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You are in a dark theater, watching a movie, when suddenly a melody you recognize starts to play in the background. Abandoning the story line, your brain starts to turn. Have you played this piece? Was it a work you had to listen to for music history? Why is it so familiar?
There are several resources you can use to look up music used in movies or television.
Classics from the Silver Screen
This site is an index of classical music and opera used in movies. You can search by composer or movie. The site has been around for seven years and is still being updated, which is encouraging, but you will not find every movie on this site. I find myself wishing it would be more specific – there are often works listed for a movie but the information does not include where in the movie the music occurs!
Internet Movie Database
IMDb has become a standard web resource for information on movies. If a movie soundtrack has been available, often a track listing will be provided within the information about the movie. IMDb also offers a soundtrack search where you can search by title keyword, performer, or song writer (composer). As far as I can tell, this is linking back to the same track listings that are included in the commercial soundtrack recording information within the movie records. This means if a song is on a movie but not on the official soundtrack, or if the movie never had a soundtrack recording available, it will probably not show up in this search.
If you want to delve deeper, there are several books in the music library that might be of interest to you.
Music and Cinema edited by James Buhler, Caryl Flinn and David Neumeyer. Chapters include discussions of how the mythology of a film plays into the music selected or composed, soundtrack choices outside of western film, how classical film differs from contemporary in its musical choices, and other topics.
Hitchcock’s Music by Jack Sullivan is a great resource demonstrating how music is used in each of Hitchcock’s films
Other books can be found using the subject heading Motion Picture Music — History and Criticism
Categories: Research Tool