Building The Music

Table of Contents


1. Scoring For The Classical Orchestra

The preliminary compositional research gave birth to several ideas as described and analyzed in the previous chapter. The first approach which I followed was created by the need of writing a score for the classical orchestra set. With all the covered information gathered from other peoples’ work together with the ‘Intolerance’ version of Carl Davis, I began exploring the possibilities of composing for the classical orchestra with the difference that I felt the need to produce a score that would emphasize in the middle eastern scales.

As a result, a first attempt was taken in the ‘Intolerance clip 2’ as demonstrating below:   

Intolerance Clip 2 - First scoring attempt (E.Chouvardas)
Intolerance Clip 2 (Carl Davis)

In this initial attempt my basic aim was to introduce the possibilities of scoring the classical orchestra, together with some basic ethnic elements, in view of creating an exotic landscape by using middle-eastern scales. The instrumentation and performance was also written under the same principal of exoticism as to how orchestral instruments like the violins and flutes can perform like ethnic instruments.

During the first seconds of the scene (approximately 00:00 – 00:11) ethnic percussion were used in combination with an improvisation of an Egyptian violin. The idea was to present the score’s starting point by clearly stating the direction towards middle-eastern melodies that would follow together with the development of the scene. As a result, the first rhythmic structure that would carry on contributing to the main theme was scored for the dumbek, bass darbuka, pendir and zills.

The main theme is presented from approximately 00:11’ and on, where the main role has been appointed to the violins. The background chords have been scored for the violas and cellos while the bass strings’ pizzicato contributes like a double base, in enhancing the tempo structure with low dominant and fifth notes. Flutes play the role of a bridge between the main theme’s repetitions by preforming a mixolydian scale phrase. The Cimbalom has also been used by supporting the main theme and bridge with in between phrases.  The latter instrument has been also used in several other occasions, that will be discussed further on, due to its ethnic sound, roots and alternative traditional versions that can be found in several eastern locations e.g. santur (or santoor, sandouri), hammered dulcimer

 Also, what is worth mentioning is the trumpets contribution between the main theme’s repetition in an attempt to keep the brass element of classic ‘Hollywood’ instrumentation to describe the gloriousness and festive scene of the palace.


There were certain questions and problems rose through this first scoring attempt. Except from the stylist approach and the view of successfulness in terms of immersion and music compatibly with the scene, which is mainly a subjective issue, what was firstly noted of being problematic was the tempo pace according to the visual. There was much experimentation after this specific observation and it was thought better suited if the tempo was rather slower in terms of speed. What was also found to be rather hasty was the violins’ main theme which was personally thought of playing too many notes in a restricted amount of time.

Percussion structure was also found to be quite hasty in terms of building up the viewer’s expectation. One could argue that this would not be necessarily wrong, especially when you look at it in terms of compositional coherence, but an overall build of climax which could contribute in the audience’s expectation was missing.   

A different challenge and certain decision had to be made in terms of music and picture synchronization. In a specific part (00:16-00:17) the film has a rather jumpy cut of the scene that I tried to dress up musically with a triple note motif performed by the flutes and cimbalom. After watching the scene multiple times, I thought that it would be best if it was dealt with more intimacy and perhaps a shorter and more dynamic sound, e.g. cymbals, bass dumbek (or other bass percussion), bass strings et cetera.  Looking back at Carl Davis’ approach to this issue I noticed that a similar technique had been used; the scene’s cut was dealt with tempo synchronization and had been accented with cymbals.

As a result, a new small version of clip 2 had been composed which consequently contributed in the scoring development of the entire clip presented below:

Intolerance Clip 2 - Second Version (E.Chouvardas)

In the first part of this clip (00:00 – 01:14) the structure has now changed and especially during the introductory titles (00:00 – 00:29) where there is an effort to build up the expectation for the ceremonial palace scene. Percussion instruments have been removed so they would leave space for other instruments to slowly build the expectation of the rhythmic structure presented afterwards. It is a similar technique used by Carl Davis as well in the specific scene’s introduction, only that one could argue that this version contains an overall exotic aesthetic. In addition to the previous statement one can observe the intentional use of the cimbalom, playing a two note tremolo motif, contributing in the specific artistic approach.

Further on (00:30 – 1:14) there is an introduction of the main thematic unity, comparable with the one found in the first composition, with a slightly slower tempo speed and with a simpler scoring line for the violins. Ethnic rhythmic structure in addition with the use of an ethnic harp contributes in the exoticism and the overall arrangement has been synced during the jumpy film’s cut (00:36).      


The next part (1:14 – 1:41) is starting by a supplementary theme scored for the oboe and English horn. As the scene shows the king and princess’s it was felt that expressive solo woodwinds (oboe, English horn) would be appropriate written in an expressive style (legato, vibrato) will contribute in a more subtle and romantic atmosphere. During the two character’s movement the music is trying to imprint the seriousness of moment; the king’s pride and gratitude in relationship with the princess’s look at the king’s face, implying admiration and respect. This part ends with the introduction of brass instruments as the characters stop moving. In this way what was achieved is a musical movement from admiration to gloriousness as revealed on the princess’s facial expression. As Rosar (1994) states:

“Physiognomic perception, a term coined by Heinz Werner, refers to a mode of perception attuned to expression or expressive attributes. The term applies readily to the perception of faces, gestures, intonation, and mood” (p.154).

The soldier/white pigeon scene following next (1:41-1:50) is using a similar approach found in films like ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and the poetic scene of ‘Spartacus’. Woodwinds, especially flutes, have been used here in a mixolydian mode indicating the sense of peacefulness.  


In the final part (1:51 – end of clip) the rhythmic section is returning and the cimbalom is introducing an ending thematic phrase followed by the ethnic harp concluding the piece. Carl Davis’ score here returns to the main theme introduced in the opening of this scene. In comparison, it was thought more appropriate to introduce an alternative theme (cimbalom), sharing similarities with the one found in the opening scene, but also with the addition of blending exotic modes together e.g Lydian, Mixolydian, Dorian and Phrygian dominant (also known as Hijaz or Bayati in the Arabic/Egyptian tradition).




Before continuing in writing music for ‘Intolerance’ clip 2 there was a further attempt on scoring an additional scene from the film which would follow the same ethnic stylistic approach and provide even more diversity. Therefore, the following scene was chosen for a new compositional experiment:          

Intolerance Clip 3 (Carl Davis)
Intolerance Clip 3 - Classic Orchestra Score (E.Chouvardas)

The generic approach to this piece is similar with the previous one. Scoring for a longer length scene gave the opportunity to experiment more and express further musical ideas in terms of diversity and exoticism. Blending the classical orchestra set with a variety of scales and modes was found to be a rather interesting and stimulating experience. And there was also another step forward giving birth to additional questions and development procedures that will be presented and discussed in the next chapter (Transformation).

In the above example (clip 3) there are a few things that need to be noted. Beginning with a view in the overall orchestration, the rhythmic construction entails ethnic percussion, as used in previous examples, as it felt more suitable in providing the desirable exotic aesthetic. Though no other ethnic instrument except for the cimbalom has been used here, for methodological research reasons, the arrangement has been produced in a way that the classical orchestra might support the written score and its initial goal for exoticism.    


Another point is that there was an effort to describe the childish girl’s character first appearing in 00:47”. In most times the score is written by using pizzicato violins, high woodwinds and brass in order to follow the nervous characters and overall faster pace of the scenes. Examples of this approach can be also observed in 1:31-1:36”, 3:02-3:37”, 04:16-04:30” and 06:11-06:22”. The character is also being described in a more sympathetic but still playful mixture in 04:50-05:16”. In this case the score is combining pizzicato string harmonies together with a solo oboe in order to demonstrate the character’s innocence and begging to the king. In their analysis in view of film music influences and movie characters Hoeckner, Wyatt, Decety, and Nusbaum (2011) point out:

"As the feeling of sadness would increase viewers’ certainty of knowing the character’s thoughts, the impulse to feel with the character would also make her or him more likable" (p.38).  

Further on the score moves gradually from a minor to major chord where the king leaves the scene having signed the girl’s independence (approximately until 05:48”).

What is also important to mention is the overall attempt to write score’s repetitions that would provide unity and try to follow character’s and plot as close as possible but without having too many moments of exact scene description, also known as mickey-mousing. In her interpretation of film scores’ unity, Gorbman (as cited in Leinberger, 2002) states:

“Via repetition and variation of musical material and instrumentation, music aids in the construction of formal and narrative unity” (p.63).


One of the moments in the scene that one could observe that is from 03:37” until 04:15”. The music here interprets different emotions and constant scene changings in four different groups of characters (Auctioneer, bidders, girl and man in love viewing the scene from above). It starts with the Auctioneer theme moving into a D major 7th chord (Phrygian dominant mode) demonstrating the girl’s anger (03:57”) followed by a resolution in G harmonic minor scale showing the man’s frustration (03:58-4:05”).

As a final observation, what seemed to work in a rather different way compared to Carl Davis’ score is the two characters’ (man in love and girl from auction) meeting point (06:23-07:22”). In Carl Davis’ version one could observe an overall dramatic and at the same time dynamic approach. The change occurring especially from 06:56” signifies the transformation in overall atmosphere (adding brass in a new theme) based on the scene’s titles. Similar techniques have been used in my version in terms of drama and emotional characters’ state especially in the in-between fight/girl’s avoidance (06:50-07:00”). What differentiates the two versions is the attempt of developing the existing string’s thematic section and trying to be more dramatic than dynamic. One could argue that this approach does not follow the exact visual development, but it was intentionally composed in this case to emphasize the opposite; the implied dramatic man’s effort to approach the girl.

As Rosar (1994) states:

“A moment's reflection on the phenomenology of musical experience reveals that music is expressive, whether or not one responds to it emotionally. For example, although a piece of music is sad-sounds sad-the listener is not necessarily also sad” (p.154).   

In addition, in that way space for a more energetic arrangement could be created right after the scene’s titles, where a military snare accompanied by a darbuka has been added. Once again the overall use of exotic scales and modes contribute in the general aesthetic approach.     


2. Transformation

‘The art of thematic transformation is the practice of modifying discrete units of musical discourse like motifs and melodies, as well as more abstract structures like harmonic progressions or rhythmic patterns, over the course of a piece. This may occur incrementally, with gradual changes constructing apparently new themes piece-by-piece out of old ones’ (Lehman, 2012).


The research so far in combination with the previous experimentations of scoring for the classical orchestra gave birth to a tree of questions and exploring possibilities. Below you can see a diagram pointing out the main thoughts and issues:

Consequently, according to the above plan the next step was to examine the previously scored scene (clip 3) and try replacing / re-recording several instruments that could be substituted with ethnic ones. What is worth mentioning is that this attempt followed by the completion of the entire scene’s score. The end result is presented in the video clip below:

Intolerance Clip 3 - Ethnic Implementation (E.Chouvardas)

The list of instruments that have been replaced can be found in the following chart:

Other than replacing the above instruments there was also a supplementary score written for some of those in several parts of the clip. In more detail, a new phrase was written for the shahrazad in 00:56”-1:02’ contributing in the overall feel of exoticism. In 05:55’-06:11 shenai flute was used in order to support the specific motif performed by the ciaramella. Finally, in 07:32’-07:53’ a Ceylon snake charmer flute has been added with the intention of contributing an ethnic character to the specific moment. A general observation at that point of the film was that the overall aesthetic of exoticism was missing since it was a part written only for the harp enhancing the dreamy atmosphere of the visual.  

The addition of these ethnic instruments together with the replacement of a number of others previously scored gave a new flow to the entire instrumentation. One can argue that the overall aesthetic, and even the structure at certain points, is beginning to displace itself from the previous scoring attempts and likewise in comparison with Carl Davis’ original score. This blending of instruments has given the opportunity to see how much of an actual impact traditional instruments can make to the music rather than trying to describe it with other means. Finally, what is also worth mentioning is the significant role of inspiration generated that revealed the next steps in researching and composing music.


In relation with the above, the last part of the particular clip which was not scored before (07:53’-end of clip) had been reviewed from a different point of view. Although the compositional approach was deeply influenced by the previous points stated above, there was a risk taken into serious consideration as to how the music was going to develop in a smooth way and blend in with the previous score. Although the appetite was changed, consistency should have been carefully approached and presented.

Therefore, in the beginning of the last clip’s segments (07:53’) there was intentionally some room left for ethnic instruments to involve. In this way there would be a direct connection with the previous arrangement, keeping consistency but at the same time introduce a new and more exotic instrumentation in relation with the visual. As the scene refers to the virgins inside the palace (Love temple as it is written in the changing titles) the score’s intention here is to be more dreamy and aphaeretic. As Lehman (2012) indicates:

“A creature of many faces, chromaticism can certainly be instantly perceived as exotic or ‘other’ when presented in some guises (…) But other forms of chromaticism—and, it should be admitted, modality, free atonality, jazz harmony, and other alternatives to common-practice pitch resources—no less extreme against a backdrop of diatony, are recruited with just as much frequency to deliver vastly less obvious effects” (p.34).

Since the overall scene’s atmosphere describes relaxation and naivety hence the ethnic woodwinds (Shenai flute and ciaramella) are performing long notes as the cimbalom and percussion imply the scenes’ character movement/dancing.Furthermore, violins and violas have been used for playing the scene’s main motif and serving as a thematic unity between the previous scenes and the ones to follow. The last statement becomes apparent in 09:02’ where the scene changes and the king approaches his princess. Here the strings have been composed in order to reinstate gravity by describing the king’s emblematic position in the palace.

In comparison Carl Davis is using, as one could argue, a rather typical Grande ‘Hollywood’ instrumentation to describe these semiotic processes. A tonal score with high vibrato violins, in combination with the harp, moving between major chords and scales together with high woodwind phrases present a tone of classic romanticism found in several other Hollywood films.


The next attempt was revisiting the first clip of ‘Intolerance’ (clip 1) and start writing a score which would include all the previous deductions made so far and explores new stylistic methodologies in terms of originality and exoticism. The intention was to blend even more ethnic instruments together with the classical orchestra, not only in terms of soloing performance, but as a combined mixture of instrumentation composed this time according to each instrument’s sonic characteristics. The end result is presented in the clip below:




Starting with the instrumentation there were a number of new ethnic instruments implemented, both from sampled libraries as well as actual performance recordings. In more detail all the ethnic instruments used can be reviewed from the following list:

  1. Duduk

  2. Shahrazad

  3. Shenai flute

  4. Ciaramella

  5. Digideroo

  6. Cimbalom (serving as santur)

  7. Two egyptian fiddles

  8. Four ouds

  9. Three tambouras

  10. Three tzouras (serving as a different type of tambouras)

  11. Ethnic percussion ensemble (Djumbek, darbuka, bendir, tambourine)


The piece has a strong overall exotic character that can be seen especially between 00:22-00:44” and 01:10’- end of clip. The three trumpets in 00:22-00:44” performing in triplets have been used in an effort to blend a characteristic ‘Hollywood’ approach, observed in several cases before (The Ten Commandments, Star Wars). In 00:45-01:10’ there was an attempt to recreate the scene’s dramatic atmosphere in a more minimalistic method. Like in Jesus from Nazareth, characters’ emotional state has been described with the use of violins and violas moving in minor diminished chords which is reinforced by the clarinet. The difference here is the addition of a duduk which adds the oriental element and also the starting and finishing point of the melodic line as it uses eastern scale modes (Algerian scale and hijaz or hicaz mode).   



As an epilogue to this chapter, one could argue that the use of eastern scales and modes, the transformation of classic orchestra instruments and the exploration and implementation of new ethnic instruments contributed in the experimentation of new paths considering score composition and arrangement. As the project was evolving the overall aesthetic was moving further away from Carl Davis’ score to ‘Intolerance’ as well as to other motion pictures’ compositions used for referencing purposes.                                           

Intolerance Clip 1  (E.Chouvardas)
Intolerance Clip 1 (Carl Davis)

3. Pure Exoticism

The final part of writing the music for ‘Intolerance’ had to do with the idea of creating and presenting an even more unique, or even eccentric as one could argue, approach to film scoring. All the previous research and practical experimentations gave birth to the final idea of producing a composition that would be consisted only by ethnic instruments. In this way my search for authenticity and relevance between the moving picture and music (in terms of ethnography) would find its ultimate target. As a result a new clip from the ‘Intolerance’ film has been edited and composed with the following ethnic score:                           

Intolerance Clip 4 - Pure Exoticism (E.Chouvardas)
Intolerance Clip 4  (Carl Davis)

The score is moving between exotic scales and modes with certain dissonant elements in order to emphasize in the visual changings occurring in certain points. At 00:29 - 00:33” one can observe a first example of the above statement as the Egyptian fiddles play the center role in changing between the two scenes. Also in 00:38 – 00:42” ethnic percussion sticks have been used in view of giving a hint on the elephant’s faster movement in comparison with the rest of the scene. An additional example can be found further on in 00:47 – 00:58” where the visual focuses in the first character’s appearance. At this point the introductory rhythmic structure is intentionally stopped and the instrumentation tries to create an overall feel of expectation by creating a bridge for the plot’s development.


Considering the build of rhythmic structure ethnic percussions have been scored by playing variations of 4/4 in middle-eastern rhythmic patterns such as wahde (or wahda/tawil), ciftetelli and halay. Acoustic examples of these can be found in the videos below:

Wahde (Wahda) Rhythm
Ciftetelli Rhythm
Halay Rhythm

Beside their contribution in terms of exoticism, these rhythmic structures have been used in conjunction with the visual in order to accompany and describe the characters’ and overall scenes’ movement. This is mainly the reason why different configurations with changed tempo speed have been used. As a result, the opening scene (00:00 – 00:51”), the scene beginning with the jealous ‘priest of Bel-Marduk’ (1:42 – 2:19’), and the scene of ‘King Belshazzar’ on ‘the great wall’ (3:17 – 04:31’) have described with different tempo speeds as well as rhythmic variations.

Another aspect that needs to be noted is the attempt of producing a score with thematic fluidity in view of the scenes’ changings. As a first example in 02:09’ there is an intentional continuation of the previous orchestration (with the introduction of a supplementary violin theme) as the scene changes from the ‘priest of Bel-Marduk’ to the people dancing outside the palace. Further on, in 2:16’, the thematic unity reaches its end but not immediately synchronized with the scene’s changing. In all the above examples one could argue that the overall flow of music is preserved without interfering with the viewer’s overall perception of film montage.

In addition, instant scenes’ cuts were dealt with carefulness and under the same prism of musical fluidity. Examples can be viewed in 1:54’, 2:05’, and 2:17’.   



Another important aspect is the use of ethnic instruments compared to the previous scoring experimentations. In this case the lutes (ouds) and tambouras have been scored with the intention of contributing more in the rhythmic structure as well as their role in thematic variations and motifs. This is especially noted from 3:08 – 4:30’ where the tamboura takes the role of starting the rhythm and unify the two scenes, together with the later on contribution of lutes reinforcing the tempo with a variety of synchronized tempo motifs. This has a direct connection with previous literature review findings and video examples in previous chapters of this project. 


Finally, and as a subsection to the above statement of ethnic instruments’ use, there was a new introduction of a technique that was used only, or primarily, in the early days of the silent film era. Improvisation has been utilized in several parts of this clip by making a connection, as well as experimenting, with an art that is somehow left behind in the evolution of Hollywood film music. Since the introduction of synchronized scores there was little or no evidence found in the particular area. Therefore, I felt the need to re-explore improvisation and embed it, under certain circumstances, in this final scoring attempt.

From 00:58” till 1:40’, the above stylistic approach becomes apparent; duduk has the main role performing in a basis of G natural minor scale (or Aeolian mode) followed by a shenai flute, and a digideroo holding a steady G note. The scene also consists supplementary santur (cimbalom) phrases in 1:13-1:18’ and 1:27’-1:40; the final one resolving into the next thematic unity by performing a Phrygian dominant scale.

The next example can be found in 02:20 -  02:53’ where the shenai flute has the main role performing in a Ukrainian Dorian scale. In this case the santur (cimbalom) has been used again, together with the addition of a lyre harp, accompanying the shenai flute with long performing chords.


Summarizing this final chapter, one could argue that the exclusive use of ethnic instruments contributed in approaching a new, stylistically unique, way of scoring a silent film. The use of exotic scales and modes in conjunction with improvisation techniques revealed a new path in the project’s sequential experimentation. Finally, in terms of authenticity and based on the current research, several steps had been taken in an attempt to provide a score which comes closer to the music elements of the current location and time period the film is based on.

© 2016 by Evangelos Chouvardas

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