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Reviewed by:
  • Phrase and Subject: Studies in Literature and Music
  • Michael Allis (bio)
Delia da Sousa Correa (ed.), Phrase and Subject: Studies in Literature and Music (London: Legenda, 2006), ISBN 1-904713-07-6 / 978-1-904713-07-4.

The suggestion that music and literature represent fruitful areas for interdisciplinary study is a feature of several recent publications. This [End Page 335] book, an outgrowth of Open University conferences in 2001 and 2002, is divided into four sections – ‘Theoretical Issues’, ‘Generic Alliances’, ‘The Gendered Text’ and ‘Narrative Modes’ – but might be understood more simply as studies focusing upon literary works (exploring musical references or parallels with musical structure), those discussing musical works with literary resonances, and chapters devoted to more theoretical or philosophical arguments.

Chapters with a primarily literary focus include some fascinating comparative studies. Whilst Regula Hohl Trillini surveys the role of the piano in Victorian and Edwardian poetry, highlighting dramatic deaths at the keyboard, invocations of instruments from the past, and musical memories of dead or absent lovers, Mark Byron focuses upon two modernist works which include musical notation: Ezra Pound’s meditative Canto LXXV from the Pisan Cantos (which incorporates Janequin’s Le Chant des oiseaux), and the songs and scores composed by the narrator of Samuel Beckett’s novel Watt, concluding that the visual and symbolic disruption of the reading process is ‘emblematic [. . . ] of a notion of free artistic expression’ (96) as a response to the authors’ wartime experiences. Lawrence Woof prefers to concentrate upon two texts by Samuel Richardson, suggesting how references to eighteenth-century debates over the emotional power of music and the relative merits of opera and oratorio were developed in Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison. Clarissa’s identification with English oratorio in general and the figure of Saint Cecilia in particular, for example, contrast with competing references suggestive of the musician Timotheus (a character in opposition to the virtuous Cecilian principles in Handel’s 1736 ode Alexander’s Feast) which invoke Italian opera, castrati, and theatrical rhetoric.

Three chapters confine their studies to one specific text by a single author. Tili Boon Cuillé explores how Mme de Staël references and reformulates elements of Rousseau’s writings on music in her novel Corinne, ou l’Italie, whilst structural concerns are the main focus of Rosamund Bartlett’s discussion of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov; Bartlett suggests two particularly promising compositional parallels: the chiastic structures, number symbolism and fugal techniques in the music of J. S. Bach, or the web of leitmotifs in Wagnerian music drama. Although Sue Ashbee and Tom Cooper highlight some striking musical references to the music of Frederic Chopin in Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel The Awakening, suggestive of Edna Pontellier’s ‘changing sense of identity’ (126), musical resonances could have been [End Page 336] explored further – whether Mr Highcamp’s association with musical commercialization, the possible echo of Michael Balfe’s 1864 romance ‘Did’st thou but know’ in Victor’s song to Edna, or the additional use of Chopin references in the short story ‘Mrs Mobry’s Reason’. If the suggestion is that repetition, variation and juxtaposition in The Awakening can be understood as a parallel to Chopin’s musical structures, the musical analysis needs to be more rigorous, and some rather speculative links with Wagner and Mahler might have been better replaced with a consideration of keyboard variation sets, or cyclic forms, or a more developed exploration of the improvisatory nature of the Impromptu genre.

A second group of writings focuses upon a range of musical works – song and choral settings of literary texts, a generically ambiguous work with a literary narrative, a symphony informed by literary references, and a piece of chamber music with no obvious literary pretensions at all. Robert Samuel discusses the complexities of gender distinctions (including those between narrator, protagonist and performer personas) in Schumann’s song cycles Frauenliebe und Leben, Op. 42, and Dichterliebe, Op. 48, highlighting the narrative implications of the tonal relationships in these cycles; in Dichterliebe, for example, despite the pairing of songs throughout the cycle, the final D flat in the piano part, essentially the same note as the opening C sharp, implies that the whole narrative...


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Print ISSN
pp. 335-339
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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