Igor's eccentric gestures: a semiotoc decoding of Stravinsky's syntax with markedness theory

McKay, Nicholas (2003) Igor's eccentric gestures: a semiotoc decoding of Stravinsky's syntax with markedness theory. In: Tarasti, E (ed.) Musical Semiotics revisited, Approaches to musical semiotics 4. The International Semiotics Institute, pp. 498-510. ISBN 9525431037

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This article offers an innovative hermeneutic reading of the middle piece of Stravinsky's Three Pieces for String Quartet (later subtitled 'Excentrique' by the composer when he reorchestrated it as part of his Four Etudes for Orchestra). Taking as its starting point Robert Hatten's adaptation of linguistic markedness theory to read the expressive gestures of Beethoven's musical syntax, I argue that Stravinsky's 'eccentric' syntax wilfully annihilates almost all conventions of tonal syntax and the string quartet genre itself. Stravinsky's music is thus read as instigating a 'markedness reversal' in which classical tonal 'marked' values are reversed to become 'unmarked'. It thus becomes a syntactic norm in Excentrique (a case study for Stravinsky's Turanian works in general) for an accompanimental gesture to appear without the theme it should be accompanying [an example of synchronic subversion] or for opening moments to employ (closural) cadence gestures [an example of diachronic subversion]. The work is thus read through semiotic theory as an allotrope (something that exists simultaneously in two distinct forms): both quartet and anti-quartet - a reading suggested by Stravinsky's alignment of another Turanian work, Les Noces, with James Joyce's Ulysses (a work often read as an allotrope of both the essence of novel and anti-novel). This eccentric string quartet, replete with percussive gestures that annihilate all traces of lyrical subjectivity through an overt 'death of the theme' strategy, is thus shown to be a work ripe for semiotic decoding through Hatten's own model of tropological mediation and Bakhtin's literary theory model of dialogised voices. These hermeneutic perspectives (new to the Stravinsky literature) are shown to complement the contextual-historical work of Richard Taruskin which asserts that Stravinsky's Turnanian works must be heard as works written consciously 'against' the traditions of Germanic culture.

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: Acta semiotica Fennica XV, No ISBN13
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Music
Depositing User: Nicholas McKay
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 21:06
Last Modified: 06 Feb 2012 22:05
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/29551
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