Intertextuality in Western Art Music: Intertextuality in Western Art Music

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  • Society for Music Theory

    Intertextuality in Western Art MusicIntertextuality in Western Art Music by Michael L. KleinReview by: ALASTAIR WILLIAMSMusic Theory Spectrum, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Fall 2006), pp. 316-320Published by: on behalf of the Society for Music TheoryStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/mts.2006.28.2.316 .Accessed: 30/06/2014 11:43

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  • Michael L. Klein. Intertextuality in Western Art Music.Indiana University Press, 2005.

    reviewed by alastair williams

    Michael Klein is concerned that a reader might view themusical examples used in his book as representative of therepertoire described by Joseph Kerman as the pianoteachers rabbit hutch (21). Indeed, he virtually accepts thispotential criticism by acknowledging, as a pianist, that this isthe body of works that comes to mind when he contemplatesmusic. He certainly allows this canon to prevail; neverthe-less, he could have defended himself more robustly by refer-ring to the strand in the book deriving from the music ofWitold Lutosl-awski, whose Fourth Symphony is the topic ofthe last chapter. Karol Szymanowski also contributes to thisthread, as does Chopinsometimes in the context of inter-textual links with Lutosl-awski. In effect, the book straddlestwo repertoires: one being Lutosl-awski and his precursors,the other being standard piano works. Chopin functions as acentral figure in this scheme, although this device is notspelled out, because he bridges the two repertoire groups byvirtue of being simultaneously a composer for piano and aPolish national. Klein is to be applauded for expanding thecanon in this way, but why exactly he chose not to commenton his idiosyncratic choice of music remains a puzzle.

    The reason for Lutosl-awskis inclusion immediately be-comes evident when we learn from the bibliography thatKleins doctoral thesis was a study of Lutosl-awskis latemusic; indeed, it is entirely understandable that the authorshould turn to music he knows well when considering inter-textual approaches to music. What, however, is a little odd is

    that, by placing Lutosl-awski alongside a repertoire mainlyderived from the long nineteenth century, Klein bypasses awide range of modernist music. Discussion not only of mod-ernism and intertextuality, but also of the traditions withwhich Lutosl-awski interacts would have certainly helped tocorrect this asymmetry.

    The author describes his project as follows: The journeyI propose, then, is one that promises no definitive, closed,unquestionable, or complete theory of intertextuality inmusic. I offer no new methodology for uncovering authori-tative readings of works but only suggest initiatives for open-ing up texts (21). This statement is admirable for its mod-esty; however, it is also somewhat redundant, for it is hard toimagine that anyone would offer a definitive, closed, unques-tionable, or complete theory of intertextuality in music, sinceto do so would be to dismiss the inherently open-endedqualities of intertextuality. Kleins aversion to overreachingclaims does not, however, prevent him from adopting a theory-rich approach, which draws not only on music theorybut also on a range of structuralist and poststructuralist liter-ature. Even so, his desire for openness ensures that he usesthese sources pragmatically to provide a context, rather thandeploying them systematically to drive his arguments. As aresult, the performative dimension of this text becomesrather important, with much depending on how persuasivethe reader finds Kleins intertextual links.

    One of the most consistent points of reference in the textis Harold Blooms understanding of literary influence, andyet Klein is at pains to distance himself from the more au-thoritative, combative aspects of Blooms approach. Indeed,he expresses reservations about Kevin Korsyns 1991 applica-tion of Blooms ideas to musical intertextuality, feeling thatKorsyns ideas only underscore our idea of the great artworkas univocal utterance of the great composer (18). Instead,like Bloom, of seeking instances in which music overcomesits precursors, Klein wishes to consider the multiple textualassociations that pieces generate. However, this strategymakes the role of Blooms theory of poetic influence in

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  • Kleins study rather unclear; for, despite its intertextual di-mension, Blooms approach values strong works that sloughoff dependency in the process of forging a commandingvoicean attitude that does not blend well with Kleinsmore benign call for an ecology of pieces (46).

    As a rule, the author is not unduly concerned withwhether or not his intertextual connections are justified byevidence of an historical influence; indeed, he makes a virtueof seeking little by way of historical context for his claims, tothe extent that he is even willing to read history in reverse.This transhistorical view of intertextuality becomes immedi-ately apparent in Chapter 1, when Klein proposes a set of intertextual associations with Chopins Etude in C Major,Op. 10, No. 1, including the first prelude from J. S. BachsWell-Tempered Klavier, Book 1, (WV 846); Lutosl-awskisStudy No. 1 (from the Two Studies for Solo Piano); and thepiano accompaniment in the opening of St. Veronica Wipeshis Face from Peter Maxwell Daviess (Vesallii Icones). Kleinconsiders that the Bach-Chopin intertext is a modern onesince, he argues, it is unlikely that Chopin would haveknown Bachs score. Using Bloom as his model, he then goeson to claim that Chopin is the precursor to Bach because heasks us to hear the earlier composers prelude in a new way.The prelude as newly heard has no existence prior toChopins etude (8). While one can understand what Kleinmeans by this assertion, it would have been more in keepingwith his stated preference for an ecology of pieces to makethe more modest claim that, by situating itself in the overalllistening environment, the Chopin etude at least partiallycolors our access to the Bach prelude. What complicatesmatters is the Bloomian language of precursors, whichprompts Klein to argue for an historical inversion instead ofmerely proposing an intertextual network of associations.

    Given this interest in transhistorical structural connec-tions, it is not surprising that the author turns his attentionto the relationship between structuralism and music theoryin the next chapter, claiming that in music analysis as inmyth, the structure is the meaning (28). This position then

    allows him to make what he calls a Bloomian misreadingof the following statement by Bloom: The meaning of apoem can only be another poem (29); in Kleins version thisbecomes: The structure of a poem is another poem (30).This substitution enables him to argue that if the meaning ofmusic is the relationships between structures, then this struc-tural meaning can extend beyond a single work to an inter-textual network. From this perspective, the author intends tochallenge orthodox doctrines of organicism and autonomy,which seek above all internal cohesion within a score; in-deed, he has some success in doing so, as we have just seenwith the Bach-Chopin intertext. But this manoeuvre doesnot push beyond the limitations of structuralism in the man-ner required for consideration of musical subjectivity of thesort found in the later chapters; for it is perfectly possible toconceive of structures referring to one another without aban-doning the structuralist doctrine that subjectivity is under-pinned by deep codes.

    Indeed Klein invokes just such a vision of structuralistmeta-subjectivity when, paraphrasing Claude Lvi-Strauss,he writes, What matters is that those structures are the op-erations of the mind writ large as an immortal object (28).Klein subsequently argues that structuralism must take intoaccount the impact of culture (28); however, this concessionis not sufficient to prevent the books structuralist sympathiesfrom grating with its later evocation of a musical meaningembedded in human subjectivity. This is because in order forstructuralism to promote the idea that subjectivity is pro-duced by deep codes, it needs to downplay the active role ofhuman agency in the production of meaning.

    Musical meaning is certainly an important topic forChapter 3, where Klein examines the ways in which codesbecome conventions, using Robert Hattens semiotichermeneutics as a model; in fact, Hattens work provides thestarting point for the opening examples. These are based onthe arrival six-four that Hatten identifies in measure 14 ofthe third movement of Beethovens Hammerklavier Sonata,Op. 106, and which he also associates with Liszts use of the

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  • salvation six-four with its suggestion of elevated resolution.Because Hatten does not actually provide an example fromLiszt, he leaves space for Klein to make a suitably grandchoice from the second key area of the first movement of theB minor sonata (m. 205). Arriving after a short cadenza, thismoment initiates a sixteen-bar passage of ecstatic resolutionbased on six-four chords. Furthermore, Klein also builds onHattens idea by identifying what he calls the tragic form(66) of the arrival six-fourthe minor version of the samechordwhich he finds exemplified in climactic passagesfrom Chopins Ballades in G minor, op. 23, and F minor, op.52. These citations obviously derive from his detailed knowl-edge of the piano repertoire, and they present the idea ofseveral scores communicating with one another by means ofa semiotic code in a plausible way.

    When, however, the author uses his Liszt example to jus-tify another transhistorical argument, he stands on less firmground. For while it is reasonable to claim that Liszts ex-pressive understanding of this chord colors, or intensifies,our hearing of Beethovens deployment, it is less convincingto say that Beethoven borrows the transcendence of the six-four chord in Liszt (63); again, the Bloomian vocabularythreatens to distort what would otherwise be a valuable com-ment. This time, however, Kleins historical argument be-comes more developed: he ponders whether Hattens read-ings are intended to reflect what Beethovens contemporarieswould have heard, or whether they are targeted at the sensi-bilities of a modern audience. His conclusion is that Hattenaims at both horizons: he intends that a present-day reader-ship will be convinced by the interpretation, and yet he alsoconsiders that Beethovens contemporaries would have heardthe music in a similar way. Klein, by contrast, is less inter-ested in the hermeneutics of interpretative recovery andmore focused on the present-day readeror at least a post-Lisztian readersince this is the only listener who couldhear Liszt in Beethovens use of the arrival six-four. Again,this position is more compatible with the notion of simul-taneity, as suggested by the prospect of an ecology of pieces,

    than with the reversal of chronology floated in this chapterand elsewhere in the book.

    In Chapter 4 Klein proceeds to a discussion of intertext asa sign of the uncanny. His opening gambit is that Freuds fa-mous interpretation of the uncanny resonates with evoca-tions of the uncanny we find in music, which might be de-scribed as horrifying or other worldy. In this way, Kleininterprets the last two bars of the middle movement ofBeethovens Appassionata Sonata, Op. 57, as uncannytremor leading to terrible recognition on the basis that thediminished seventh chord in measure 95, which displaces theexpected tonic, disrupts the calm stillness of the secondmovement, while its fortissimo repetition in the following baramounts to a terrible recognition that the turmoil of thefirst movement (83) has returned.

    This uncanny interruption leads Klein to consider thesubjectivity of the last movement, asking whether it is lo-cated in the compulsive sixteenth-note motion, in the sup-porting bass, in the dotted motif, or in the chorale texture ofthe coda. His rather startling conclusion is that the subjectis shattered in its own defiant attempts to form itself out ofcataclysm (85). Just how shattered is this subject in musicfull of triadic shapes? The Finale unfolds tonally in a coher-ent manner, despite all its surface activityand it is surely, inpart, at this level that subjectivity lies, albeit in interactionwith the surface. For this reason, it would be more accurateto say of this movement that its subjectivity becomes polyva-lent, rather than shattered, in the mercurial switching be-tween the constituent elements, while the mood of the codais undoubtedly one of sheer excitement. The diminished sev-enths that announce the last movement do indeed signify areturn to the mood of the first movement, but in doing sothey herald a range of subjective states.

    The final chapter expands further the scope of intertextu-ality by turning to the topic of narrativity in music, with aparticular focus on Lutosl-awskis Fourth Symphony. Kleininforms us that Chopin was the only Romantic Lutosl-awskiacknowledged to have exerted an influence on his own

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  • music; however, the intertext the author constructs betweenChopin and Lutosl-awski in this particular case is purelyspeculative. Arguing that the Fourth Symphony engagesnineteenth-century narrative structures, he returns to thediscussion, from Chapter 3, of Chopins Fourth Ballade inorder to suggest that this symphony follows the narrativestructure of Chopins score. In particular, he claims that in both cases a bright apotheosis reaches a terrible reversal before the coda (128). Accordingly, he summarizes Lutosl-awskis narrative as follows: An optimistic theme, in-troduced by a prolonged texture with significations for magi-cal otherness, promises an apotheosis that leads instead toreversal, an ominous pronouncement, and a culminating out-cry; from this climax the persona collapses into remem-brance of an earlier darker state before a pause lends time toprepare for the defiant coda (129).

    In doing so, Klein acknowledges that Lutosl-awskis sym-phony has a darker ending than the coda of ChopinsBallade, and yet his description functions at an archetypalnarrative level, without attempting to situate these gesturessocially or culturally. So, while this argument may well con-vince at a structural level, it says little about what it means toapply a narrative configuration dating from 1843 to musiccompleted in 1992, after all the adventures of modernism. Itcannot be that this narrative model simply has a fixed mean-ing: its semantic coding must, surely, vary according to his-torical context. Adornos (1992) model of how Mahler gen-erates a second life from established conventions would havebeen a good place from which to start an investigation ofnarrative transformation.

    Given that hermeneutics plays a significant role in thebook as a whole, and that Klein regularly makes transhistori-cal leaps, Hans-Georg Gadamer is something of an unex-pected absence from the bibliography. Gadamers notion ofprejudgment (Vorurteil )whereby we experience traditionas saturated with socio-cultural meanings but also alter thoseassociations by bringing something of the present to themwould certainly have enabled Klein to construct a more nu-

    anced argument.1 This is so not least because the concept ofprejudgment envisages that a later event might influence, orreconfigure, interpretation of an earlier event, in a meeting ofhermeneutic horizons, without going so far as to suggest thatthe second event is a precursor to the first. Applied to Lutosl-awskis Fourth Symphony, such an approach wouldhave allowed Klein to consider how the incorporatedChopin model signifies in music informed by the experienceof modernism.

    Furthermore, as Andrew Bowie (1997) remarks in a re-cent study of hermeneutics, it is the reconfiguration of exist-ing linguistic elements to release new semantic potential, orto destroy existing meanings, that makes literature a vital factin the self-understanding of modernity, not the fact that alltexts are parasitic upon other already existing texts. Clearly,the word music can easily be substituted for literature inthis quotation. On this basis, it would have been interestingto have contemplated, in relation to the dynamics of moder-nity, what is destroyed and what is reconfigured in the juxta-position of Chopin and Lutosl-awski.

    As I have indicated in my account of how the chapters re-late to one another, there is a tension in this book betweenstructuralist and poststructuralist theoretical claims, whilethe hermeneutic criticism does not really align itself with ei-ther side. (Personally, I find the approach too willing to letstructuralist concerns prevail over context and circumstance.)In his attempted synthesis of theoretical strands, Kleinwishes to replace the self-contained, integrated model of thework with the notion of an ecology of intertexts but is notkeen to collapse texts into discourses. On a practical level, heprevents this slippage by limiting the number of intertextuallinks, even though he does not in principle exclude otherpossibilities. On a theoretical level, he grapples with the sen-timent found in the following sentence: Though the analy-ses presented here are far from the postmodern ones that

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    1 See also Kramer 2003.

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  • many try to envision, a broader definition of intertextualitywithin these analyses does point to ways in which deepstructures can participate in the very critique that is their un-doing (49). The diplomatic compromise offered in thisstatement is representative of Kleins approach, which prefersto place models alongside one another rather than to exploretheir conflicting claims, even as the priorities of the bookchange in later chapters. These problems do not, however,prevent Klein from providing coherent accounts of the theo-rists and practices on which he comments; and, at the practi-cal level, he brings refined musical instincts to his intertex-tual investigations.

    list of works cited

    Adorno, Theodor. 1991. Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy,trans. by Edmund J. Jephcott. Chicago: The University ofChicago Press.

    Bowie, Andrew. 1997. From Romanticism to Critical Theory:The Philosophy of German Critical Theory. New York andLondon: Routledge.

    Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1989. Truth and Method, trans. re-vised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall.London: Sheed and Ward Ltd.

    Kramer, Lawrence. 2003. Subjectivity Rampant!, in TheCultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, ed. byMartin Clayton, Trevor Herbert and Richard Middleton.London and New York: Routledge.

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