[Smt-talk] Narrative/analysis (was theory of film music)

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at scarlet.be
Tue Jul 8 05:57:46 PDT 2014

We probably need to better define what should be understood by 
"narrative analysis".

On the one hand it is true that music has its own 'narrative', one that 
should be rediscovered. On the other hand people claiming to perform 
"narrative analysis", in Europe at least, understand by that evidencing 
what the music narrates, the tale that can be deduced and reproduced in 
ordinary language -- say, the turning to D major at the end of Mozart's 
Fantasy in D minor as expressing the final victory of the hero, as Eero 
Tarasti once claimed in a paper read in Paris (unaware, apparently, that 
this ending is not by Mozart).

There are works that do tell stories. For instance, the fact that Liszt 
reproduces Victor Hugo's poem before his Symphonic poem Mazeppa may 
allow one to deduce that the music somehow tells the same tale; and one 
may even consider that the change from D minor in the beginning to D 
major at the end probably relates to the tale told.

On the other hand, one may consider that the fact that Mozart's KV397 
ends on a dominant (rather than on a tonic in major) has to do with its 
musical 'narrative', but this one is of an entirely different nature, 
one that needs not be translated into words.

Even in the case or Liszt, accounting in words with what the music 
narrates is, in my opinion, only a very restricted part of what a 
musical analysis should be -- and perhaps should not be considered 
"music analysis" properly speaking.

Nicolas Meeùs
Professeur émérite
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 8/07/2014 11:18, Nicholas Reyland a écrit :
> Interesting how the idea of narrative and music continues to ignite 
> the passions, leading to some notably strong statements.
> On the one hand, Prof. Meeùs write that 'narrative analysis, or music 
> criticism, or anything of the like, as interesting as they may be, are 
> _not_ part of music analysis properly speaking', and adds 'I see no 
> reason why narratologists should claim [to be] performing music 
> analysis properly speaking, nor why music analysts properly speaking 
> should feel in any way dependent on narratology'.
> On the other hand, I recently read Anahid Kassabian claiming, in the 
> introduction to /Ubiquitous Listening/, that most forms of music 
> analysis are narratological.
> Weirdly, scholars who might justifiably consider at least some of 
> their work to be 'music narratology' almost never make such sweeping 
> claims. As Fred Maus has put it, in my experience quite typically of 
> lots of work in this area by music theorists, 'The notion of 
> narrative... is something to try, one way or another' (quoted in 
> Fred's chapter in /Music and Narrative since 1900/) .
> A narrative approach is not the only, nor the best, way to interpret 
> lots and lots of music: it is never the /only/ productive way to 
> engage any piece of music, and music's otherness always exceeds its 
> grasp on the occasions when pieces /do/ invoke the possibility of 
> reading through a narrative frame. Nonetheless, by examining some 
> music through narrative-informed approaches, one can access ideas that 
> cannot be revealed in other ways and that therefore have the potential 
> to make a unique contribution to criticism and scholarship, productive 
> for creators, critics, performers, and audiences alike. I am very 
> happy for this to be part of my work as a music analyst and theorist. 
> And the internal evidence of the music, like Frank Kermode's notion of 
> the classic, has nothing to fear of such work, even when such work is 
> intimately concerned with that very evidence: music 'subsists in 
> change', remaining infinitely 'patient of interpretation'.
> With best wishes to all
> Nick Reyland
> ____________________________________________
> Dr Nicholas Reyland
> Senior Lecturer
> Music & Film Studies
> Keele University
> n.w.reyland at keele.ac.uk <mailto:n.w.reyland at keele.ac.uk>
> www.keele.ac.uk/music/people/nicholasreyland
> T: +44 (0)1782 733297
> Music, The Clock House, Keele University, ST5 5BG, UK
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