Subject-Position and Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936) in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)


  • Sarah Lucas



Béla Bartók, Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, The Shining, subject-position, film music


Twentieth-century art music composed by Bartók, Ligeti and Penderecki constitutes a large portion of the soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining. This music was not written for the film, and the use of these pieces might leave listeners doubtful as to the legitimacy of a connection between them and the scenes in the movie they were used to enhance. However, in the case of the Bartók work excerpted in the film – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) – an analysis of the subject-position of the music allows for another interpretation. Eric Clarke identifies subject-position in music as “the way in which characteristics of the musical material shape the general character of a listener’s response or engagement,” a definition based on earlier explorations of subject-position in film studies. My analysis of the subject-position of Bartók’s piece and the scenes in which excerpts of the work appear in The Shining reveals similarities in their potential effect on an audience member.