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Counterpointing Film Music – Definition and Examples

Counterpointing Film Music
Counterpointing Film Music

Counterpointing is a special form of film music. As the name suggests, the music behaves contrary, so in contrast to the pictorial language shown. As a result, image and music character give the viewer a new message. The following article gives you an overview and examples to illustrate:


Counterpointing is derived from counterpoint and is in contrast to the content shown in the image. It can give a film scene a new and sometimes contradictory atmosphere. This means that the music creates a mood that contrasts with the meaning of the pictures. As a result, a new message can be generated for the viewer, even sustainably influencing and stimulating reflection.

The film musician Hansjörg Pauli for the following definition:

“[…] a music whose clear character clearly contradicts the equally clear character of the pictures and the picture content.”


The use of counterpointing in film music often leads the viewer to an ambiguous interpretation. This can happen when somebody plays a dark or restless music in a laughing person. This movie scene could mean that a person is happy, but the music creates the opposite – sadness and pain. For the viewer here is no clear statement and he has to make his own thoughts, probably speculate what this scene is to express.


Here are three examples of counterpointing in film music. These are intended to illustrate to you how a film composer can specifically use this composition technique to make key scenes more memorable:

Counterpoise in Apocalypse Now

An example would be the anti-war movie Apocalypse Now. During a helicopter attack, classical music, used by Richard Wagner’s Valkyrie Ride, is used here.

Counterpoise in Titanic

Another example can be found in the film music for Titanic. In the following scene a big panic is shown on the sinking ship. A band plays a very pleasant and quiet music, which is in complete contrast to the picture.

Counterpointing “Silence of the Lambs”

The psychological thriller “Silence of the Lambs” also creates a musical contrast. The main protagonist Hannibal Lecter has just committed a murder, but the music here sounds happy, even reassuring and thus trivializes the act that has just been committed.

Conclusion – counterpointing in film music

As demonstrated by the examples shown, counterpointing is a commonly used musical tool to create opposites and open spaces for interpretation. Often these scenes shape a whole movie and leave a lasting impression on the viewer. Would you like to learn more about film music? Then I can recommend my article about the most important film music techniques.


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