Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Korsyn, Kevin. "Towards a New Poetics of Musical Influence." Music Analysis 10 (March-July 1991): 3-72.

The ideas of literary critic Harold Bloom may serve as the model for a new theory of mapping musical influence. Bloom's theory (as first proposed in The Anxiety of Influence in 1973) rests on the notion that the true subject matter of poetry is poetry itself; every poem is seen as a "misreading" or "misprision" of a precursor poem or poems. Bloom divides poets into two categories, "strong" and "weak." What differentiates a "strong" poet is his ability to confront his anxiety of influence; a strong poet is one who wrestles with his great precursors to achieve his own originality. In appropriating Bloom's idea for music, compositions become "relational events" rather than "closed and static entities." The model is tested through an interreading of two compositions--Brahms's Romanze, Op. 118, No. 5, and Reger's Träume am Kamin, Op. 143, No. 2--with respect to their essential precursor, Chopin's Berceuse, Op. 57. Reger is shown to have weakly "misread" the Berceuse; although Reger places himself in direct competition with Chopin by overtly adopting the compositional strategy of the precursor (a series of increasingly florid variations over a one-measure ostinato figure, a figure that is virtually identical in both pieces), he fails to go beyond Chopin and forge an original meaning of his own. In contrast, Brahms's Romanze is shown to be a "strong" misreading of the Berceuse. Bloom's six "revisionary ratios" (clinamen, tessera, kenosis, daemonization, askesis, and apophrades) are evoked to demonstrate how Brahms is able to echo Chopin and yet go beyond his precursor, forging his own originality. For example, Bloom defines clinamen as the "initial swerve from the precursor," akin to the rhetorical trope of irony. The harmonic strategy of Chopin's Berceuse is one of extreme tonal stability, being composed almost entirely over a tonic-dominant ostinato; in making his "initial swerve" from Chopin, Brahms departs markedly from this strategy by setting his series of variations (the music most directly reminiscent of the Berceuse) as the D major middle section within a larger ternary design, framed by contrasting music in F major. Brahms's alternate strategy in the Romanze exemplifies Bloom's clinamen: "the framing action of the F major music 'ironizes' the Berceuse reminiscence of the middle section so that it says one thing ('tonal stability') and means another ('tonal instability')."

Works: Brahms: Romanze, Op. 118, No. 5; Reger: Träume am Kamin, Op. 143, No. 2.

Sources: Chopin: Berceuse, Op. 57.

Index Classifications: General, 1800s

Contributed by: Mark S. Spicer

Except where otherwise noted, this website is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
Creative Commons Attribution License