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Beethoven Overcome: Romantic and Existentialist Utopia in Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Musicology.
2011 (English)In: Nineteenth Century Music, ISSN 0148-2076, Vol. 34, no 3, 302-315 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The very last scene of Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker (1979) portrays a young girl who moves glasses around on a table just by fixing her eyes on them. As she performs this magical act the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, alongside the sound of a passing train, briefly appears on the soundtrack. This brief but poignant appearance of Beethoven's music is both arresting and perplexing, but although the scene has received a number of critical readings, it is often noticed without further considerations. The present article concentrates on this overlooked aspect in order to reread the scene and examine the role played by Beethoven's music in it. I argue that Beethoven's music has a symbolic function within the scene and, furthermore, that it can most plausibly be understood as representing the scientific revolutions, the political projects, and the ideological struggles of modern history. I also argue that this symbolic meaning is effectively recoded within the filmic context of the last scene, turning what can be understood as two of the master signifiers of modern civilization's technological, political, and ideological triumphs into powerful representations of the transitory and ultimately meaningless dimension of those triumphs. In the last part of the article I examine a particular phenomenon in the film: the regular return of the compound sound-image consisting of classical music and the sound of running trains. Departing from an interpretive strategy developed by musicologist Lawrence Kramer, I attempt to show that the iteration of this sonic figure amounts to a particular structural trope in the film, namely what Kramer would call an expressive doubling. This eventually leads me to the conclusion that one very rewarding way of looking at Stalker is to see it as expressing or enacting a central tenet of the utopian aesthetics of early Romanticism: the idea of transcendence.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2011. Vol. 34, no 3, 302-315 p.
Keyword [en]
Tarkovsky, Stalker, Beethoven, structural trope, Romanticism
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Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-140995DOI: 10.1525/ncm.2011.34.3.302ISI: 000290095500005OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-140995DiVA: diva2:384725
Available from: 2011-01-10 Created: 2011-01-10 Last updated: 2011-06-07Bibliographically approved

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