The score in this movie is extra important…because without it, we'd be watching the movie in pretty much dead silence.
The composer is Ludovic Bource, a Frenchman who worked with Hazanavicius on his OSS 117 films. His score for The Artist, recorded with the Brussels Philharmonic orchestra, won a Golden Globe and an Oscar and it sets the mood and drives the movie's narrative.
In the opening scene of the movie, it seems like the music we're hearing is coming from the orchestra pit in front of the stage, where George's movie is playing on screen. It was common for live orchestras to provide the tunes for live screenings of silent films, but this is Hazanavicius' first cheeky nod to the irony of staging a silent film in a sound era.
When the music stops and the audience claps without sound, it becomes clear that we're also watching a silent film, whose only accompanying noise is the score.
It's worth mentioning the only song in the film that has lyrics, which plays alongside Peppy's "rise-to-fame" montage: "Pennies From Heaven" as sung by Rose Murphy.
The lyrics in the song not only draw attention to Peppy's success in talkies but also tell us that, although it's raining real raindrops all over George's parade, for Peppy it's only raining money and heavenly fortune.
The Score of the City
If our feelings were musical, what would they sound like? Like "Rhapsody In Blue " from Fantasia 2000 (also set in the 30s), which is like a choreography of city-dwellers through music, The Artist uses music to signal shifts in tone and give insight to what characters are feeling.
When they're feeling playful, like George at his premiere, or hopeful, like Peppy arriving on set for the first time, the music reflects that in a skippy, plucky piano riff. When things get a little more somber—the stock market crashes and Tears of Love is making people cry tears of not love—the score relies more heavily on dramatic string instruments.
Theft or Tribute?
Hazanavicius has said that The Artist is a "love letter to cinema," and as such borrows from a number of different sources and styles to create a pastiche of film history. (Source)
The most obvious example is Hazanavicius' use of Bernard Hermann's "legendary love theme" from Hitchcock's Vertigo, a film that, like The Artist, is also about madness, death and the thin line between fantasy and reality.
Kim Novak, who won an Oscar for her role alongside Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, was not so happy about the use of the theme in The Artist:
"I want to report a rape," she announced. "I feel as if my body—or at least my body of work—has been violated by the movie The Artist." (Source)
Others have in turn criticized her statement, such as Guy Lodge from HitFix, who writes that Novak's issue with The Artist is like "complaining that Andy Warhol stole the Campbell's soup logo."
For those familiar with Hermann's famous theme, the climax of Hazanavicius' movie is either cheapened or made all the more layered by it.