So I was watching The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) (The remake, not the original) and I was struck with the colors and general feel of the main theme, composed by Bill Conti. I immediately wanted to know if the song was composed in any specific mode or, if that's not the case, if there is any harmonic tool used in the music that generates that specific flying feel.

Here is a link to the song:

  • Well, I got too bored to listen to any more after 5 minutes of absolutely nothing happening, except endless repetition of a the same few aimless twiddles over one chord. I suppose if you want to call it "modal", it would be Ionian.
    – user19146
    Jul 3, 2018 at 2:08
  • well, it is a soundtrack, I think that it acomplishes its purpose of giving a general feel to a given scene. Hans Zimmer also does this in every Nolan Movie and everybody looses their minds. The Ionian mode is just the mayor scale, right? I thought the theme had some alterations, I'm dissapointed, haha. Thanks for your answer! Jul 3, 2018 at 2:11
  • Oh I hear a lot going on in there. Not a good time for me to analyze and try to answer, but that’s a very interesting score that I never noticed before. It’s partly minimalist, and partly chromatic. Jul 3, 2018 at 8:22

1 Answer 1


As the comments already suggest, it's basically just in major. If you want to call it a mode, that would be Ionian, but it's pretty strongly based on dominant–tonic relationships, so I think "major" would be more accurate than "Ionian." (See What is the difference between C major and C Ionian?)

The opening is all based on the C-major collection, and it's a bit reminiscent of Terry Riley's "In C." Around 1:20, Conti introduces a couple of accidentals (among them B♭ and E♭), but this is really just a transition to what begins at 1:23, which is really D Dorian. But interestingly, this D Dorian includes the exact same pitches as C major. Thus he hasn't changed any pitches, only the tonal center. By about 1:45, he's already moving back to C major.

At 3:41, he moves to D major.

In short, this is all pretty standard tonal material. "That specific flying feel" is, in my opinion, due more to the instrumentation and motivic material than to any particular mode.

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