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Musical Themes in the Dark Knight Trilogy, Part 2 of 6: Batman Begins — 2 Comments

  1. Good evening. I am a graduate student working on a Master’s in Music Theory. This website is a great resource, and I have thoroughly enjoyed browsing through. Are there any augmented sixth chords in any of the film scores you’ve analyzed? I know there MUST be one, somewhere, anywhere. But I am about to pull my hair out searching. Please, if you can, provide some relief and tell me where I can find some augmented sixths.

    • Dear Claire,

      You ask a great question about augmented sixths in film music. The truth is, as you seem to have discovered, that they are scarce in the repertoire, especially if you’re looking in main themes. One notable exception is Hedwig’s Theme (the Harry Potter main theme), in the fourth bar of the B section (the 1st time around), we get E-C-A#, but even here it’s resolution, although to V, is unconventional in that the ^#4 doesn’t to go ^5, and the chord does not have the usual ^b6 in the bass but rather in an upper voice. Also, this chord is changed to V4/2 of V when the B section repeats.

      But augmented sixths that behave the same way as in common-practice music are indeed difficult to find. Going back to silent films, there was the so-called “Mysterioso Pizzicato” theme that was used as villain’s music and became a cliche (hear it on YouTube).

      I’m fairly certain there are a good number of augmented sixths In the Classical Hollywood era, I just haven’t made a formal list. But I know of a few to get you started. The main title of Steiner’s King Kong (1933) has an inverted augmented sixth (diminished third chord) after the initial “Kong” motif, and there’s a French sixth after the natives’ theme that leads into the lyrical setting of the “Kong” motif.

      Also have a listen to Waxman’s score for The Bride of Frankenstein. In the main title, there is a common-tone augmented sixth (same chord that goes to V, but instead it goes to I) in the romantic-style music that follows the dissonant introductory theme. Waxman actually repeats this trick in his lush main theme for Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940).

      You could probably also find a number of these chords in Broadway-style songs of the era, one example being the “Washing Song” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which, just before the cadence to the first phrase, has a clear, traditional German sixth.

      It gets harder to think of examples after the 40s because many more musical styles entered the Hollywood vocabulary. But since Classical Hollywood was closely tied to late Romanticism and the early 20th century, your best bet for locating more augmented sixth chords is probably with that repertoire. I hope this helps.

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