feed them back into their own (re)constructions of Mozart, in the process becoming drivers in a (vicious or virtuous) circle.

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Heldt, Guido