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    Ways of Listening: Aesthetics, Metaphors, and Quotations in Music – Part II



      Quotation and Metaphorical Concept

        The important role of metaphor in shaping our thinking and affecting our daily lives have been discussed by Lakoff and Johnson in the book, Metaphors We Live By. About metaphor, Lakoff has stated: “The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another.”[1] Metaphor is not a mere rhetorical device in linguistics. It is in fact the one that governs not only our actions and activities, but also our thinking processes and ways of understanding. We always seek out personal metaphors to highlight and make coherent our own pasts, our present activities, and our dreams, hopes, and goals as well. A large part of understanding is the search for appropriate personal metaphors that make sense to us. It involves unending negotiation and renegotiation of the meaning of our past experiences. As a result, the process of understanding can lead to a continual development of new stories, as well as a creation of new realities in our daily lives. As metaphors exist in a person’s conceptual system, therefore, in this paper, all metaphors created for understanding of musical quotation are to be understood as metaphorical concepts.

         It is, however, nothing new for one to understand music in terms of metaphor in the western music history. For example, in the Cours complet d’ harmonie et de composition musicale (1803-05) by Jerome-Joseph Momigny, there are extensive analyses of movements by Mozart and by Haydn alternating technical description with narrative or dramatic readings. From Powers’ description on Momigny’s writing of Haydn’s symphony no.103, movement one, we can see that Momigny’s understanding of the music was no doubt governed by the metaphorical concepts he made. In fact, Powers stated, “ Momigny’s reading of Haydn Symphony 103 / I, ……the movement is read as a scene in the countryside, with a storm, villagers taking refuge in a temple, elders and grown men, women trembling for their children, and so on, with occasional fragments of text supplied to musical motives to enliven the narrative.”[2] Clearly, Powers’ words, such as storm, temple, elders, men, women, are related to a pictorial images consisting of the weather, temple and people, which are important metaphors to structure Momigny’s thinking. But it was not a unique privilege for Momigny to read music with metaphors, many other philosophers and music critics did so in the 19th century, such as Hanslick’s use of personification to conceptualize his idea on music as a living form,[3] which could animate beauty from the projection of sound, Schopenhauer’s view on music as a representation of human’s will,[4] the Berlin critic Heinrich Hermann’s description on Beethoven’s symphony no. 3 as an almost Shakespearean world of magic, or the Russian critic Oulibicheff Marx’s review on the same work as a military “drama” for delineating a battle and victory of a hero, which the battle is fought for the human freedom.[5] In the recent musicological scholarship, Susan McClary, also used the metaphor of “sexual intercourse” to explain the western tonal system and the musical phenomenon of Beethoven’s symphony no. 9.[6] As such, music in general, and quotations in particular, can be understood in terms of metaphor. This reading is capable of creating a new way of listening, which is capable of offering different perspectives for us to muse, to recall, and to search what happened and what was there.

    [1] Lakoff, Metaphors, 5.

    [2] Harold Powers, “Reading Mozart’s Music: Text and Topic, Syntax and Sense,” in Current Musicology 57, (1995): 5-44.

    [3] We can refer to Mark Evan Bonds’ discussion on this topic in his book, A History of Music in Western Culture ( UpperSaddleRiver, H.J. : Prentice Hall, 2003), 366.

    [4] Ibid., 361.

    [5] Thomas Sipe, Beethoven: Eroica Symphony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 54-62.

    [6] Susan McClary, Feminie Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (London, Minneapolis: University Minnesota Press, 2002)53-79.


    To be continued…..

    David Leung (theorydavid)

    2011-12-01 (published)

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