"Thematic Introduction to the Issue"
University of Helsinki
International Semiotics Institute
MUSIC: BETWEEN STYLE AND MEANING
A general problem we encounter with almost all systematic methods of music analysis is that they tell us more about the method itself and less about the object. This is also true for musical semiotics, insofar as it appears in the form of a systematic approach, be it called generative, Schenkerian, cognitive, or whatsoever.
Leonard B. Meyer, in his monumental work Style and Music. Theory, History and Ideology, emphasizes the role of choice on the stylistic side as a set of rules and normative constraints. He says: "Mozart could compose with astonishing facility partly because the set of constraints he inherited, the so-called Classic style, was especially coherent, stable and well-established". But on the other hand, he says that a style emerges only through an individual choice of the composer. As analysts we must beware of what might have happened if the composer-subject had chosen something else.
Semiotic analysis done so far in music has been mostly on the side of Meyer's "constraints", or Saussurean langue, instead of being sensitive to the uniqueness and individuality of a musical piece, composer and his-her single style. Could musical semiotics be developed to such an extent that it would follow more the Heideggerian notion of Gelassenheit (letting-things-to-be), i.e. not be reductionist or ethicist but open to the original message of the musical work under investigation? This might be a challenge for any semiotician-musicologist, independently from whether he-she is studying Classical-Romantic répertoires, dodekaphonism or other forms of musical avant-garde, or working even in the field of ethnomusicology.
This special issue of "Music: Between Style and Meaning" will focus on this problem. The following contributions could be regarded as either innovative theoretical papers, or as analyses showing how the author has been able to grasp the parole aspect, i.e. the unique message of the musical creation, through semiotic methods. Or they can represent both at the same time.