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The essays collected in this volume are based on a conference that was held in August 2015 at Fordham University in New York City and organized by Professor Lawrence Kramer, who as a long-term member of its executive board had invited the International Association for Word and Music Studies (WMA) to participate in it. The topic of the conference was “Music, Narrative and the Moving Image”, which implied an extension of subject area beyond WMA’s customary concern with aural and linguistic phenomena. This extension took account of both the conspicuous dominance of visual perception in the present cultural climate and the fact that the contemporary media world is characterised by an increased variety of media active on the scene which enter into ever more lively intermedial interaction. Thus, in the conference proceedings here collected, besides the obvious leading multimedia artform of the time, film – which is covered from the silent cinema era to most recent cases –, there are television, music videos, book illustrations and woodcuts treated among the visual media and genres; theatrical forms discussed are plays, operas, including “revolutionary” Peking opera, ballet, and even such rare forms as cabaret spectacles with shadow plays; among the literary genres, narrative fiction and poetry are discussed, as is instrumental music in various formations; and among the musico-literary forms, an emphasis on songs is noticeable.

The great variety of subject areas treated in the papers read at the conference is a challenge for finding a convincing structure to present them in the collection at hand. Nonetheless, the structure chosen has hopefully sufficient inherent logic. The natural major area of interest covered in the essays is film music. In some of the cases discussed the emphasis is on theoretical issues, concentrating on the various functions of music in film (Part 1, Section 1: “Film Music: Reflections on Functions”); while others offer an interesting range of diversified case studies of the use of film music (Part 1, Section 2: “Film Music: Significant Intermedial Cases”); a third section deals with the interaction of words, music and the moving image in media other than film (Part 2: “Intermedial Varieties”); and the fourth and last section addresses cases of intermedial transpositions that involve visual, aural and verbal aspects (Part 3: “Remediations”).

Nonetheless, alternative structures could have been found, as there are various other concerns that recur in several essays and may have formed separate groups. Thus a number of essays discuss narrative functions – on top of those found in Part 1, Section 1 by Werner Wolf, Saskia Jaszoltowski, and Jordan Stokes – and include contributions by Christopher Booth, Heidi Hart, Ruth Jacobs, and Marion Recknagel. A special group of essays deal with the absence of music in film – by Saskia Jaszoltowski, Ruth Jacobs, Lawrence Kramer, and Werner Wolf – while others are concerned with the presence of classical music in film (by Lawrence Kramer, Christopher Booth, Heidi Hart, and Walter Bernhart). Another recurrent subject area is opera, discussed by Axel Englund, Michael Halliwell, Bernhard Kuhn, Marion Recknagel, and David Francis Urrows (on ‘revolutionary’ Peking opera). An interesting further issue addressed in several essays is the degree of coherence found among individual media in plurimedial works, where “fusionist” tendencies (discussed by Bernhard Kuhn, Walter Bernhart, and Emily Petermann) stand in contrast to “separatist” tendencies (as identified by Peter Dayan and Axel Englund).1

In the discussion of functions of music in film (Part 1, Section 1), Lawrence Kramer’s pivotal essay (“Music’s Body and the Moving Image”) assigns music in film the vital function of establishing body images, which are missing in moving images without sound, and thereby reflects a prevalent contemporary concern in musical scholarship with embodiment. In a similar direction, Saskia Jaszoltowski’s contribution (“Disturbing Silences and Open Narratives: Musical Gaps in Fictional and Documentary Moving Images”) thematizes the “ghostly effect” of soundless cinema and discusses various functions of the presence or absence of the acoustic dimension in diversified – narrative and non-narrative – forms of moving images. Werner Wolf in his essay (“Traditional and Non-Traditional Uses of Film Music, and Musical Metalepsis in The Truman Show”) contrasts traditional commercial Hollywood practices of establishing real-life illusions, including emotion-centred functions of music, with postmodernist practices that entail the blurring of ontological levels and the exceptional introduction of musical metalepsis. Jordan Carmalt Stokes (“Homer and the Springfield Orchestra Bus: Four Test Cases for Any Future Challenge to the Diegetic/Non-Diegetic Model”) offers a well-balanced argument for how to meet the challenges repeatedly expressed against the so-called “narratological model” of the distinction between diegetic and non-diegetic music in film.

The earliest example discussed of “Significant Intermedial Cases” of film music (Part 1, Section 2) concerns early Italian cinema of the 1910s. Bernhard Kuhn (“Operatic Plurimediality in Italian Silent Cinema: Nino Oxilia and Pietro Mascagni’s Rapsodia Satanica (1915)”) analyses Rapsodia Satanica as a Wagner-related film with recognizable intermedial references to high-art and the purpose of enhancing the cultural status of cinema at the time. With a similar objective, as discussed by Walter Bernhart (“Humanized Documentary, ‘Light’ Verse, and Music Made to Fit: G.P.O. Film Unit/Auden/Britten’s Night Mail (1936)”), the 1930s British propagandist documentary film Night Mail hired Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden to produce a “collaborative Gesamtkunstwerk” of significant standing. In Ruth Jacobs’s moving essay “An Incarnation of Memory: Song as Absence in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah” on Lanzmann’s 1970s/1980s film, the specific use and non-use of music is seen as an essential element in manifesting the incomprehensibility of the Holocaust experience and its traumatic memory. In a transmedially extended reflection on repetition in literature, film and music, Heidi Hart’s essay (“Accumulating Schubert: Music and Narrative in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep”) demonstrates how the repetitive use of a particular piece of classical music in a film can make a critical statement about usurped cultural and patriarchal superiority. With a related orientation, Christopher Booth, in his essay “Mise en Scène, Mozart, and a Borrowed Chorale: Learned Style and Identity in Pawlikowski’s Ida”, traces the impact the presence of specific pieces of music has on the narrative shaping of a film and the subtle influence it exerts on the development of characters in the story.

In the first essay of Part 2 (“Intermedial Varieties”), Peter Dayan (“Shadow Images Moving to Music: La Tentation de saint Antoine in Montmartre”) takes the reader to the world of 1880s Parisian theatre and discusses an exceptional case of the relationship between music, word and image in the spectacle and book versions of a cabaret shadow play. Marion Recknagel’s essay “‘The Big Turnaround in the Middle’: On the Silent Movie and the Film Music Interlude in Alban Berg’s Opera Lulu” analyses the various dramaturgical functions of the silent film with accompanying music that Berg placed at a pivotal position in the middle of his unfinished 1930s opera Lulu. Frieder von Ammon (“All the Pieces Matter: On Complex TV Music”) investigates the use of music in ‘Quality TV’ since the 1980s and observes a decisive shift from earlier TV series in terms of a significant enhancement of sophistication in ‘Quality TV’ series. Emily Petermann’s focus in her essay “The Music Videos of Alternative Rock Band They Might Be Giants: Prolegomena for a Theory of Nonsense across Media” concentrates on nonsense as a phenomenon that finds coordinated parallel expression in some examples of the multimedial form of the American music video since the 1980s.

In the initial essay of Part 3 (“Remediations”) by Axel Englund (“Thrilling Opera: Conflicts of the Mind and the Media in Kasper Holten’s Juan”), a highly creative transposition of Mozart/da Ponte’s opera Don Giovanni into a complex combination of filmed live opera and movie thriller demonstrates the hazards of mixing media in the adaptive process. Alla Bayramova’s essay “Novel, Woodcuts, Film, Music …: Pondering over the Title of Gara Garayev’s Symphony Engravings ‘Don Quixote’” discusses the transposition of Cervantes’s great novel first into a film and further into a symphonic work by an Azerbaijani composer and champions an intensified intermedial approach to analysis. Michael Halliwell’s essay “Film as Opera: Three Perspectives on Still Life and Brief Encounter” follows the intermedial adaptive steps from a Noël Coward play to a David Lean film and further on to two operatic remediations and identifies in the transpositional processes media-specific differences in choosing material from the source work. The remediation part of the volume is rounded off by David Francis Urrows’s entertainingly instructive essay “On the Intertextual Docks, or, Whatever Happened to Shanghai Lil?”, which traces the various incarnations of a popular Shanghai character in such diversified media as a Soviet ballet, an American musical film, and a ‘revolutionary’ Peking opera.

As is agreeably customary, thanks are due to be expressed in a preface of this kind. I gladly thank my co-editor David Urrows for being a helpful second pair of eyes and ever prudently critical co-evaluator. My gratitude also goes to Larry Kramer for making the whole project possible by inviting us to Fordham and guaranteeing the congenial atmosphere for successful academic performance and proficiency. Self-evidently thanks deserve to go to all the contributors who have shown exceptional patience and spirit of cooperation in the long editorial process of turning the essays into a publisher-suitable shape. Of the publishing company, it is above all Masja Horn, Brill Acquisitions Editor for Literature and Cultural Studies, who deserves high praise and lots of thanks for being a constant source of support and encouragement in making the book finally see the light of day. I wish the book a wide attentive and sympathetic readership.

Walter Bernhart

Graz, December 2018


For a discussion of these categories see Walter Bernhart (2017). “From Orpheus to Bob Dylan: The Story of ‘Words and Music’”. Aletria: Revista de Estudos de Literatura 27/2: 277–301.

Music, Narrative and the Moving Image

Varieties of Plurimedial Interrelations



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