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Music Semiotics a Network of Significations Intro

Music Semiotics a Network of Significations Intro

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Music Semiotics
Music Semiotics

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Esti Sheinberg

The Universe of Musical Meaning
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1   Viktor Emil Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. Translated by Ilse Leach (Boston, 1962). 2   Raymond’s choice of Dr Strabismus of Utrecht honoured J.B. Morton’s imaginary eccentric inventor, famous for his plethora of ineffective innovations (elliptically implying that, while some may still find the usefulness of music semiotics a rather challenging matter, its aesthetic and intellectual purport stand intact).

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The area of meaning that the writers of this collection address is music, and the most important element that unites them all is their indebtedness, in one way or another, to the scholarship of Raymond Monelle. Were it not for the risk of being deemed banal (and lacking in keywords for search engines), this book could be titled The Posthumous Papers of the Dr Strabismus of Utrecht (whom God preserve) Club. Such title would honour Raymond Monelle’s literary persona,2 his love for Charles Dickens and his rare gift of combining earnest (and razor-sharp unforgiving) analyses with a self-ironizing Doppelgänger’s gaze at his own work. Indirectly, it would also allude to his diverse taste and overwhelming knowledge of literature, philosophy, history, art and music; in other words, of his being, first and foremost, a truly open-minded scholar.
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Viktor Frankl’s groundbreaking research into the Self is published in English under the title Man’s Search for Meaning.1 Its original title, … trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen is, nevertheless, more telling about this painfully meticulous portrayal of a persistent quest. This description of a psychological struggle with suffering, its transcendence and final transfiguration into a renewed and courageous existential stance, produced a new term: Logotherapy – healing by meaning. We live in a universe of meanings that we create and according to which we live. Paraphrasing Frankl, our life depends on our constantly challenging these meanings with questions, interpretations and analyses, all surrounded by infinite doubts. Certainties divide humankind; questions unite us. The constant search for signification, the very process of inquiry, makes our existence intentional – and therefore meaningful.
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Chapter 1

co m ww w. respectful discourse inspired a generation of scholars. Puzzled by this ostensibly simple concept and inspired by French-thinking inquisitive minds such as Rousseau. just by his desk.a sh ga te. A Sounding of Signs: Modalities and Moments in Music. pp. Borrowed from one of Monelle’s most intricate essays. a starting point for a new Thinking-Adventure.a sh ga te. maybe – directed at some obscure corner of a musical work. Of all the slogans and cartoons displayed in many offices. in Raymond Monelle.a sh ga te. the one who juggled the ever-moving. while his loyal fox-terrier Milou looks up at his master thinking: ‘Oh. it highlighted a main keyword of his scholarship. 1996). thought and analysis devoted to this subject. Its first part was published as ‘What is a Musical Text?’. ever-changing spaces that weave the endless glass-beads of human thought. Monelle’s articles often started with a faint spotlight – a teaser. Raymond Monelle cherished search. co m The original subtitle of this collection was Texts on Music Semiotics. well. showing Tintin walking down a street and muttering to himself: ‘this is indeed very strange!’. became Fascinating. in Eero Tarasti. pp.a sh ga te. 67–89. 2000). However. the narrow beam implied. he argued. This volume presents some phases of this dialogue. Acta Semiotica Fennica XXX (Imatra. co m 3 ww w.a sh ga te. née Obvious. ww w. and of music texts set to literature and poetry.a sh ga te. one must first define what is a text. co m   Raymond Monelle. mainly because it was. Earlier discussions at various seminars and conferences sum up to almost 10 years of study.a sh ga te. I still find this one the most inspiring. Paul Forsell and Richard Littlefield (eds). Once defamiliarized. 2008). scholarly integrity and unfashionable insistence on a civilized.2 Music Semiotics: A Network of Significations © Copyrighted Material ww w. Musical Semiotics in Growth (Imatra. developing a characteristically transparent narrative of the inquiry. Never underestimating his readers.4 To understand the nature of a musical text. this particular little detail did not quite fit in. Harri Veivo and Irma Vierimaa (eds). Reading his work meant engaging in an exciting game in which he was the Magister Ludi. Richard Littlefield. and inviting us to a mental dialogue that offered no intellectual concession. Hatten. His early thesis was written precisely on ww w. co m ww w. His courage to contemplate music as a signifying system reminded us of the true meaning of our own work.a sh ga te. co m In an academic world divided by findings. the specific element. co m © Copyrighted Material ww w. obvious. 4   ‘Text and Subjectivity’.a sh ga te. 5   A cartoon of Hergé’s hero was stuck to the wall in Monelle’s office. The Sense of Music (Princeton.a sh ga te.a sh ga te. co m . he built his story. co m ww w. pp. co m Texts ww w. 147–169. Culture and Philosophy. poetry and music. no! Not again!’. ww w. Pirjo Kukkonen. Derrida and Tintin5 – Monelle investigated the nature of texts in literature. in Robert S. co m ww w. and his admirable determination to calmly stare into the abyss of music’s ‘absent meaning’3 became thus a lesson in confronting Life. a ‘something’ that no one had noticed before.a sh ga te. co m ww w. His relentless study. ‘The Absent Meaning of Music’. 245–260. was not quite right.

149.. co m © Copyrighted Material ww w. co m ww w. Semiotics is a theory. 229–236. Texts are communications between human minds. and therefore it does not necessarily prescribe any particular method of communication or of sign reading. ww w.7 What is a text? ‘A text is a semiosis. co m ww w. co m 3   Monelle’s doctoral thesis.8 A score can become a musical text ‘not as performed. Furthermore: a text is never a text. something understood’. it becomes one only when it is read and understood. co m The theory of semiotics stipulates the principles of signification.a sh ga te.6 and many of his later projects display this interest. no agenda. interpretants produced by semiotic processes.a sh ga te. It exists only when interpreted. 8   Monelle. ‘Semiotics Threatens No One …’. ‘Opera Seria as Drama: The Musical Dramas of Hasse and Metastasio’ (University of Edinburgh. it opposes all particular manifestations of readings. 1969). Even his earliest paper. ‘Text and Subjectivity’. 147. ‘Notes on Bartók’s Fourth Quartet’. connecting between periods. p. While its existence requires the meeting of two minds – the originator of a message and its reader (or. 123–129. as all of us well know. its dialectics [between the signifier and signified – ES] resolved into intelligibility’.a sh ga te. Paul Forsell and Richard Littlefield (eds). co m ww w. 29/2 (1968): pp. A message is a promise for an ever-expanding web of possible significations: of perpetual. Acta semiotica fennica XXIII (Imatra. pp. 65/3 (1984): pp. The book you hold is not a text.10 As a theory.a sh ga te. Monelle positions it at one pole of two different oppositions: in the first. The Music Review.a sh ga te. places and people. was followed by a period of quiet study (then still allowed within academic circles). eternal semiosis. ww w. co m Theory ww w. 9   Ibid. The second opposition differentiates semiotics from any set of principles that carry value judgments. on Bartók’s purely instrumental Fourth String Quartet. ‘semiotics threatens no one’.a sh ga te. The following decade produced ‘Levels of Rhythm in Vocal Music’. argues Monelle. performances.a sh ga te. a part of a process. Therefore. 31–44. in Eero Tarasti. it is an interpretant. 2006).a sh ga te. ‘Semiotics is innocent’: its queries and statements follow no ideology.Introduction © Copyrighted Material ww w. co m .9 A text is not a thing. British Journal of Aesthetics. tied by an infinite number of threads to an infinite number of other texts and other minds. semiotics does not look at what is signified as much as it looks at how the signification process takes place. but as understood. or texts.a sh ga te. Music & Letters.a sh ga te. semiotics is based on speculative and deductive thought rather ww w. 7   Raymond Monelle. co m this relationship. Music and the Arts: Proceedings of ICMS 7.a sh ga te. 22/1 (1982): pp. focused on the meaningfulness of its musical structure. co m ww w. 17–36. and the later ‘Word-Setting in the Strophic Lied’. p. co m 6 ww w. the two minds of one originator) – any one message can become an infinite number of texts. Unlike hermeneutics or any other type of interpretation.a sh ga te. 10   Raymond Monelle. co m ww w. ad infinitum renewed and renewable.

ideas and postulates. inherent in the very idea of a sign. we are called to set aside our opinions.a sh ga te. co m ww w. co m than on inductive processes that characterize. first and foremost. the semiotics of music explains how music signifies. impartiality and transparency are respected and followed at each step.a sh ga te. co m ww w. is still unfinalized. then all the chapters in this volume are not only intermodal but also intertextual. Insisting on scholarly rigour keeps us from falling into the deepest (and most cynically abused) pit of postmodern theory: the false claim that ‘anything goes since everything is just an interpretation’. Being aural sign-systems that develop in time.a sh ga te. Musicians writing about music need to be acquainted not only with literature. poetry. our aim is clarity of expression and thought. mythology. political and social narratives. as well as the criteria for their formation into sets or schemes. co m © Copyrighted Material . our strategy is based on the ethos of rationality. the theoretical basis on which its principles.a sh ga te. Being open to discussion and to criticism is.a sh ga te. for example. The only way in which we can hone our analyses and improve our research is by exposing our thoughts and deliberations to comments and constructive criticism. co m ww w. While the phenomenon of music signification is intuitively familiar to each one of us. theoretical thought must be verified through critical processes. and any immediate ‘gut reactions’ we were trained to trust in our musical encounters. implies a web of inter-systemic correlations. particularly when the writers are. If a text is ‘something that is understood’.a sh ga te. feelings. art and history. Reading and writing semiotics is a merciless enterprise. co m ww w. Examples and particular texts serve as case studies to validate and corroborate (or refute) its stipulations. therefore. which must remain clear of any a-priori values. ww w. co m ww w. history or sociology.a sh ga te. In a field that is murky with overlapping and confusing terminologies.a sh ga te. co m ww w. As systems complicate. Each point must – and should – be debatable. which so often are ww w. natural prejudices. While acknowledging that no eye – and no mind – is innocent. a main postulate of this collection. musical works are by their very nature interconnected with other systems: dramatic. co m Networks ww w. historical contexts and rhetorical devices. The simplest pairing of a signifier and signified. forming the subject of our quest for accurate definitions and lucid descriptions. co m Meaning is intermodal.a sh ga te. inter-systematic correlations become interdisciplinary networks. co m ww w.a sh ga te. co m ww w. Being a series of principles that offer explanations for the phenomenon of signification. While our conviction that music signifies is indeed primarily based on intuition and observation.4 Music Semiotics: A Network of Significations © Copyrighted Material ww w. psychology. musicians. Ignoring that music semiotics is based on intermodality necessarily misleads music interpretation.a sh ga te.a sh ga te. Our research is geared precisely against entering that tempting comfort-zone. making sure that the principles of accuracy. Focusing on facts and ideas. the fact that no Grail of Innocence awaits us at the end of this road does not invalidate what this quest stands for.

11 Meanwhile. Michael Spitzer. history. We write about music and poetry and learn about the connection between music and movement while wondering about the relationship between music and facial expressions. Its centuries-old roots lie in poetic verse theories. co m ww w. 1994) and his Interpreting Musical Gestures. pp. in Chopin Studies 5 (Warsaw. based on literary theories of Greimas and Propp. and ‘The Literary Source of Topic Theory’. Metastasio. 2004). and Tropes: Mozart.a sh ga te. Monelle wrote on works by Bach. 2004).a sh ga te. Peirce. in Pauline Fairclough and David Fanning (eds). Parody and the Grotesque in the Music of Shostakovich: A Theory of Musical Incongruities (Aldershot. psychological. Beethoven. but also with a quite expansive array of philosophical.a sh ga te. co m . our own Virgils and Beatrices.a sh ga te. literary.a sh ga te. Baudelaire. and her ‘Jewish Existential Irony as Musical Ethos in the Music of Shostakovich’. metaphor and incongruities are related to philosophical. Greimas.13 The acceptance of these areas into music scholarship ww w. in The Musical Topic (Bloomington. 233–249. linguistic and ethnological studies. Spitzer and myself. and his Music as Philosophy: Adorno and Beethoven’s Late Style (Bloomington.). ‘A Semantic Approach to Debussy’s Songs’. 2000). Metaphor and Musical Thought (Chicago. Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling (London. 283–304. Led by the nature of music no less than by our – slightly arrogant.a sh ga te. pp. ww w. film and what not.12 Other studies. 2008). 1995). Irony. in Marie-Laure Ryan (ed. computers. 2004). Grabócz and Tarasti developed studies of music’s narrativity. we tend to roam through various fields of inquiry. co m ww w. Satire.a sh ga te. narrativité. co m an inseparable part of a musical work. Debussy. and his ‘Music as a Narrative Art’. 193–207. co m ww w. mathematics. ‘Word-Setting in the Strophic Lied’. Musical Meaning in Beethoven: Markedness. co m © Copyrighted Material ww w. zoology. co m ww w. pp. Monelle’s interest in the dramatic power of music expanded to its relation to lyrical poetry. 11–19. 12   For example. 2006). psychological. Esti Sheinberg. like those by Hatten. linguistic and sociological studies. 2009) and Morphlogie des oeuvres pour piano de Liszt: Influence du programme sur l’évolution des formes instrumentales (Budapest. More often than not. Topics. Wagner and Žižek – to mention only a few. 13   Robert Hatten.Introduction © Copyrighted Material ww w.a sh ga te. co m ww w. The interrelationship between music and literature was among the first to be explored in studies of music signification. Derrida. Tchaikovsky. Márta Grabócz’s chapter in this volume (Chapter 10). theological.a sh ga te. Molino. we are lucky and grateful to encounter sympathetic minds. ‘A Narrative Grammar of Chopin’s G minor Ballade’. Eero Tarasti. but the evolution of these studies ‘from so simple a beginning’ (as Darwin might have said). Mahler. focused on specific areas of the intermodal semantic universe: theories of musical markedness. Barthes. Maxwell-Davies. co m ww w.a sh ga te. Bartók. signification (Paris. Schubert (Bloomington. Nattiez. Jakobson. his later writings are often related to music’s own semantic meaning. co m ww w. 51 (1992): pp. co m ww w.a sh ga te. Musique. but never neglect the manifold interconnections of music with the literary arts. co m 5 11   For example. See also Chapters 18 and 19 in this volume. Schumann. Monelle. We engage in the study of opera.a sh ga te. 2006). looking for ways in which these systems of signification might relate to ours. The Music Review. literature. Correlation and Interpretation (Bloomington. The Cambridge Companion to Shostakovich (Cambridge. let’s admit – curiosity. 1986). as well as her comprehensive study. is staggering.

18   Raymond Monelle. Musical Semiotics in Growth (Imatra. 16 and 21 in this volume. Monelle did not mind the incorporation of historical.18 He fully realized the great blessing of opening the door to all interpretations as equally legitimate. ‘Semiotics Threatens No One …’.a sh ga te. dare I say.a sh ga te. thus freeing the mind from the fetters of prejudice. he did object to analyses that were dictated by preconceived agendas. co m ww w. Monelle was a great admirer of postmodern thought. society and politics. co m . Looking into the interrelationship between music and poetry. co m   For two completely different aspects of the incorporation of syntactics into music semiotics see Chapters 8 and 11 in this volume. allowing a recent re-introduction of a semiotic field that was somewhat neglected in the last decade: syntactics. ‘The Postmodern Project in Music Theory’. co m ww w. and a most fertile ground for semiotic inquiry. he fully realized the great curse of opening the door to all interpretations as equally legitimate. 37–56. looking into historical processes and philosophical thought that affect (and. © Copyrighted Material 14 ww w. 6 and 12 in this volume. co m ww w. he constantly did just that. it is regaining its deserved position by the side of semantics.a sh ga te.14 Highly complex sign-systems as multimedia genres offer an obvious area for intermodal explorations. is opera. 17   Monelle. co m released some former tensions. Semiotics must remain innocent. co m ww w. However. 1996). 9. shaded by its questionable reputation as ‘positivistic’. co m ww w. pp. mythology. sociological. 16   See Chapters 2. literature and poetry. social and ethical values of both its creators and its audience.a sh ga te.a sh ga te. The oldest among them. co m ww w. Postmodernism. co m ww w. the studies of vocal music in this volume render a wealth of new food for thought.a sh ga te. sociology or psychology into music analysis. labelling them as ‘non-semiotic’. thus shaking off the responsibility to differ between an interpretation and a misinterpretation. 3.a sh ga te. Always hovering in the background of semiotic studies. co m ww w. in Eero Tarasti (ed. but political statements. and eradicating any hope for communication. are affected by) our understanding of music signification. annoying impartiality and complete open-mindedness. 36–37.a sh ga te. it also reflects political. Those who knew Raymond could not avoid noticing his absolute fairness. pp.16 Would Raymond Monelle reject studies that incorporate history. meant that every interpretation is legitimate as long as it stays clear of agendas.a sh ga te. In fact.). Equally. psychological or ethnological factors into semiotic analysis. 4. both of which contribute to the signification of music. ww w. for Monelle. He claimed that such interpretations are not semiotic.a sh ga te. as his critique of the New Musicology might imply?17 Definitely not. 15.a sh ga te. Related to drama. co m ww w.6 Music Semiotics: A Network of Significations © Copyrighted Material ww w.a sh ga te. Agendas lead to misinterpretations.15 Others went beyond the specific genre. 15   See Chapters 7.

Starting with a few pages of Leonard Ratner’s Classic Music. 1983). this was not to be. Degrés. 23   Márta Grabócz. the division and the range of phenomena covered by each one of these terms is not absolutely consistent.24 Musical topics change emphases ww w.a sh ga te. co m ww w. j1– j18. Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie. and still await a clear differentiation and definition. as often happens in translations. the study of musical topics has gained the status of an independent theory. co m ww w.a sh ga te.a sh ga te. ‘“Topos et dramaturgie”: analyse des signifiés et de la stratégie dans deux mouvements symphoniques de Béla Bartók’. co m The interdisciplinary nature of music semiotics leads naturally to the study of musical topics.a sh ga te. who first applied the literary concept of trope to music semiotics. co m © Copyrighted Material ww w. Musical topics are mentioned for the first time on p.gmth. had demonstrated as early as 1988 that tropes of topics deserve separate studies. Oakland. She passed away on 15 July 2010. In his analyses of musical topics Monelle often expressed his indebtedness to the eighteenth-century music studies of Kofi Agawu and of Elaine Sisman. Robert Hatten. awareness of ‘characteristic figures’ that would point to a variety of signifieds is neither new nor consistent. CA. 109–110 (2002): pp.a sh ga te. rev.21 While the terminology of musical topics is relatively new. ‘On Topics Today’. 9.Introduction © Copyrighted Material ww w. deepening the loss suffered by the international music community.de/zeitschrift/artikel/251. 2006). His generous open-mindedness and ability to learn from approaches different from his own is apparent in his choice of dedicatee to his last book: the musicologist Joseph Kerman. co m . paper presented at the Second International Congress on Musical Signification.a sh ga te. Classic Music: Expression. ww w. 22   Robert Hatten.23 musical topics are discussed under various terminologies in different countries and cultures: in East European countries they are referred to as intonatsia. 21   Raymond Monelle. while in English-speaking countries the term topics is the prevalent one. Rhythmic Gesture in Mozart: ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ and ‘Don Giovanni’ (Chicago. Military and Pastoral (Bloomington. using topics as a primary example. ‘The Troping of Meaning in Music’. as ‘The Proper Role of Metaphor in a Theory of Musical Expressive Meaning’. 20   Wye Jamison Allanbrook. each with its meticulously detailed historical. Nevertheless. co m ww w. The Musical Topic: Hunt.a sh ga te. co m ww w. co m ww w. Sadly. co m ww w. co m ww w.19 and followed by Wye Jamison Allanbrook’s book that became a milestone in this area. climaxing with Monelle’s comprehensive analysis of the ‘military’. co m 7 Topics 19   Leonard Ratner. and exp. cultural and musical references.aspx.a sh ga te. Wendy Allanbrook had kindly agreed to contribute a chapter for the present volume as a tribute to Raymond Monelle. 1988. co m ww w. presented at the 1990 Society for Music Theory national meeting. 1980). Form and Style (New York. Throughout the last three decades.20 it developed into manifold research projects.a sh ga te. in cultures influenced by French studies they are known as genres or stylemes.a sh ga te. and to Robert Samuels’ work on Mahler. 24   See Nicholas McKay.a sh ga te. 4/1–2 (2007): www.a sh ga te. the ‘hunt’ and the ‘pastoral’ topics.22 As Márta Grabócz mentions in an earlier article.

co m and character throughout history and between cultures. second. enrich and complicate older ones.a sh ga te. for example. co m Musical topics mean by virtue of their correlation to cultural units … this meaning is not ‘referential’. p. See also McKay’s contribution to this volume.27 ww w. it does not belong to contemporary culture. both based on negation. co m ww w. ww w. 26. and new musical significations emerge through a subtle honing of existing musical topics. whatever the period of the music studied.26 ww w. its reincarnations in literary texts. 68.a sh ga te. The Musical Topic. and of social history. there must be a full account of cultural mythology. In the cultural realm. Culture defines society. First.a sh ga te. co m According to Monelle.25 Topics continue to form throughout history. and society operates within history. and it does not need to be rooted in reality. Monelle himself called for an expansion of his topic theory and its application to a wider scope of musical types and genres. modify. While the basic meaning of a topic does not change.28 Characteristically. co m ww w. co m © Copyrighted Material ww w. doing precisely this. then.a sh ga te. then a new topic has been revealed. co m ww w. ww w. creating ‘topical layers’: some have their roots in very early times. a unicorn is no less real than a lion. p.8 Music Semiotics: A Network of Significations © Copyrighted Material ww w. Cultural units combine to form a culture. as words combine to form a language. 28   Monelle.a sh ga te. is there a level of conventionality in the sign? If the answers are positive. it is pure meaning. The Sense of Music. a topic can be inflected toward more complex significations. ww w.a sh ga te.a sh ga te. Grouping different views of the term point at a variety of ways for its analysis and interpretation. a topic has two features. a topic is a cultural unit that exists only in texts. co m not all signifying items are topics. The central questions of the topic theorists are: Has this musical sign passed from literal imitation (iconism) or stylistic reference (indexicality) into signification by association (the indexicality of the object)? And. functioning only in intertextual relations. co m 25   Monelle. iconographies and other cultural constructs gain meaning only when it has ceased to carry any practical signification.a sh ga te. 27   Monelle. In order to describe musical topics. The ‘pastoral’. stating that with time. forming an intricate web of significations. chapter 20. The Sense of Music. after gaining an independent profile recognizable by a stylistically competent audience. The second trait that Monelle attributes to a topic is its reference to the past. is based on such a topic.a sh ga te. its later layers add. 80. The topic develops along the axis of time. ‘The Absent Meaning of Music’. of literary genre and symbolism. already appearing in mythologies. co m Monelle supplied clear indications for the identification of a topic: ww w.a sh ga te. says Monelle.a sh ga te. although the latter exists in physical reality and the former does not. p. 80.a sh ga te. co m . co m ww w. p. 26   Monelle.

a sh ga te. music performance. co m ww w. inspects the area of ‘what does this music signify?’. thus.a sh ga te. therefore. co m ww w.a sh ga te. © Copyrighted Material ww w. exposing a wealth of ways to interpret the significance of musical topics for music analysis. but must explore further into the natural laws that affect semiosis.a sh ga te. is attracting increasing attention.a sh ga te. trying to find and define the delicate connecting tissue between psychological – and even biological – motivations and musical conventions. Characteristically. cannot stop at the stage of artificiality. focusing on the artificiality and conventionality of topics as subjects of interpretation may run the danger of ignoring other aspects of text production. trying to connect between culture and nature. topics reside at the heart of music signification.a sh ga te.a sh ga te. co m . co m ww w. What are the other sources of musical conventions? A constant undercurrent of semiotic studies delves into these less tangible areas. partially conventional. providing means for universal communication of signification. co m ww w. while communicating cultural units bound to specific times and spaces. While it pretends to obey Aristotelian aesthetic teleology. for example. co m Topic theory is one of the areas of music semiotics that.Introduction © Copyrighted Material ww w. 20. Musical gesture. conventions and modes of thinking. co m ww w. co m In Peircean terms. it also responds to physical laws of gravity and balance. topics are interpretants: signifieds that become new signifiers in the endless semiotic chain of interpretations. Yet. 21 and 22 in this volume. all sounds are submitted to the same organs of perception and go through similar interpretation procedures.a sh ga te. beyond asking ‘how does music signify?’.30 29 30   See Chapters 13.a sh ga te. Studies of topics appear to explore either historical developments of topics-as-signifieds or synchronic functions of topics-as-signifiers within a given culture. Music stimulates our most refined analytical powers. co m ww w. and for further thoughts on the place of music in the wider cultural frame. needs to take into account its double nature.a sh ga te. but it also resonates through our basic instincts. While being. A theory of music signification. However. where non-arbitrary components contribute to music as a signifying system. co m ww w. not all produced intentionally to function as signs. it also rests on universal laws that dictate the forms of our deepest urges and emotional responses.a sh ga te.   See Chapters 4. Monelle’s high standards require both approaches: studies that will delve into history and also analyze the interrelationships of signifiers and signifieds in a given time and place.29 ww w. co m 9 Beyond Topics ww w. music obviously included. indeed. 5 and 14 in this volume.a sh ga te. His call for such enquiries is answered in several chapters in this volume. For the latter. as a signifier and as a signified (that becomes a new signifier). Our minds and bodies are flooded with sounds. It must investigate each and every layer of meaning that composes its intricate structure. Several chapters in this collection embark on such explorations. A comprehensive analysis of a topic. co m ww w. it is also based on brain functions and natural motions of the human body.

in a humble textbook: Meaning is not to be found in the emotions of the composer or performer. creating a time lapse between the two. It is not to be found in the fabric of the music. co m ww w. sharper analysis of musical meaning.a sh ga te. With their help he tries to look into the non-topical. indeed. Unsurprisingly. Peirce. co m ww w. Monelle was fascinated by the meaningful lack of meaning in music. Monelle once embraced this approach. co m ww w. co m ww w. it seems that this was precisely the direction that Monelle would have taken as his next scholarly adventure.a sh ga te. co m ww w. a mid-term challenge that needed to be overcome on his way toward his real goal: understanding the way in which nonconventional. to purely philosophical writings: Derrida. perhaps. co m Thus. to get up and recall lines written years ago. He pointed out that.32 This was his Farewell. The appearance of the signified is thus deferred. However. In his Of Grammatology. facing the abyss of absolute meaninglessness. Derrida displayed less interest in core significations. be connected to other aspects of human communication: modes of thought organization. co m ww w. Merleau-Ponty. to the border of the cliff. and emotional expression. the elements in a signifier/signified pair are not simultaneous: the signified appears after the signifier. the theory of topics could. © Copyrighted Material . Frege. From the perspective of that last presentation.a sh ga te.a sh ga te. because meaning has to be ww w. Deleuze and Guattari and. to describe the indescribable: what is signified by the unique memory of a madeleine dipped in tea? What is the personal meaning of ‘the scent’ of a musical phrase? Carried by Monelle’s rational narrative. the reader is led toward the terrifying domains of the sublime. ww w.a sh ga te.a sh ga te. albeit without naïveté.a sh ga te. of course. Derrida introduced into the structuralist concepts of signifier and signified the element of time. in contrast to what Saussure had implied. only to fall Gloucester-like into the indifferent sand. co m ww w. co m 31 32   See Chapters 17 and 19 in this volume. most of his references are.a sh ga te. it almost seems as if he regarded the musical topic as an interim project. a void – différance – in which semiosis occurs. drawing a time-span margin.a sh ga te.a sh ga te. those musical texts which mean while seemingly not having any finalized signification. by focusing on margins.   Monelle. the last time that Raymond Monelle spoke at the International Congress of Music Signification.a sh ga te. a project to which he was devoted for 20 years. on the other. or in the reactions of the listener. declaring the meaning of music as absent.31 In fact. co m ww w. hoping to find in it the inspiration for a subtler. throughout the 1990s. on one hand.10 Music Semiotics: A Network of Significations © Copyrighted Material ww w. because these emotions are not real emotions. non-topical musical signs signify. co m ww w. was probably related to the particular breakthrough that the French philosopher seemed to offer to music semiotics.a sh ga te. Loyal to his constant quest for the Grail of Semiotic Innocence. ‘The Absent Meaning of Music’. Monelle moved beyond deconstruction. co m Beyond Deconstruction: The Abyss of the Absent Meaning Monelle’s fascination with Jacques Derrida.

co m ww w. p. Monelle did indeed compare the meaning of a musical work with erotic love:34 no one can specify the meaning of a beloved’s face or being. 103–122. Its existence. co m The impeccably lucid style does not cover the scent of a Kierkegaardian leap of faith into years of research and of quest for a meaning declared absent. in ww w. existential value of music. co m ww w.a sh ga te. co m ww w. a value that is worth a lifetime of struggle that was deemed by many to be futile. co m . as we can analyse a beloved musical work. Such meanings. beloved work of art. This volume is just one possible signifier of our gratitude for Raymond Monelle’s inspiration.a sh ga te.a sh ga te. So precise it is. © Copyrighted Material   Raymond Monelle. Phenomenology. However. or in psychological or neurological sympathies. It is precisely its uniqueness that deprives us of words to express it. 21. Modernism and Beyond (Bern.33 ww w. it is absent.Introduction © Copyrighted Material ww w.a sh ga te. co m ww w. too specific to be confined into a verbal description based generalizing terminology. must remain absent.a sh ga te. We can describe faces and analyse musical topics. describing the indescribable? Stravinsky’s repeated statements about the meaninglessness of music contradict his own music.a sh ga te. that it cannot be described by language. but we cannot explain the meaning of the beloved’s face or the meaning of a unique. pp.   Raymond Monelle. Monelle’s unquestioning trust in the moral. all ready for infinite semiosis. ‘Proust. instruction. and how could he use words in his three books and dozens of articles.a sh ga te. 2010). Merleau-Ponty. Linguistics and Semiotics in Music (Chur. then. this alleged contradiction disappears when the depersonalized generality of ‘music’ is opposed to the unique specificity of ‘the musical work’. in fact. but it lives. co m 33 34 Carole Bourne-Taylor and Ariane Mildenberg (eds). It is not. co m ww w. We can even describe the face of the beloved. collegial support and friendship. he writes (quoting Mendelssohn). co m ww w.a sh ga te. Its meaning is unique because it is itself.a sh ga te. co m ww w. What was his secret. co m ww w. ww w.a sh ga te. to be found anywhere. Following Merleau-Ponty and Boris de Schloezer. Monelle did not give in to the potential nihilistic repercussions of absence.a sh ga te. It is not to be found in the imitations of anything in nature. Deleuze and a Musical Phrase’. is tangible and clear. The meaning of music may be absent. co m 11 attributed to music. Marginalia are welcome. A number of interpretants are present in the following pages.a sh ga te. 1992). which is extremely evocative and utterly personal to the point of a self-revealing eroticism.

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