Something that composers have done for centuries, particularly when writing music for drama – film, theatre, opera or whatever, is to make use of themes that recur in different ways. Perhaps the most studied example is the ‘leitmotiv’ in Wagner’s epic operas, but this practice is everywhere in TV and film music. The repetition and transformation of the themes can be made to be obvious to the listener, or made to be felt almost subliminally. Perhaps more importantly, it can lend coherence to the music, and it has lots of appeal to the composer, as it presents both a challenge and a useful process device – a way of making a tune go further.
Often themes are assigned to characters, locations, or objects, but In Alice In Wonderland, I opted not to go down this route, as I feel it is difficult to do with any degree of subtlety. I didn’t plan my use of recurring themes, but as the music came about, some specific interval groupings and shapes began to appear. Near the end of the process, I took out a section I didn’t like, and found that re-using the opening theme in a different key and rhythmic feel led me to exactly the mood I needed for this section. Here it is, illustrated:
This theme has a distinctive descending semitone pattern and use of repeated notes. It forms the opening (and closing) music :
…but, the same melodic pattern is the tune in “To The Convention”, which needs a much brighter, happier mood, with more forward motion. With different tempo and chords, this is easily achieved.
As I said earlier, I’m not holding to any hard and fast rules, and in fact some of these things came about without me being conscious of them. For example, the ‘crying theme’ below has a resemblance to the theme above – the initial note repeats 4 times followed by a step down a semitone down. After that, it then does its own thing… but the similarity at the start is valuable to the overall sense of unity of the music.
In the next post I’ll show some other themes and how they are used.