Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Beirens, Maarten. “Quotation as a Structural Element in Music by Michael Nyman.” Tempo 61 (October 2007): 25-38.

British composer Michael Nyman’s style could be characterized as a combination of musical quotations fused with minimalist compositional characteristics. Often his music establishes a dialogue with the past, engaging the listener with an active reevaluation of the original quoted work. In the soundtrack to Peter Greenaway’s film Draughtsman’s Contract (1982), Nyman based the entire score on elements of the music of Purcell, especially on ground basses and archetypes of functional harmony, gradually reducing out elements of Purcell’s stylistic language until just common harmonic patterns remained. This creates a sense of tension between the present and the past. In Drowning by Numbers, Nyman borrows from Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364. Nyman employs two different techniques of borrowing: variation and montage. Variation technique describes a process by which Nyman systematically varies every musical element associated with a borrowing (such as rhythm and pitch); this technique creates a sense of alienation between the two different musical eras (Classical and modern). Montage technique describes a process by which Nyman cuts up source material and brings it together again in a new framework; the individual compositional cells remain very close to the original, but their combination is quite different and introduces a new kind of formal coherence. These techniques of musical borrowing can also be seen in Nyman’s String Quartet No. 1 (1985), which borrows from works by Schoenberg and John Bull, creating a commentary on the music in which it is based. Nyman creates a dialectic between the two, with Bull representing traditional musical practices and Schoenberg representing more radical or modern practices, fully asserting himself as a European composer of the classical tradition in the process. Two charts (28, 33) summarize the borrowings in Drowing by Numbers and the String Quartet No. 1.

Works: Peter Greenaway (director) and Michael Nyman (composer): score to The Draughtsman’s Contract (26); Michael Nyman: Drowning by Numbers (27-32), In Re Don Giovanni (30), String Quartet No. 1 (33-37).

Sources: Purcell: Chasing Sheep is Best Left for Shepherds (26); Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364 (27-32), Don Giovanni (30); John Bull: Walsingham (33-37); Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 2 (33-35).

Index Classifications: 1900s, Film

Contributed by: Chelsea Hamm

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