Composing for the Media: Hanns Eisler and Rockefeller Foundation Projects in Film Music, Radio Listening, and Theatrical Sound Design

by James Tobias

Jan 1, 2009
Hanns Eisler and Theodor Adorno's Composing for the Films (Oxford University Press, 1947) remains a standard textbook reference on the problems and problematics of composing music for the commercial film. The textbook is essentially an expanded treatment of Eisler's motivations, observations, and conclusions, informed with Adorno's critical judgments of music and musical effects in the contemporary moment, in regards to his Film Music Project in which Eisler composed new scores for a variety of existing films, from animated short to documentary to narrative feature. The project was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and administered from 1940 through 1942 at the New School for Social Research located in New York City. But the relationship of the text to the project has long remained unclear. Since Adorno was not technically involved in the Film Music Project, the kind and degree of his contributions to Composing for the Films has been a matter of speculation. This confusion is related to another, more important set of questions relating to the methods of the project itself, which have persisted as the text has become a canonical reference in studies of film music over the past 60 years.
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