We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. Click here for more information.

Soundtrack Mix #17: Bach on Screen

A moving tribute to the great German composer's contribution to cinema.
Florence Scott-Anderton
This mix is a focus on moments of Johann Sebastian Bach’s neverending filmography that have stuck to memory. The opener belongs in my mind to Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (2000). “Air on D String” has over 30,000 titles featured on an IMDB search and I find myself thinking of Scorsese's After Hours (1985). Bach’s sound is sacred, a fact that two of cinema’s beloved philosophers, Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky responded to throughout their careers. This mix includes Bach in Persona (1966) and The Sacrifice (1986). The earliest use in horror, in Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) with the “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565” is now synonymous with the macabre. A piece which fans of Fantasia (1940) and Sunset Boulevard (1950) will recognize too. And an audience may feel differently about “The Goldberg Variations” upon watching Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of The Lambs (1991). The sounds of Bach’s organ are displayed in the iconic The Godfather (1972) baptism scene and Jan Svankmajer’s experimental Cannes winning work J.S. Bach Fantasy in G Minor (1965).  
Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet’s The Chronicle Of Anna Magdalena Bach (1967) organizes Bach’s life in crisp monochrome, using the Austrian baroque ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien as the main cast. The film takes Bach out of the usual historical context and gleams something new from his life through uncanny mise en scene and the casting of Gustav Leanhardt as Bach, a renowned musician known for using period instruments, who looks nothing like Bach. The scenes of musical performance are astonishing in their historical accuracy. Another docu-fiction no doubt indebted to Straub and Huillet’s Chronicle is Pere Portabella’s The Silence Before Bach (2007). Here the idea that Bach changed the world is explored through contemporary and historical performances and scenarios. A scene with a lorry driver playing Bach with his harmonica is featured in this mix amongst others. 
This mix has a secondary purpose, to acknowledge with great adulation the work of Glen Gould. Two Candian television documentaries, Glenn Gould On and Off The Record (Wolf Koenig & Roamn Kroitor, 1959) explore Gould’s unmatched genius when it came to performing Bach. Gould’s work for the film SlaughterHouse Five (George Roy Hill, 1972) features throughout. 
  1. Suite for orchestra No 3, BWV 1068, Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000) 00:00
  2. Glen Gould, Brandenburg Concerto No.4 in G major, BWV 1049 - III. Presto, Slaughterhouse-Five (George Roy Hill, 1972) 02:40
  3. Silence Of The Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991) Excerpt 07:15
  4. The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, 1968) Excerpt 09:40
  5. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) Excerpt 16:50
  6. Glen Gould, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1054 - III - Allegro, Slaughterhouse-Five (George Roy Hill, 1972) 18:30
  7. The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986) excerpt 21:10
  8. Glen Gould, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1054 - II - Adagio,  Slaughterhouse-Five (George Roy Hill, 1972) 26:20
  9. Air on G string, After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985) 32:00
  10. Glen Gould, Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 - Var. 25 a 2 Clav, Slaughterhouse-Five (George Roy Hill, 1972) 35:30
  11. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966) Excerpt 41:50
  12. The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, 1968) Excerpt 43:50
  13. Bach: Fantasy in G minor (Jan Svankmajer, 1965) Excerpt 46:00
  14. The Silence Before Bach (Pere Portabella, 2007) Excerpt 50:30
  15. Glenn Gould, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.3 in D major, BWV 1054 - I. Allegro, Slaughterhouse-Five (George Roy Hill, 1972) 53:30
  16. The Silence Before Bach  (Pere Portabella, 2007) Excerpt 61:24
  17. The Silence Before Bach (Pere Portabella, 2007) Excerpt 62:55
  18. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) Excerpt 67:00
  19. Glenn Gould, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.5 in F minor, BWV 1056 - II. Largo, Slaughterhouse-Five (George Roy Hill, 1972) 71:48


BachAudioSoundtrack MixesStraub-Huillet
Please sign up to add a new comment.


Notebook is a daily, international film publication. Our mission is to guide film lovers searching, lost or adrift in an overwhelming sea of content. We offer text, images, sounds and video as critical maps, passways and illuminations to the worlds of contemporary and classic film. Notebook is a MUBI publication.


If you're interested in contributing to Notebook, please see our pitching guidelines. For all other inquiries, contact the editorial team.