Do you prefer your music diegetic?

In the April 18 issue of the New Yorker Nancy Franklin bemoans a stylistic change in new version of the TV series “Upstairs Downstairs.” In the original series the only soundtrack was the music the characters heard on the gramophone, at parties and so on, but the new version has a “relentless soundtrack that telegraphs the action and emotion…in Moments of Tension you hear plucked violin strings; and When Trouble Looms there’s generic uh-oh music.”

When Franklin discusses her piece with Blake Eskin on the “New Yorker Out Loud” podcast, he tells her about a term he learned in film school. The music that is part of the narrative rather than background music is called “diegetic.”

Diegesis  (from Greek διήγησις narration, narrative; in a speech, the statement of the case, < διηγέομαι to describe, narrate) is rarely used in English. Film critics, however, have picked it up from French critic E. Souriau who introduced diégèse in, L’Univers Filmique 7 (1953). He uses it to mean ‘The narrative presented by a cinematographic film or literary work; the fictional time, place, characters, and events which constitute the universe of the narrative.’

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