Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Caddy, Davinia. “Parisian Cake Walks.” 19th-Century Music 30 (Spring 2007): 288-317.

The popularity of the cake walk in early-twentieth-century Paris introduces complex layers of cultural signifiers and meaning both within and outside of constructions of race. The Parisian public was introduced to cake walks in 1900 by Sousa’s band, whose aura of civility and control challenges the dance’s assumed primitivism in current scholarship. The physical, spectacular, and participatory nature of the cake walk dance as described in the 1900s French press further runs counter to the expectations of a solely primitivist understanding. Filmmaker Georges Méliès’s combination of cake walk with early film splicing technique (as in his 1903 Le Cake Walk Infernal) adds an uncanny association to Parisian cake walks. Debussy’s quotation of Tristan und Isolde in Golliwogg’s Cake Walk is typically understood as a lighthearted critique of Wagner and Wagnerism. Lawrence Kramer reads these inclusions as quotations of absence—the harmonic substance of the Tristan chord is stripped away and rendered trite. However, a more nuanced reading of this quotation comes from taking seriously the irony inherent in the cakewalk genre: black plantation slaves parodying the mannerisms of their white masters. The theatricality and excess in Debussy’s score can further be identified with the modernist fixation on clowns. This interpretation takes into account the complexity of cultural signifiers in the cake walk genre and its appropriation in modern Paris.

Works: Debussy: Golliwogg’s Cake Walk, from Children’s Corner (288-89, 308-11)

Sources: Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (288-89, 308-11)

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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