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Incidental music is music used to accompany a dramatic performance. It may be utilized for plays, radio shows, films, and television, and incidental music is often a very important part of a production, especially in the film world. Depending on the production, the incidental music can be composed specifically for the production, or already existing music may be used; when incidental music is commissioned specifically for a performance, it can be expensive for the producers.
The idea of incidental music is quite ancient: the Greeks, for example, used incidental music in their plays, drawing upon the rich body of ritual liturgy to enhance the look, mood, and feel of their performances on the stage. Many ancient Asian dramatic arts also utilize incidental music, and, as with the Greeks, the music often had very specific symbolic meaning which would have been well-understood by members of the audience.
The popularity of incidental music in performance has waxed and waned historically, but never vanished entirely. This could be considered a testimony to the power of music, because music can completely alter the mood and tone of a piece in a way which could not be accomplished otherwise. Music can brighten a scene, create tension, or underscore the sadness or horror of an event, and some incidental music has gone on to be famous in its own right. Many classical composers, for example, composed pieces for plays and other performances which later came to be used in standalone performance.
Incidental music fills the intervals between scenes and acts, works as a background for dialogue, and sometimes becomes the star of a scene, as in the case of a dance scene in a movie. Composition of incidental music can be very challenging, as the composer must be able to evoke the desired mode while working within very specific scene and time constraints. Depending on the project, a composer may work alone, with synthesizers and other tools, or he or she may utilize a suite of musicians ranging from a quartet to an orchestra to get the desired sound.
Characters are often enriched by the incidental music which accompanies them, with many major characters having their own themes. Composers may also create musical themes related to specific events in the performance, like a love theme for two characters, or a theme which is meant to evoke the antagonistic relationship between two characters. While viewers and listeners are often unaware of the importance of incidental music, being aware of it while absorbing a performance can be very revealing.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly is incidental music?
Incidental music is composed to accompany theatrical performances, providing an aural backdrop that enhances the emotional and narrative aspects of the play. It includes overtures, interludes, and background music that can underscore dialogue or action, often performed live during the production. This type of music is tailored to fit the mood, setting, and transitions of the performance, seamlessly integrating with the unfolding drama on stage.
How does incidental music affect the audience's experience in a play?
Incidental music plays a crucial role in shaping the audience's emotional response and immersion in a theatrical production. By reinforcing the mood and atmosphere, it can amplify tension, foreshadow events, or provide relief. The music's tempo, volume, and harmony work in concert with the actors' performances to guide the audience's feelings and expectations, creating a more engaging and complete sensory experience.
Can incidental music be found in other forms of media besides theater?
Yes, incidental music has found its way into various forms of media beyond the theater. It is prevalent in film, television, and video games, where it serves a similar purpose of enhancing the narrative and emotional impact. For instance, a film score is essentially incidental music, crafted to support the visual storytelling and evoke specific emotions from the audience at key moments in the movie.
Who are some notable composers of incidental music?
Throughout history, many renowned composers have contributed to the genre of incidental music. Felix Mendelssohn's compositions for Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," including the famous "Wedding March," are prime examples. Other notable composers include Ludwig van Beethoven, who wrote music for Goethe's tragedy "Egmont," and more contemporary figures like John Williams, whose scores for films like "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter" carry the essence of incidental music into the cinematic realm.
Is incidental music ever performed as a standalone piece?
While incidental music is primarily composed to complement a theatrical work, certain pieces have gained popularity as standalone works. For example, Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite," originally written for Henrik Ibsen's play, are frequently performed in concert settings independent of the plays they were written for. Their ability to evoke imagery and emotion without the need for visual accompaniment has allowed them to thrive in the concert hall.