Raymond MONELLE: "Musical uniqueness as a function of the text" (7/17)


Music, too, proceeds in two temporalities; it combines lyric time, the time of symmetrically structured lyric evocations, the texture simple and the character strongly melodic, with the progressive time of sequential transitions and modulations, abstract passagework, built up additively from short phrases, semantically rather weak. In music, however, the placing of a static and lyric evocation, like Dickens's picture of life in the marshes, at the beginning of a piece is more usual in slow movements of sonatas and symphonies (that is, not in first movements). For example, the beautiful passage at the beginning of the slow movement of Schumann's Second Symphony is later betrayed by the necessity to move forward, in this movement by the interposition of a lame double fugue. Nevertheless, the different indexical function of syntax in passages of melody and development -- lyric time and progressive time -- is apparent throughout the repertoire. Schumannts supreme melody proceeds in phrases, cadences and modulations, of course, but they are purely syntactic; none of them is indexical of progress or change and the piece could easily end as a mere fragrant morceau. The successive phrases are similar to verbal syntax, in which sentences succeed each other without suggesting a chain of events.
In first movements, the "second subject" is more usually the site for such an evocation. The point of arrival in the second main key is seized on by the "great melodists" for a focus of evocation which remains the most memorable part of the movement. As "melody" -- that is, evocation -- occupied more and more of the centre ground in symphonic construction, the linking passages of structural movement came to resemble tiresome interludes between the outbursts of sentiment. This is acutely the case in Tchaikovsky's late symphonies, but it is already evident in Dvorak, notably in the first movement of the Cello Concerto. In such a passage, the music seems to present moral and emotional truth; like Dickens's picture of marshy bleakness, it is suggestive of a real world of nostalgia, noble sadness, although music needs none of the novelist's representational details.
Evocativeness, verisimilitude, realism -- these are aspects of perceived uniqueness, as I have said. The reader or listener does not feel that the atmosphere or sentimental truth being evoked is conventional, standard or replicable. It is the peculiar thisness, the radical originality of the evoked emotion which gives the passage its power. No listener likes to hear mention of the similarity of "great melodies" to each other; of the pentatonic routines of the Dvorak tune and the second subject of Tchaikovsky's Sixth, for example, which resemble each other closely. This does not seem to touch the essence of the matter at all. These tunes are peculiarly, unforgettably themselves; resemblances are nowhere in the picture.

Page - 1     Page + 1

AS/SA Nº4, Article 4 : Page 7 / 17

© 1997 by AS/SA

E-mail to the editors
Pour écrire à la rédaction