Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Bach at the Space Station

Hermeneutic Pliability and Multiplying Gaps in Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2014), 8, (1), 1–23.

Abstract

The distinction between diegetic and non-diegetic music is fundamental to film musicology. It is also a distinction that has been much debated, as evidenced in recent discussions by, among others, Jeff Smith, David Neumeyer, Giorgio Biancorosso, Ben Winters, and Guido Heldt. A frequently recurring theme in these discussions has been Robin Stilwell's notion of ‘the fantastical gap’, that is, music straddling or being indeterminate with regard to the realms of diegetic and non-diegetic music.

The relevance of such concepts for pre-existing music and for non-Hollywood ‘art cinema’ is a topic that has received somewhat less attention. This essay focuses on the appearance of Johann Sebastian Bach's choral prelude ‘Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ’ in Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972). It claims that the diegetic status of this music is essentially a function of the specific interpretative frameworks within which it is posed. Only when a credible reading is in place will a conception of the music in this regard become relevant. This claim is substantiated by an extensive discussion in which Bach's music is first constructed as non-diegetic commentary and thereafter as metadiegetic imagining. Beyond these two perspectives, however, there are almost certainly yet other ways in which we can plausibly construct a ‘place’ for this music in the film. The result is a multiplicity of interpretatively viable options that renders the diegetic status of the Bach prelude increasingly ambiguous, an ambiguity that in turn would seem to lead to a diversity of fantastical gaps.

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Pontara, Tobias