Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] De Martelly, Elizabeth. “Signification, Objectification, and the Mimetic Uncanny in Claude Debussy’s ‘Golliwog’s Cakewalk.’” Current Musicology, no. 90 (September 2010).

Golliwog’s Cakewalk from Claude Debussy’s Children’s Corner (1908) appropriates a complex set of signifiers related to American slavery mediated through a French colonial context and thus becomes an uncanny (in Freud’s sense) cultural commodity. One signifier of slavery adopted by Debussy is the Golliwog doll, which has its roots in minstrelsy and represents a commodification of black bodies. The cakewalk dance follows a similar trajectory, originating as a plantation dance and eventually imitated in minstrel shows and by white Parisian socialites. Debussy’s conspicuous quotation of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde has been understood as a grotesque representation of Wagner’s music in the supposed “primitive” form of the cakewalk. It can also be read as Debussy’s humorous expression of the incompatibility of refined Western culture (represented by Wagner) and the primitive Golliwog. Together, these signifiers represent Freud’s notion of the uncanny, bringing to light the violent history of American slavery and French colonialism in a seemingly trivial, modern cultural product.

Works: Debussy: Golliwog’s Cakewalk, from Children’s Corner (23, 27-29)

Sources: Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (23, 27-29)

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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