Raymond MONELLE: "Musical uniqueness as a function of the text" (16/17)

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During its course, the mezzo-soprano turns into a fictional actor, framed by a fairly trivial stage. The orchestra colludes only intermittently; there are topics which draw in other worlds (the rustic pastoral and the devilish violin) and the tone is sometimes ironic. Evidently, the clear subjective appeal of the singer is precariously grounded; her "sincerity" is compromised. This explains the strangeness and richness of "Urlicht", a prodigious response to the mixed subjectivities of Brentano's poem. The listener struggles to guess whose voice is heard, as though straining to catch a distant message. Everything is undermined, compromised, stymied, in an image of vital impurity. But in spite of this, it is heard as a unique personal appeal, the intimate confidence of a warmly human lament, thanks to the slow-moving chest tones of the singer. Hence its terrible poignancy, beyond the comfort of tears. "The faithful performance [...] allows us to hear the persona, and hence the composer's voice behind the persona, speak for itself", Cone says (Cone: 1974, 62). In every way, topically, stylistically, modally, this song is a heterogeneous jumble. Yet it is heard as a unitary, passionate address, all the more unique and special for its lack of musical uniformity, focussed by the unitary voice of the soloist.
Semiotics is a science which seeks universal features. Logically, uniqueness is beyond the reach of science. It is the province of imagination rather than reason. Yet the powerfully evinced uniqueness of the artwork is, in fact, a perceived uniqueness, rooted in textual codes. It projects itself through the dual media of truth to life, and a reflection of the speaking personality. Both of these features may be examined by semiotics, because both are prompted by certain cultural signs. Thus, our general science, initially excluded from the discussion, may return in another form, that of textual semiotics. Above all, the "life" to which the text is true, and the "personality" speaking within it, are both textual features; they are not "extramusical" or, indeed, extraliterary. What critics once called the "real world" and "the author", are in fact genre and textual subjectivity. This in no way diminishes their power, for nothing can seem more real than the roots of our culture.






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AS/SA Nº4, Article 4 : Page 16 / 17


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21.12.1997