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Phrase and Subject: Studies in Literature and Music.

Phrase and Subject: Studies in Literature and Music. Ed. by DELIA DA SOUSA CORREA. London: Legenda. 2006. xii+2i2pp. 45 [pounds sterling]; $69. ISBN 978-1-904713-07-4.

This collection, despite its enigmatic title, is largely devoted to questions of narrativity, a disputed area within musicology and no doubt elsewhere (my comments inevitably reflect my musicological, rather than literary, background). The four-part division is somewhat artificial; several essays could have been entered under different headings. Part I, 'Theoretical Issues', adheres to its brief, but Pam, 'Generic Alliances', contains three essays on embedding literature within music and music within literature, involving narrative elements, and Part III, 'The Gendered Text', also includes material appropriate to Part iv, 'Narrative Modes'. But the essays can be read in any order; to say that the parts do not add up to an organic (or narrative) whole is not to say that the whole is less than the sum of those parts.

Peter Dayan elucidates 'the force of music' in Derrida, and I am grateful for the conclusion that 'there are severe limits on the application of deconstruction to music' because 'music is always already, by definition, not the voice of the subject' (p. 56). If this bespeaks bafflement-mine or Derrida's--that in itself confirms the validity of an observation that undermines some of the wilder flights of ideologically driven musical hermeneutics. If so, I can scarce forbear to cheer, while remaining, as musical practitioner and analyst, sceptical of this philosopher's real grasp of the subject. The essays by Daniel Albright, Anthony Gritten, and Tina Fruhauf, who deconstructs Nietzsche, are smoother going; indeed, Albright, elsewhere an original commentator on music and literature, seems here so smooth in his discussion of music as a language that I wondered whether he had said very much at all.

In Part II, after a bout of theory and among material mainly on the nineteenth century, Lawrence Woof's thoughtful essay on Richardson is refreshing. He connects Clarissa and Grandison to opera and oratorio not through dubious parallels but by concrete allusion within the novels. Within early Romanticism, Lawrence Kramer favours parallels which in his hands do not appear dubious, in this case between Beethoven's 'Ghost' Trio and Hoffmann's Mines of Falun. Beethoven's slow movement is calculated to make flesh creep, but the intriguing outcome of Kramer's reading is to cast doubt on the apparent normality and optimism of the finale: 'This D major is too easy [...]; it cannot be trusted. The conclusion of the Largo says so plainly' (p. 84). I take this to be a conscious echo of Helen Schlegel; apropos of whom, should not Federico Celestini, in his interesting account of an underrated Berlioz-Mahler connection, have named the Scherzo of Beethoven's Fifth, rather than part of Mahler's First, as the earliest' daring inclusion of a grotesque movement' in a symphony (p. 154)?

In Part III Sue Asbee and Tom Cooper demonstrate how Kate Chopin makes music and narrative eat into and destabilize each other--leading not necessarily to a 'higher' stability such as (in intention) Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk, but to insight into our unstable existence. Robert Samuels lucidly interprets Schumann's narrative song-cycle Frauenliebe and Leben, as awkwardly gendered a piece as any in the literature. The correct bass-note, D, in his Ex. 1 (not B flat: p. 138) would have strengthened the point he makes about the connecting songs. Mark Byron surveys the use of musical scores within literary modernism, oddly overlooking Ulysses (and that 'the violin line' from Jannequin is acknowledged, in Pound's Canto LXXV, as a twentieth-century arrangement might not be known to every reader: see p. 91).

After these stimulating essays, Part Iv is unfortunately less summation than tailing off, excepting Rosamund Bartlett's musical reading off he Brothers Karamazov. Guillaume Bordry's short study of Berlioz' helio wishfully calls it 'symphonic', diminishing its marked generic difference from the associated Symphonie fantastique (it consists mainly of recycled vocal pieces). That the symphony plus Lelio 'turns the concert into a theatrical form' (p. 151) is a seductive notion that deserved a solider musicological foundation. David Crilly's essay on Britten seems musically risky; given recent disputes over the meaning and extent of the 'English Musical Renaissance', he should qualify its 'oppressive stylistic conservatism' (p. 179) by reference to Parry and Stanford, for it cannot apply to Elgar, Holst, or Vaughan Williams. The fanfares in Verdi's and Britten's Requiems, quoted for their resemblance, are markedly dissimilar, and the boys' choir in Britten is less reminiscent of the parish church than the cathedral or Oxbridge; the melody cited moves in 4ths and 5ths about half the time, not 'almost entirely' (p. 184). Five chapters in this interesting but uneven collection use musical notation, as a score or analytical demonstration, and Kramer's chapter, where no notation is supplied, requires a score to follow the argument. I doubt, however, whether this should discourage literary readers more than literary theory should discourage musicologists.


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Author:Rushton, Julian
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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