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

Ildar Khannanov etudetableau at gmail.com
Wed Jul 9 09:10:41 PDT 2014

 Dear Nicolas and the List,

yes, indeed, without proper definition of narrative this discussion will
lead nowhere. I know of two contrasting interpretations of this term.

1) The simplest is narrative as a story. A sequence of events that reminds
the listener or the viewer of normal sequence of event in his or her life
and reproduced on film (or in a novel). This simple definition is the
object of desire for Hollywood production and its way to the box office

2) Narrative function in terms of Algirdas Greimas. This is the opposite of
that simple one. Fonction narratif occurs as the play of nuances and
non-verbal modalities that accompany a verbal statement. More precisely, it
is the aspect of narration that exceeds the semantic structure of a
sentence. Something that can be called, roughly,  non-discoursive premises
of writing. Applied to music (in terms of Robert Hatten) the narrative
function occurs when the normal musical syntax (tonal-functional,
formal-function, etc.) is violated. An example of such violation is modal
shift in Mozart's Subsidiary area. Hatten suggests six degrees of
markedness of such violations (licenses) that related to constitution of
musical subjectivity, i.e. of actant.

In this sense there are two types of narrative analysis of music. One
ascribes a story (analogous to everyday-life events) to music before
analysis (E.g. Lawrence Kramer's interpretation of Moonlight sonata). This
is a trivial approach by default. Another type observes anomalies in syntax
that trigger secondary meaning. These anomalies may be left without
interpretation or interpreted semantically.

The secondary narrative in music is similar to artistic montage in the film
that has been introduced and theorized by Eisenstein at the time when
filmmaking was in its diapers.

In my analysis of Rachmaninoff's Etude-Tableau Little Red Riding Hood I
first go over its harmony and form. The framing sections of this etude
follow not so much the postulates of classical forms as the morphology of a
fairy tale (villain--princess intermittent exposition, three statements of
expository material, etc.). The middle section is very unusual; it contains
one extended harmonic progression with very ambiguous tonal goals; it sound
more like a film montage in the style of Dziga Vertov (with the steam
engine running through the landscape, accelerated shots sequence, etc). The
recapitulation returns the fairy tale syntax, but the whole Etude ends in a
way uncharacteristic for a fairy tale (in terms of Propp). The princess
dies and the villain remains alive. Here, I have freedom to suggest that
the hidden narrative in this Etude is the anticipation of Russian
revolution. Take it or leave it, but this is the interpretation of
secondary narrative.

Best wishes,

Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Institute
etudetableau at gmail.com

2014-07-08 8:57 GMT-04:00 Nicolas Meeùs <nicolas.meeus at scarlet.be>:

>  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
> 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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