The Musicalization of Prose: Prolegomena to the Experience of Literature in Musical Form

Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 63)


Virtually all studies of the use of musical form in literature are concerned with the ways in which musical schemata and compositional devices have been appropriated by prose writers and poets. Little attention has been paid to the subject of reader response to literature utilizing musical forms and procedures. Do readers perceive musically based literature in musical terms? Are musical forms susceptible to comprehension when they are transferred to literature without informing the reader beforehand that such transference has occurred? This article will attempt to address these questions within the scope of prose works employing musical forms. The exclusion of musically based poetry from this discussion is due to the fact that music and poetry have a centuries-old history of shared formal procedures. Such is not the case with prose and music, and is, therefore, a much more recent and problematic phenomenon.


Short Story Musical Notation Musical Composition Musical Form Musical Context 
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    Ibid., p. 176.Google Scholar
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    Over the past decade I have asked numerous students and colleagues to read “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and remark if the short story presents any structural, dramatic, or thematic analogies with any work of instrumental music. While the responses have been wide-ranging, no one has ever remarked on an analogy between the Poe story and Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata. Similarly, I have played recordings of the Pathétique for numerous students and colleagues and asked them to comment on any structural, dramatic, and thematic analogies with any short story. Again, the results were wide-ranging, but no one in my experience has ever selected the Pathétique and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” as analogues.Google Scholar
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    Vicki Mistacco, “The Theory and Practice of Reading Nouveaux Romans: Robbe-Grillet’s Topologie d’une cité fantôme” in The Reader in the Text: Essays on Audience and Interpretation, ed. by Susan R. Suleiman and Inge Crosmans (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 388–398.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 165.Google Scholar
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    For example, transposing the opening theme of W. A. Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor into the parallel key G Major or the relative key Bb Major will produce very different responses in the listener, yet the theme will be easily recognizable.Google Scholar
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    Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), pp. 473–474.Google Scholar
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    For more on the subject of musical form in the “Sirens” episode, see in particular: Robert Boyle, “Ulysses as Frustrated Sonata Form,” James Joyce Quarterly 2:4 (Summer 1965): 247–254; Lawrence L. Levi, “The Sirens Episode as Music: Joyce’s Experiment in Prose Polyphony,” James Joyce Quarterly 3:1 (Fall 1965): 12–24; Karl H. Wörner, “James Joyce und die Musik,” in Die Musik in der Geistesgeschichte: Studien zur Situation der Jahre um 1910 (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1970), pp. 37–60; Don Noel Smith, “Musical Form and Principles in the Scheme of Ulysses,” Twentieth Century Literature 18 (1972): 79–92; Margaret Honton, “Thou Lost One: All Songs on that Theme in ‘Sirens, James Joyce Quarterly 17:1 (Fall 1979): 41–48; Heath Lees, ”The Introduction to ‘Sirens’ and the Fuga per Canonem,“ James Joyce Quarterly 22:1 (Fall 1984): 39–54; and Zack Bowen, ”And the Music Goes Round and Round: A Couple of New Approaches to Joyce’s Use of Music in Ulysses“ in Coping with Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium, ed. by Morris Beja and Shari Benstock (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989), pp. 137–144.Google Scholar
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    A very good example of this procedure is to be found in the first movement of J. S. Bach’s Partita in A Minor for Flute Unaccompanied, BWV 1013.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Worcester State CollegeUSA

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