Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Lumsden, Rachel. “‘The Pulse of Life Today’: Borrowing in Johanna Beyer’s String Quartet No. 2.” American Music 35 (Fall 2017): 303-42.

Johanna Beyer’s prominent quotations of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte in her String Quartet No. 2 are notable for several reasons: for quoting a tonal piece in the context of ultramodern dissonant counterpoint, for demonstrating the lasting impact of ultramodern compositional practices in the late 1930s, and for exemplifying the way musical borrowing carries extramusical meaning for women composers in particular. In the first and fourth movements of String Quartet No. 2, Beyer borrows the melody from Papageno’s aria “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” but sets it against dissonant counterpoint in the vein of ultramodern composers such as Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford. The contrast between the quoted material and the ultramodernist aesthetic is more than just sonic; the use of a tonal melody by Mozart flouts the ultramodernist rejection of European musical tradition. The particular quotation of an aria about Papageno’s desire for a wife introduces another layer of interpretive meaning to the quartet. Beyer composed in an era where the structures of musical modernism were especially misogynist. Unmarried women like Beyer faced further hardships during the Depression. Around the time Beyer composed String Quartet No. 2, she proposed an arranged open marriage to Henry Cowell so that they may reap the social benefits. This arrangement never materialized, but one detail linking the quartet to the idea of marriage is Beyer signing the manuscript “Persephone,” the wife of Hades from Greek mythology. The subversion of gendered tropes is a common theme with modernist women artists. Reading Beyer’s quotation of “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” in this context sets the free, ultramodern counterpoint of the upper lines against the fixed cello line that repeats Papageno’s tune through the whole first movement. The content of the aria, Papageno’s desire to marry any woman at all, provides further analytical material, as this perspective is tied to the rigid cello, never achieving the freedom of the upper strings. Borrowing Papageno’s aria allows Beyer and her audience to think subversively about marriage and gender roles. Examining the connections between musical borrowing and gender opens up a rich array of analytical possibilities.

Works: Johanna Beyer: String Quartet No. 2 (306-13, 320-32)

Sources: Mozart: Die Zauberflöte (306-8, 313, 320-32)

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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