Discord Underscored: Anempathetic Music in Nineteenth Century Melodrama

Robert Dean

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


The relationship between music and melodrama is generally regarded as a consonant one in which the aural accompaniment harmoniously reiterates the events depicted on stage or the emotions experienced by characters. Although 20th century cinema generally upheld this musical principle, by the late nineteen twenties and early thirties film practitioners and theoreticians including Clair, Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Alexandrov, Adorno, Eisler and Grierson published papers and produced films that explored the semantic possibilities of asynchronous sound and musical counterpoint. This approach produces a number of effects that subvert the traditional functions of consonant underscoring. Within the published body of work that makes reference to this musical device numerous titular abstractions have been employed as a means of describing the effect it creates. This paper will be focusing on two of these terms – anmepathetic music and dissonant harmony. Neither dissonant harmony or anempathetic music comply with the conventional principles that seem to have governed non-diegetic underscoring in nineteenth century melodramas, however this paper will provide evidence that this technique was employed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationN/A
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 1990
Event Music and the Melodramatic Aesthetic - Music and the Melodramatic Aesthetic
Duration: 1 Jan 20081 Jan 2008


Conference Music and the Melodramatic Aesthetic


  • musical dramaturgy
  • anmepathetic music and dissonant harmony
  • melodrama


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