[lit-ideas] Re: J.S. Bach and Unchained Memories

  • From: Eric Yost <mr.eric.yost@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 22 Jun 2008 16:43:42 -0400

Phil: I don't know what it means to talk about the identity of Mozart's
Requiem, particularly as something that may or may not be retained.

If you care enough, maybe we could clarify what it means to talk about the "identity" of a work of art. Donal could even add Popper. If you don't care, I'll assume the topic bores you or you're mad at me for being stupid.

For a while, I've been interested in literary appropriation. Kathy Acker got in trouble for it, and David Markson does some wonderful things with it. Jasper Fforde also creates hilarious middlebrow stuff with it. I'm sure Ursula Stange will agree that Ferlinghetti's "Junkman's Obbligato" succeeds by pure appropriation.

However, there are vast divergences between:

(a) "appropriation,"
(b) "crossover, i.e., being used" and
(c) "influence"

in literature and music.

(a) Appropriation example: Liszt's Fantasy and Fugue on BACH, based on JS Bach's Fugue on BACH.

(b) Crossover example: "Disco Beethoven Fifth Symphony First Movement," based on"Beethoven's Fifth Symphony."

(c) Influence example: "Somewhere a Place for Us" melody in Bernstein's "West Side Story" and its uncanny resemblance to a melodic transformation in the last half of Richard Strauss's "Burlesque for Piano and Orchestra."

In (a), the appropriated piece has identity. Liszt expands the chromatic possibilities unavailable to Bach.

In (b), the crossover piece, the identity of the original piece is "blurred" by rhythmic and harmonic changes as well as production values. The result is a referenced repurposing and parody. Disco Fifth is not an original work, nor is it an expansion of the original. (This is *the* squabble zone for those who would argue that "the Mona Lisa with a mustache" is an original art work or an expansion of the original.) Hence my question, "What crosses over?"

In (c), the influenced melody, whether conscious or unconscious, shows a continuity of musical tradition. "Somewhere a Place for Us" is an original composition that does not owe its existence to the Burlesque.

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