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Journal Article

Music and Narrative Revisited: Degrees of Narrativity in Beethoven and Mahler

Vera Micznik
Journal of the Royal Musical Association
Vol. 126, No. 2 (2001), pp. 193-249
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of the Royal Musical Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3557481
Page Count: 57
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Music and Narrative Revisited: Degrees of Narrativity in Beethoven and Mahler
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Abstract

This study presents an attempt to pin down the potential narrative qualities of instrumental, wordless music. Comparing as case-studies two pieces in sonata form - the first movements of Beethoven's 'Pastoral' Symphony (as representative of Classical narrative possibilities) and of Mahler's Ninth Symphony (as representative of its composer's idiosyncratic treatment of those in the late nineteenth century) -I propose a 'narrative' analysis of their musical features, applying the notions of 'story', 'discourse' and other concepts from the literary theory of, for example, Genette, Prince and Barthes. An analysis at three semiotic levels (morphological, syntactic and semantic), corresponding to denotative/connotative levels of meaning, shows that Mahler's materials qualify better as narrative 'events' on account of their greater number, their individuality and their rich semantic connotations. Through analysis of the 'discursive techniques' of the two pieces I show that a weaker degree of narrativity corresponds to music in which the developmental procedures are mostly based on tonal musical syntax (as in the Classical style), whereas a higher degree of narrativity corresponds to music in which, in addition to semantic transformations of the materials, discourse itself relies more on gestural semantic connotations (as in Mahler).

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