Whilst writing an essay I came across Carolyn Abbate’s ideas around narrative voice in music: “the act of telling it – the act of narrating – is the point” (Abbate 1996: 28). Her theory relies on the voice, not the content because it is based in the relationship between the storyteller and the listener. Abbate believes music is unable to narrate, except during moments of dissonance. The narrative content cannot be present in the music – it is too abstract by nature and needs song words or visual elements to provide content. The quality of the sounds produced can, however, create a sense of something being conveyed, without fully understanding what that something is. This is the narrative voice of the music.
Taking Abbate’s theory, I applied it to the first musical composition in Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue. Preisner, composing as the character Patrice, created part of a symphony: Song For The Unification Of Europe – Patrice’s Version. The idea behind the music is Patrice is commissioned to compose it and it will be sung and played in twelve European cities simultaneously at a ceremony for the European Union. In the film Patrice dies before he completes the symphony. Despite a choir singing of love, hope and charity, there is dissonance and a sense of foreboding created by the use of bells, drones and percussion during musical breaks from the singing.
This sense of foreboding, if we adhere to Abbate’s guide of analysing the music from the basis of there being a storyteller and a listener, is the composition’s voice. Preisner, composing as Patrice, is using voices to verbalise the hopes attached to the notion of unification: the words are about how nothing matters without love. The music’s dissonance carries another message and it could be about the loss of individuality that unification may bring, or it could be a premonition of Patrice’s death, or it could be something else entirely. The music’s narrative content is unclear but the voice is heard and felt.
I would like my puppet film to utilise Abbate’s theory.
Carolyn Abbate. Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton: Princeton Academic Press. 1996.
Krzysztof Kieslowski. Three Colours: Blue. France: Artificial Eye. 1993.