Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Burkholder, J. Peter. “A Simple Model for Associative Musical Meaning.” In Approaches to Meaning in Music, ed. Byron Almén and Edward Pearsall, 76-106. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

One significant contributing element to musical meaning is the principle of association, which can be modeled in five steps: (1) recognizing familiar elements, (2) recalling other music that uses those elements, (3) perceiving associations the other music may carry, (4) noticing what is new or changed, and (5) interpreting what this means. One method of testing this model is to analyze several pieces whose meaning can in part be derived from their association with military bugle calls. Military calls themselves have specific arbitrary meanings. Hearing a military call can evoke memories that suggest emotional associations. Some music, like Charles Ives’s Decoration Day, uses listeners’ familiarity with certain tunes (in this case, Taps) to convey specific meaning. Other music relies on familiarity with a general melodic shape or style; George M. Cohan’s World War I song Over There uses a figure that is recognizable as a bugle call (perhaps a cross between Taps and Reveille), but is not actually a quotation of a bugle call. Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man recalls the familiar timbre and texture of a bugle call, giving the piece an associative meaning of military dignity, nobility, and duty. Alternatively, other meanings for Fanfare for the Common Man arise if one hears it as reminiscent of Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra. In absolute music, the generic, formal, or internal conventions of a familiar reference in a piece—a fanfare topic in a Mozart sonata, for instance—can also generate meaning. Meaning related to musical syntax can also be examined with the association model. There are several implications of this associative model of musical meaning: (1) meaning depends on what the listener knows, (2) music acquires meanings through use, (3) the most familiar music is often the most meaningful, (4) meaning depends on context, (5) meaning depends on interpretation, (6) musical meaning can change as listeners learn, and (7) this model provides a framework for communicating about musical meaning.

Works: Ives: Decoration Day (83-84); George M. Cohan: Over There (85); Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man (89-93)

Sources: Anonymous: Taps (83-85), Reveille (85); Lowell Mason: Nearer, My God, to Thee (83-84); Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra (89-93)

Index Classifications: 1900s, Popular

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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