Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Balmer, Yves, Thomas Lacôte, and Christopher Brent Murray. “Messiaen the Borrower: Recomposing Debussy through the Deforming Prism.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 69 (Fall 2016): 699-791.

Throughout his career, Olivier Messiaen extensively used musical borrowing as a compositional technique and described how borrowing fit in his compositional process. By analyzing Messiaen’s career-long borrowing of Debussy material—musical themes, harmonies, programs, and gestures—a more complete picture emerges of Messiaen’s relationship to Debussy’s music and of Messiaen’s borrowing practice in general. Evidence of Messiaen’s borrowing can be found in three areas: the music he composed, the music he analyzed, and his writings. Comparing evidence from these areas allows for the identification of transformed and obscured instances of borrowing. Although much of Messiaen’s borrowing is similar to Ives’s collage and patchwork techniques, his material is made to be unrecognizable in what Messiaen calls a “transforming vision” or “deforming prism.” Debussy held a special place in Messiaen’s music and analytical writings. In Technique de mon langage musical, Messiaen gives many examples of harmonic passages in his music derived from Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and others. Messiaen’s unusual candidness in revealing his sources, combined with his penchant for writing programs for his music, invites deeper hermeneutic readings of many of his works. However, the programmatic meanings of his sources often contrast with the meanings of the works he uses them in. Alternatively, the sources may have only personal significance to Messiaen and no programmatic connection. Aside from harmonic and programmatic borrowing, Messiaen also borrows specific keyboard gestures from Debussy. Messiaen’s use of borrowing as a compositional tool often goes beyond transforming individual sources. In many works, Messiaen combines harmonic or rhythmic material from several sources. In the case of Livre du Saint Sacrement, he borrows from Debussy’s Images as well as plainchants from Paroissien romain (Liber usualis), distorting both through a technique of harmonic litany (a process of repeating a melodic fragment with different harmonization) in order to create music representing transubstantiation. Reassessing Messiaen’s compositional process in light of his prolific musical borrowing allows for an understanding of his music that better situates it in historical context. Whereas critics have questioned Messiaen’s reliance on borrowed material as well as his reliance on compositional formulas, the demonstrated combination of these techniques yields a complex compositional method. Messiaen’s borrowing of Debussy suggests a need to place greater attention on the practice of musical borrowing in modern music.

Works: Messiaen: Visions de l’Amen (703-7, 711-16, 731-36, 740-44, 759-63), Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus (703-7, 744-46), Cinq rechants (707-11, 746-49), Préludes (719-25, 740-44, 761-65), Poèmes pour Mi (719-25, 725-26, 761-65), Nativité du Seigneur (726-31, 755-60), Rondeau (726-31, 736-40), La Sainte Bohème (726-31), Chœurs pour une Jeanne d’Arc (731-36), Trois petites liturgies de la Prèsence Divine (736-40), L’Assension (740-44), Cantéyodjayâ (740-44), Livre du Saint Sacrement (744-46, 767-74), Harawi (750-52, 752-55), Catalogue d’oiseaux (753-55), Turangalîla-Symphonie (755-60), Messe de la Pentecôte (759-63), Saint François d’Assise (759-63), Chants de terre et de ciel (767-74)

Sources: Rameau: Suite in E (703-7); Debussy: Préludes (707-11, 744-46), Pelléas et Mélisande (718-20, 719-25, 725-26, 726-31, 731-36, 750-52, 755-60), Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (737-40), Images (740-44, 746-49, 753-55, 759-63, 761-65, 765-67), Études (744-46), Trois chansons de Bilitis (767-74); Anonymous (transcribed by Joanny Grosset): Jâti ândhri (707-11); Liszt: Après une lecture de Dante (711-16); Massenet: Manon (711-16); André Jolivet: Cinq danses rituelles (746-49); Stravinsky: Les noces (750-52); Anonymous (transcribed by Marguerite Béclard d’Harcourt): Delirio (752-55); Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé (755-60); Plainchant from Paroissien romain (Liber usualis): Quotiescumque manducabitis panem hunc (767-74)

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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