Thursday, May 7, 2009

Intertextuality

Dutch cover for the YA edition ----> click to enlarge ----->

So, I read Jane Eyre, first published in 1847, before I ever read Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca (1938) or Mary Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting (1958). Do you know those two books? Both of them are obviously influenced by Charlotte Brontë's novel; I'd go so far as to call the Stewart book an homage; and it's hard to read either without thinking of Jane. I loved and read and re-read all three of them; and eventually the day came when I couldn't read Jane Eyre without thinking of Rebecca and Nine Coaches Waiting. My appreciation of the novel that was written first began to be influenced by later novels Charlotte Brontë never could have read.

I love that time-travel aspect of intertextuality. Here's another example: Now, when I read Hamlet (c. 1603), I enjoy it even more than I used to, because I'm bringing Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1964-65) along with me. And I can't think of those two plays together without considering the role they play in the book Tam Lin (1991) by Pamela Dean -- which is, itself, a retelling of an old tale. Ah! I just love how everything leans on everything else! Everything's all mixed together in a marvelous mess!

What's the word for this when it happens with music? My musical understanding is unsophisticated, but that doesn't mean that I haven't noticed that John Williams, for example, has done a job on me. I grew up listening to Dvorak's New World Symphony (1893). Then, one day, I noticed that I couldn't listen to it anymore without thinking of light saber duels and/or sharks. Does this happen to you? Well, if it doesn't, it might be about to, once I explain. :o) First, go listen to the 3rd movement of the New World Symphony here. The theme I'm going to point out happens repeatedly throughout the movement, but just to make it as clear as possible for those not familiar with the symphony, pay especially close attention when the clock hits 2:32. Listen to the bit from 2:32 to about 2:41; listen to it a couple of times. Then, go here to watch Darth Maul fighting Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. Turn the sound up. Listen to the little snippet that starts at 0:13, continues through to 0:23, and then repeats at various moments throughout the entire fight. Hear it?

Then there's the first 15 or so seconds of the 4th movement of the New World Symphony, here, which sound famously like the theme of Jaws, here.

For one more (and vaguer) example, meander to the end of that 4th movement (here's the link again). I don't know about you, but this movement, especially the end, sounds really Star Wars-y to me, particularly the bit starting around 8:16, and ESPECIALLY the part later on which is unfortunately cut off in this video, rendering it useless for our purposes here. (Yes, warning: the last minute of so of the movement is cut off, so, if you love the way the symphony ends, prepare to be annoyed and frustrated.)

(Um. If you're having fun with this, and if you happen to know your E.T.? Check out the last movement of Dvorak's Dumky Trio here. In particular, listen to the teeny clip from 4:02 to 4:07, and again at 7:58. Sound familiar? [Go to 0:13 of the E.T. theme.])

(Okay, this is the sort of thing where you could never stop giving examples, but here's one more that's not John Williams, and that's a very deliberate borrowing. Know the Sting song "Russians" [1985]? And Sergei Prokofiev's music for the movie Lieutenant Kijé [1934]? I grew up knowing the Sting song, and was quite startled the first time I heard the Prokofiev!)

Anyway. I'm all for intertextuality. (And inter-score-uality?) How 'bout you? (And got any more musical clips for me? You'll make my day if you do ^_^)

22 comments:

mrmorse said...

I don't know if there's a generic term for composer's using stylistic or thematic material from other composers, other than words like borrowing or stealing, which are really more judgmental than is appropriate.

John Williams is famous for this. Other examples include the influences of Holst's The Planets on Star Wars, particularly in the orchestrations (which instruments are playing), and the music associated with the Ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is clearly related to Ravel's Mother Goose Suite. His more recent movies, like the Harry Potter series, sound to me more like he is borrowing from himself, rather than other composers. A more general example is that Williams is a master of associating particular musical themes with characters, objects, or places in his movie scores, which is a technique that was first developed by Wagner in his operas.

In the realm of more explicit quotes, composers routinely write sets of variations based on themes by other composers. Obvious examples include Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (that particular theme has been used by many composers, including Andrew Lloyd Webber) and the Haydn Variations by Brahms.

Another related term is the quodlibet, in which a composer mixes several folk or popular songs in one piece of music, with the expectation that the audience will recognize and appreciate the songs being combined.

I could go on about this all day, so perhaps I should stop now.

mrmorse said...

Actually I have one more thing I have to mention. If you are looking for a composer who deliberately refers to the music of other composers and demonstrates musical relationships between them, you should try Luciano Berio.

Ai said...

When a composer directly lifts a phrase from another piece it's called a musical quotation. Oddly enough, when it's a direct quote, the composer rarely notes it in the piece (gives credit). However, when it's a musical variation on a theme by someone else, it usually IS noted in the piece, usually in the title. Talk about a complete 180 from the rules of literature. :)

Like mrmorse said, John Williams is a "master of associating particular musical themes with characters, objects, or places". That's called a leitmotif if I remember right (when a certain musical idea is associated with a person, place, or idea).

E. M. Reads said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E. M. Reads said...

"Intertextuality?" Good word.

I'm a huge Jane Eyre & Rebecca fan and I totally agree. The convoluted plot makes it all the more entertaining. I haven't heard of Nine Coaches Waiting. Thanks for recommending it.

Btw, I finished Fire yesterday. It was beautiful. I enjoyed it immensely.

Loredan Avery said...

My husband, and incredibly grounded and very realistic person (he's a computer consultant) says that there's not a lot of opportunity to produce something 'original' anymore. That we're just building off of what we already know. The only original part comes from what we bring to the work.

His contribution to music is that he can sing two songs at the same time. Impossible? Not for him. He can sing "This Land is Your Land" and "God Bless America" simultaneously. I wish I had a music clip to convince you. But, it's got some words from both songs, laced with melodies from both songs.

The truth is, he's not very good with music, especially the words, hence his 'unique' talent! :o)

~Avery

Kate F. said...

Ha! We had the New World Symphony playing over the weekend and I get distracted by those bits *every time.*

There are also classical pieces that were clearly borrowed for Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, but I can't remember now which ones. I only think of it when I get confused about what's playing!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes when I am thinking of a song, something about it will remind me of another song, so I will go straight from one to another in my head, even in the middle of the song. In fact, there are some songs when I always go from one to another because there is a "trigger" note in the song. But I can't think of what they are now!
T.A.

skg said...

@mrmorse: "homage" is sometimes the finessing term, though it's sometimes too generous for what the later composer/writer/remixer has done. :)

+1 Dvorak: there's a bit in his eighth symphony that Phantom of the Opera echoes. I don't remember which Dvorak movement, offhand, but if you listen to it, the moment (chromatic runs down and back up) is unmistakable.

kristin cashore said...

T.A., I do that, too, lots! Of course, I can't think of any examples now, either... well, here's one, but it's kind of weird and obscure. The theme music to Masterpiece Theatre and the tune of Simple Gifts are so similar in some ways -- they fit on top of each other perfectly -- and I often find myself switching from one to the other accidentally. But it happens with regular songs, too....

Thanks to everyone giving me an education!

Kate, I remember B&tB reminding me strongly of classical music I knew.

And E.M. -- thanks :o)

Rachel (a-big-apple) said...

I'm always fascinated by classical music or literature that shows up in pop culture...like how I read Turn of the Screw because I thought it would give me some insight into the many mysteries of Lost, which I used to watch religiously and now have given up on. My most recent discovery of this was late at night watching the Arts Showcase on Boston local access tv--they played a clip of a flautist performing a piece that was creepily familiar to me. I recognized it because a repeated run of notes in this flute piece (Syrinx by Debussy) is one of the signature flute runs used in an anime I adore from the 80's, Fushigi Yuugi. So I found videos of both on YouTube! The Debussy piece is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_ZSSkMzS5E and the anime I knew it from is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM18LgZ59J8. The flute part in the anime clip starts at 2:10. Weird, when I discover these things backwards!

Amanda said...

Hi Kristin, long-time lurker, first-time poster (and avid fan of Graceling to boot!).

I think you would really, really, REALLY enjoy the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. The first book is the Eyre Affair and it has 3 or 4 sequels. To be honest, The Eyre Affair is actually my least favourite of the series. They really do only get better and better. I won't even try to explain what they're about but I can say that they are extremely clever and have us bookworms at heart. I hope you read them someday! Intertextuality doesn't even begin to describe them. :)

A. Grey said...

So I absolutely love finding out things that are related to/inspired by other things. Not just in music, but in everything. I'm a closet addict to Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, wherein shapes are repeated all around us, the same shapes refracted in objects that are otherwise unrelated. Nothing like feeling connected! ;)

murgatroid said...

LOL

I am literally watching the Special Feature on the Extended Edition LOTR Two Towers DVD about the soundtrack RIGHT NOW.

And how there are different themes for the different people and places, and how each theme was written and influenced.

I don't really have much to add to the conversation, other than how much I LOVE soundtracks, I just thought it was funny ^_^

rantingnerd said...

Now I'm feeling all anxious and influenced. :-)

Sho said...

Every time I hear the song "Sometime around Midnight" by The Airborne Toxic Event- which seems to be on the radio every morning I can't help but thinking of Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse. It just always makes me picture Harry seeing Hermine with Pablo without fail.

kristin cashore said...

Rachel, I totally enjoyed the clips!

Okay, here's the Disney Beauty and the Beast thing. Listen to the Prologue by Alan Menken here, then listen to "The Aquarium," from Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns here. Not exactly subtle!

Amanda, you're so right! I read The Eyre Affair; there should be a picture of it in the dictionary next to "intertextuality." I'm actually curious now to read on in the series. I liked TEA but didn't love it... but if the later books are even better.... btw, Jasper Fforde, imo, has the best name ever.

rantingnerd, speaking of influence, you should know that I have not been able to look at anything normally lately. Last night I was watching the full moon rise over the river and found myself wondering why the stream of moonlight on the water was only visible in a direct line to me, instead of the entire river being lit up, because, of course, the light from the moon reaches the entire river, not just the part leading straight to me.... I found myself asking myself, WWRNS? ((What would Ranting Nerd Say?)

rantingnerd said...

<voice src="Simpsons" imitate="Muntz, Nelson">Ha-HA!<voice>

(Rubs hands together with glee.)

Mua-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Another recruit. :-)

(The answer is that the river acts like a mirror. If you move one foot to your left, you'll see the light reflecting from a slightly different bit of river, but what you've done is move your eye(s) to intercept a different bit of light. [I hope that made sense.] :-) And if the river is really wavy, you'll see bits and pieces of the moon's reflection from differently-angled bits of river, like a crumpled up piece of aluminum foil.)

Amanda said...

The Well of Lost Plots is the 2nd book and Lost in a Good Book is the 3rd - this is my favourite. Something Rotten is the 4th and there are resolutions to twists you didn't even realise were there! Good stuff. I'm now reading his OTHER series which actually is a story within the Next series - does this make sense? Anyways, it's called The Big Over Easy and it involves the murder/suicide of Humpty Dumpty. It's pretty dang clever.

Kate F. said...

Ah ha! I went digging around and came back to report on the Beauty & the Beast inspiration, but you beat me to it. Carnival of the Animals it is, and boy, that one is so clear! Now if only I could remember the one that The Little Mermaid reminds me of.

Rachel (a-big-apple) said...

WOW, I never realized the correlation between the prologue and Saint-Saëns was so clear. Pretty cool.

Sue Ford said...

Another Mary Stewart lover! As a teen Nine Coaches Waiting and others of her books made me secretly wish to become a writer. I think I read Jane Eyre later and definitely know I read Rebecca much later. Intertextuality concept encourages me when I realize I'm using something in a story where I know which book influenced me to do so.

BTW, I'm putting a review of Graceling on my WIP website today.