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Society for Music Theory

Intertextuality in Western Art Music

Intertextuality in Western Art Music by Michael L. Klein
Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Fall 2006), pp. 316-320
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09.Reviews_pp291-320 7/24/06 1:51 PM Page 316

316 music theory spectrum 28 (2006)

that, by placing Lutosl-awski alongside a repertoire mainly

derived from the long nineteenth century, Klein bypasses a
wide range of modernist music. Discussion not only of mod-
Michael L. Klein. Intertextuality in Western Art Music. ernism and intertextuality, but also of the traditions with
Indiana University Press, 2005. which Lutosl-awski interacts would have certainly helped to
correct this asymmetry.
reviewed by alastair williams The author describes his project as follows: “The journey
I propose, then, is one that promises no definitive, closed,
unquestionable, or complete theory of intertextuality in
music. I offer no new methodology for uncovering authori-
tative readings of works but only suggest initiatives for open-
Michael Klein is concerned that a reader might view the ing up texts” (21). This statement is admirable for its mod-
musical examples used in his book as representative of the esty; however, it is also somewhat redundant, for it is hard to
repertoire described by Joseph Kerman as “the piano imagine that anyone would offer a definitive, closed, unques-
teacher’s rabbit hutch” (21). Indeed, he virtually accepts this tionable, or complete theory of intertextuality in music, since
potential criticism by acknowledging, as a pianist, that this is to do so would be to dismiss the inherently open-ended
the body of works that comes to mind when he contemplates qualities of intertextuality. Klein’s aversion to overreaching
music. He certainly allows this canon to prevail; neverthe- claims does not, however, prevent him from adopting a
less, he could have defended himself more robustly by refer- theory-rich approach, which draws not only on music theory
ring to the strand in the book deriving from the music of but also on a range of structuralist and poststructuralist liter-
Witold Lutosl-awski, whose Fourth Symphony is the topic of ature. Even so, his desire for openness ensures that he uses
the last chapter. Karol Szymanowski also contributes to this these sources pragmatically to provide a context, rather than
thread, as does Chopin—sometimes in the context of inter- deploying them systematically to drive his arguments. As a
textual links with Lutosl-awski. In effect, the book straddles result, the performative dimension of this text becomes
two repertoires: one being Lutosl-awski and his precursors, rather important, with much depending on how persuasive
the other being standard piano works. Chopin functions as a the reader finds Klein’s intertextual links.
central figure in this scheme, although this device is not One of the most consistent points of reference in the text
spelled out, because he bridges the two repertoire groups by is Harold Bloom’s understanding of literary influence, and
virtue of being simultaneously a composer for piano and a yet Klein is at pains to distance himself from the more au-
Polish national. Klein is to be applauded for expanding the thoritative, combative aspects of Bloom’s approach. Indeed,
canon in this way, but why exactly he chose not to comment he expresses reservations about Kevin Korsyn’s 1991 applica-
on his idiosyncratic choice of music remains a puzzle. tion of Bloom’s ideas to musical intertextuality, feeling that
The reason for Lutosl-awski’s inclusion immediately be- Korsyn’s ideas “only underscore our idea of the great artwork
comes evident when we learn from the bibliography that as univocal utterance of the great composer” (18). Instead,
Klein’s doctoral thesis was a study of Lutosl-awski’s late like Bloom, of seeking instances in which music overcomes
music; indeed, it is entirely understandable that the author its precursors, Klein wishes to consider the multiple textual
should turn to music he knows well when considering inter- associations that pieces generate. However, this strategy
textual approaches to music. What, however, is a little odd is makes the role of Bloom’s theory of poetic influence in

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Klein’s study rather unclear; for, despite its intertextual di- allows him to make what he calls a “Bloomian misreading”
mension, Bloom’s approach values strong works that slough of the following statement by Bloom: “The meaning of a
off dependency in the process of forging a commanding poem can only be another poem” (29); in Klein’s version this
voice—an attitude that does not blend well with Klein’s becomes: “The structure of a poem is another poem” (30).
more benign call for an “ecology of pieces” (46). This substitution enables him to argue that if the meaning of
As a rule, the author is not unduly concerned with music is the relationships between structures, then this struc-
whether or not his intertextual connections are justified by tural meaning can extend beyond a single work to an inter-
evidence of an historical influence; indeed, he makes a virtue textual network. From this perspective, the author intends to
of seeking little by way of historical context for his claims, to challenge orthodox doctrines of organicism and autonomy,
the extent that he is even willing to read history in reverse. which seek above all internal cohesion within a score; in-
This transhistorical view of intertextuality becomes immedi- deed, he has some success in doing so, as we have just seen
ately apparent in Chapter 1, when Klein proposes a set of with the Bach-Chopin intertext. But this manoeuvre does
intertextual associations with Chopin’s Etude in C Major, not push beyond the limitations of structuralism in the man-
Op. 10, No. 1, including the first prelude from J. S. Bach’s ner required for consideration of musical subjectivity of the
Well-Tempered Klavier, Book 1, (WV 846); Lutosl-awski’s sort found in the later chapters; for it is perfectly possible to
Study No. 1 (from the Two Studies for Solo Piano); and the conceive of structures referring to one another without aban-
piano accompaniment in the opening of “St. Veronica Wipes doning the structuralist doctrine that subjectivity is under-
his Face” from Peter Maxwell Davies’s (Vesallii Icones). Klein pinned by deep codes.
considers that the Bach-Chopin intertext is a modern one Indeed Klein invokes just such a vision of structuralist
since, he argues, it is unlikely that Chopin would have meta-subjectivity when, paraphrasing Claude Lévi-Strauss,
known Bach’s score. Using Bloom as his model, he then goes he writes, “What matters is that those structures are the op-
on to claim that “Chopin is the precursor to Bach because he erations of the mind writ large as an immortal object” (28).
asks us to hear the earlier composer’s prelude in a new way. Klein subsequently argues that structuralism “must take into
The prelude as newly heard has no existence prior to account the impact of culture” (28); however, this concession
Chopin’s etude” (8). While one can understand what Klein is not sufficient to prevent the book’s structuralist sympathies
means by this assertion, it would have been more in keeping from grating with its later evocation of a musical meaning
with his stated preference for an ecology of pieces to make embedded in human subjectivity. This is because in order for
the more modest claim that, by situating itself in the overall structuralism to promote the idea that subjectivity is pro-
listening environment, the Chopin etude at least partially duced by deep codes, it needs to downplay the active role of
colors our access to the Bach prelude. What complicates human agency in the production of meaning.
matters is the Bloomian language of precursors, which Musical meaning is certainly an important topic for
prompts Klein to argue for an historical inversion instead of Chapter 3, where Klein examines the ways in which codes
merely proposing an intertextual network of associations. become conventions, using Robert Hatten’s semiotic
Given this interest in transhistorical structural connec- hermeneutics as a model; in fact, Hatten’s work provides the
tions, it is not surprising that the author turns his attention starting point for the opening examples. These are based on
to the relationship between structuralism and music theory the “arrival” six-four that Hatten identifies in measure 14 of
in the next chapter, claiming that “in music analysis as in the third movement of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata,
myth, the structure is the meaning” (28). This position then Op. 106, and which he also associates with Liszt’s use of the

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318 music theory spectrum 28 (2006)

“salvation” six-four with its suggestion of elevated resolution. than with the reversal of chronology floated in this chapter
Because Hatten does not actually provide an example from and elsewhere in the book.
Liszt, he leaves space for Klein to make a suitably grand In Chapter 4 Klein proceeds to a discussion of intertext as
choice from the second key area of the first movement of the a sign of the uncanny. His opening gambit is that Freud’s fa-
B minor sonata (m. 205). Arriving after a short cadenza, this mous interpretation of the uncanny resonates with evoca-
moment initiates a sixteen-bar passage of ecstatic resolution tions of the uncanny we find in music, which might be de-
based on six-four chords. Furthermore, Klein also builds on scribed as “horrifying” or “other worldy.” In this way, Klein
Hatten’s idea by identifying what he calls the “tragic form” interprets the last two bars of the middle movement of
(66) of the arrival six-four—the minor version of the same Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata, Op. 57, as “uncanny
chord—which he finds exemplified in climactic passages tremor” leading to “terrible recognition” on the basis that the
from Chopin’s Ballades in G minor, op. 23, and F minor, op. diminished seventh chord in measure 95, which displaces the
52. These citations obviously derive from his detailed knowl- expected tonic, disrupts the calm stillness of the second
edge of the piano repertoire, and they present the idea of movement, while its fortissimo repetition in the following bar
several scores communicating with one another by means of amounts to a “terrible recognition that the turmoil of the
a semiotic code in a plausible way. first movement” (83) has returned.
When, however, the author uses his Liszt example to jus- This uncanny interruption leads Klein to consider the
tify another transhistorical argument, he stands on less firm subjectivity of the last movement, asking whether it is lo-
ground. For while it is reasonable to claim that Liszt’s ex- cated in the compulsive sixteenth-note motion, in the sup-
pressive understanding of this chord colors, or intensifies, porting bass, in the dotted motif, or in the chorale texture of
our hearing of Beethoven’s deployment, it is less convincing the coda. His rather startling conclusion is that “the subject
to say that “Beethoven borrows the transcendence of the six- is shattered in its own defiant attempts to form itself out of
four chord in Liszt” (63); again, the Bloomian vocabulary cataclysm” (85). Just how shattered is this subject in music
threatens to distort what would otherwise be a valuable com- full of triadic shapes? The Finale unfolds tonally in a coher-
ment. This time, however, Klein’s historical argument be- ent manner, despite all its surface activity—and it is surely, in
comes more developed: he ponders whether Hatten’s read- part, at this level that subjectivity lies, albeit in interaction
ings are intended to reflect what Beethoven’s contemporaries with the surface. For this reason, it would be more accurate
would have heard, or whether they are targeted at the sensi- to say of this movement that its subjectivity becomes polyva-
bilities of a modern audience. His conclusion is that Hatten lent, rather than shattered, in the mercurial switching be-
aims at both horizons: he intends that a present-day reader- tween the constituent elements, while the mood of the coda
ship will be convinced by the interpretation, and yet he also is undoubtedly one of sheer excitement. The diminished sev-
considers that Beethoven’s contemporaries would have heard enths that announce the last movement do indeed signify a
the music in a similar way. Klein, by contrast, is less inter- return to the mood of the first movement, but in doing so
ested in the hermeneutics of interpretative recovery and they herald a range of subjective states.
more focused on the present-day reader—or at least a post- The final chapter expands further the scope of intertextu-
Lisztian reader—since this is the only listener who could ality by turning to the topic of narrativity in music, with a
hear Liszt in Beethoven’s use of the arrival six-four. Again, particular focus on Lutosl-awski’s Fourth Symphony. Klein
this position is more compatible with the notion of simul- informs us that Chopin was the only Romantic Lutosl-awski
taneity, as suggested by the prospect of an ecology of pieces, acknowledged to have exerted an influence on his own

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music; however, the intertext the author constructs between anced argument.1 This is so not least because the concept of
Chopin and Lutosl-awski in this particular case is purely prejudgment envisages that a later event might influence, or
speculative. Arguing that the Fourth Symphony engages reconfigure, interpretation of an earlier event, in a meeting of
nineteenth-century narrative structures, he returns to the hermeneutic horizons, without going so far as to suggest that
discussion, from Chapter 3, of Chopin’s Fourth Ballade in the second event is a precursor to the first. Applied to
order to suggest that this symphony follows the narrative Lutosl-awski’s Fourth Symphony, such an approach would
structure of Chopin’s score. In particular, he claims that have allowed Klein to consider how the incorporated
in both cases a bright apotheosis “reaches a terrible reversal Chopin model signifies in music informed by the experience
before the coda” (128). Accordingly, he summarizes of modernism.
Lutosl-awski’s narrative as follows: “An optimistic theme, in- Furthermore, as Andrew Bowie (1997) remarks in a re-
troduced by a prolonged texture with significations for magi- cent study of hermeneutics, “it is the reconfiguration of exist-
cal otherness, promises an apotheosis that leads instead to ing linguistic elements to release new semantic potential, or
reversal, an ominous pronouncement, and a culminating out- to destroy existing meanings, that makes literature a vital fact
cry; from this climax the persona collapses into remem- in the self-understanding of modernity, not the fact that all
brance of an earlier darker state before a pause lends time to texts are parasitic upon other already existing texts.” Clearly,
prepare for the defiant coda” (129). the word “music” can easily be substituted for “literature” in
In doing so, Klein acknowledges that Lutosl-awski’s sym- this quotation. On this basis, it would have been interesting
phony has a darker ending than the coda of Chopin’s to have contemplated, in relation to the dynamics of moder-
Ballade, and yet his description functions at an archetypal nity, what is destroyed and what is reconfigured in the juxta-
narrative level, without attempting to situate these gestures position of Chopin and Lutosl-awski.
socially or culturally. So, while this argument may well con- As I have indicated in my account of how the chapters re-
vince at a structural level, it says little about what it means to late to one another, there is a tension in this book between
apply a narrative configuration dating from 1843 to music structuralist and poststructuralist theoretical claims, while
completed in 1992, after all the adventures of modernism. It the hermeneutic criticism does not really align itself with ei-
cannot be that this narrative model simply has a fixed mean- ther side. (Personally, I find the approach too willing to let
ing: its semantic coding must, surely, vary according to his- structuralist concerns prevail over context and circumstance.)
torical context. Adorno’s (1992) model of how Mahler gen- In his attempted synthesis of theoretical strands, Klein
erates a second life from established conventions would have wishes to replace the self-contained, integrated model of the
been a good place from which to start an investigation of work with the notion of an ecology of intertexts but is not
narrative transformation. keen to collapse texts into discourses. On a practical level, he
Given that hermeneutics plays a significant role in the prevents this slippage by limiting the number of intertextual
book as a whole, and that Klein regularly makes transhistori- links, even though he does not in principle exclude other
cal leaps, Hans-Georg Gadamer is something of an unex- possibilities. On a theoretical level, he grapples with the sen-
pected absence from the bibliography. Gadamer’s notion of timent found in the following sentence: “Though the analy-
prejudgment (Vorurteil )—whereby we experience tradition ses presented here are far from the postmodern ones that
as saturated with socio-cultural meanings but also alter those
associations by bringing something of the present to them—
would certainly have enabled Klein to construct a more nu- 1 See also Kramer 2003.

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320 music theory spectrum 28 (2006)

many try to envision, a broader definition of intertextuality

within these analyses does point to ways in which deep
structures can participate in the very critique that is their un-
doing” (49). The diplomatic compromise offered in this
statement is representative of Klein’s approach, which prefers
to place models alongside one another rather than to explore
their conflicting claims, even as the priorities of the book
change in later chapters. These problems do not, however,
prevent Klein from providing coherent accounts of the theo-
rists and practices on which he comments; and, at the practi-
cal level, he brings refined musical instincts to his intertex-
tual investigations.

list of works cited

Adorno, Theodor. 1991. Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy,

trans. by Edmund J. Jephcott. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press.
Bowie, Andrew. 1997. From Romanticism to Critical Theory:
The Philosophy of German Critical Theory. New York and
London: Routledge.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1989. Truth and Method, trans. re-
vised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall.
London: Sheed and Ward Ltd.
Kramer, Lawrence. 2003. “Subjectivity Rampant!”, in The
Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, ed. by
Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert and Richard Middleton.
London and New York: Routledge.

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