This chapter explores how music expresses emotions by illustrating how music is able to translate the content of texts, narratives and cultures. In particular, in order to demonstrate how music can express emotion, it situates how music means and how it might “speak” to its listener (Albright 2009). If meaning is “emergent” (Cook 2001) in the experience of the sound, then what supplementary role does music play within expressing emotions within the context of film? Music is used in a variety of ways in film, often to speak on behalf of a character or culture, when words are not sufficient. It is a vital component of the film media, and is often accredited as contributing the emotional heart to the film. Whereas language in film can be dubbed or subtitled, the music remains, projecting its message across cultural boundaries.

If music is able to express emotion, then it has an emotive response and significant impact on the narrative of a film and its spectator. Can music make us “shiver when listening to Vivaldi’s Winter concerto from the Four Seasons?” (Chanan, in Minors 2013). In illustrating music’s emotional capacity, this chapter takes a model of expressive potential from popular music studies (Moore 2016), which charts the four relational dimensions (intimate space, private space, social space, public space) which enable the listener to interpret meaning from nonverbal gestures.

Two main examples drawn from Sci fi/fantasy films show how music contributes to the expression of emotions. Two contemporary fantasy movies with newly composed music are: The Shape of Water (2017) with music by Alexandre Desplat and Arrival (2016) with music by Jóhann Jóhannsson.