Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Greitzen, Mary Lee. “Becoming Bach, Blaspheming Bach: Kinesthetic Knowledge and Embodied Music Theory in Ysaÿe’s ‘Obsession’ for Solo Violin.” Current Musicology, no. 86 (September 2008): 63-78.

The physical act of practicing and performing “Obsession,” the first movement of Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 2 for Solo Violin, uncovers meanings in the work related to both an obsession with Bach’s music and a physical possession by a demonic Bach in the vein of the devil-violin trope of virtuosity. The performed obsession with Bach begins in the opening figure of Ysaÿe’s sonata, a quotation of the opening to Bach’s E-Major Partita. From there, Ysaÿe continues into a rapid passage resembling the contour of Bach’s partita but one semitone off, suggesting an attempt to wrestle the musical line away from Bach. Ysaÿe continues to quote figures from Bach’s violin music throughout the movement. The obsessive effect of these quotations relies more on the muscle memory a seasoned violinist gains with Bach’s violin music than strictly mental memory. The piece feels like Bach more than it sounds like Bach, representing a more subtle and insidious influence from the venerated composer. Performing “Obsession” also calls to mind the history of the demonically possessed virtuoso violinist, most directly through frequent quotation of the Dies irae. Ysaÿe first quotes the Dies irae in a bariolage texture, evoking the physical sensation of playing Bach’s distinctive bariolage passages without sonically evoking Bach. In combination, the aural quotations of the Dies Irae and the physical quotations of Bach’s violin music can create the experience (in performance) of being demonically possessed by Bach. The irreverent nature of the Bach quotations further evokes this “rock-star” virtuoso feeling. This kind of embodied musical analysis underlines the importance of considering the body when theorizing about music.

Works: Eugène Ysaÿe: Sonata No. 2 for Solo Violin, Op. 27 (65-76)

Sources: J. S. Bach: Partita for Violin No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006 (66-70, 72-76), Sonata for Violin Solo No. 2 in A Minor, BWV 1003 (69-70); Attributed to Thomas of Celano: Dies irae (71-76)

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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