Inspiration may be the mother of musical genius, but analysis is the key to understanding it. By analogy, if we are aspiring Olympic pole vaulters and seek to know how a former gold medalist was able to defy the laws of gravity, we will analyze his performance frame-by-frame. If we want to learn how a finely made 18th c. Swiss table clock is still able to keep time within a second or two, we may eventually have to take it apart. Perhaps most closely analogous to the composition of music for the screen is the art of painting. If we could know precisely how a Rembrandt, Renoir or Picasso mixed and applied his pigments, with what brushes, and in what set and setting, we would be a long way toward understanding how his genius was set free on the canvas.
Sadly, great paintings have no "score." We have only the finished work and whatever the painter and his critics are willing to tell us. To the great and lasting benefit of composers who wish to paint the canvas of the screen, however, this isn't the case with music composed for performance by acoustic (typically, orchestral) instruments, and such music remains the "gold standard" of the craft. Close reading of the score alongside its visual source reveals not only the elaboration of an idea, but often the germ of the idea itself, and that offers lessons not just in "technique," but in origination and authorship.
Each of the studies compiled in SCORING THE SCREEN arose from the desire to solve a mystery: the "musico-dramatic" mystery of why a particular score left its arrows in the heart and its lingering perfume in the mind. No serious student of dramatic music who has heard Bernard Herrmann's VERTIGO ever forgets its effect. No composer who has seen the opening title sequences of THE UNTOUCHABLES (Ennio Morricone), THE MATRIX (Don Davis), BIRTH (Alexandre Desplat), or ATONEMENT (Dario Marianelli) comes away unimpressed. These are "peak experiences," moments of frisson that carry both sensual and semiotic power. It isn't possible to solve the puzzle of their impact without all the pieces, and those pieces include elements of history, biography, "intertextual reference," and most importantly, the film itself and the story it relates.