Studiedag 2016: Music in Literature – Literature in Music | Muziek in literatuur – literatuur in muziek

This VAL Study Day wishes to study music in literature and literature in music from the perspective of the reader and listener. In doing so, the study day aims to recall the crucial question already asked by Steven Paul Scher in 1972: “[H]ow meaningful is ‘musical’ in literary criticism?” Similarly, one may ask how meaningful “literary” is in musical critique? The main goal is a critical reflection on the tension between forms of musical / literary imitation on the one hand – which is also referred to as the level of the “discours” – and thematization on the other hand – the level of the “histoire” (Wolf 1999). Possible questions are:

  • Which techniques does literature / music use in order to evoke music / literature “through” the literary / musical text in the reader / listener?
  • Which techniques are most effective at evoking such “literary readings” of music in listeners or to incite readers to “listen in[to]” (Prieto 2002) literature?
  • How can empirical research contribute to the measurement of readers’ and listeners’ embodied cognitive responses to literature and music?
  • What can literature teach us about listening; what can music teach us about reading?
  • In their centripetal movement, how do literature and music move towards a blurring of the classical distinction between the different art forms?
  • How do “literary music” and “musical literature” contribute to the emergence of new, hybrid and/or intermedial genres?

Indicative bibliography:
Brown, Calvin S. Music and Literature: A Comparison of the Arts. Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1948.
Hanslick, Eduard. Vom Musikalisch-Schönen: Ein Beitrag zur Revision der Ästhetik der Tonkunst. Leipzig: 1854.
Perloff, Marjorie & Craig Dworkin. The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Petermann, Emily. The Musical Novel: Imitation of Musical Structure, Performance and Reception in Contemporary Fiction. New York: Camden House, 2014.
Prieto, Eric. Listening In: Music, Mind, and the Modernist Narrative. Lincoln/London: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
Scher, Steven Paul. “How Meaningful is ‘Musical’ in Literary Criticism?”. Yearbook of General and Comparative Literature 21 (1972): 52-56.
—. “Literature and Music”. Jean-Pierre Barricelli & Joseph Gibaldi, eds. Interrelations of Literature. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1982. 225-250.
Wolf, Werner. The Musicalization of Fiction: A Study in the Theory and History of Intermediality. Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi, 1999.

Datum 25 november 2016
Locatie Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Campus Etterbeek
Pleinlaan 2
1050 Brussel
Conference room: building C, 5th floor, room 404
9:00-9:15 Opening
9:15 – 10:15 Keynote Emily Petermann (Konstanz), chair Bart Eeckhout
Sounds Like Nonsense: Elements of Orality in American Nonsense Literature
10:15 – 10:30 Koffiepauze / coffee break
10:30 – 12:30 Session 1, chair Lars Bernaerts
10:30–11:10 Bart Eeckhout (UAntwerpen, NIAS Fellow), Wallace Stevens into Music
11:10–11:50 Giulia Mascoli (Liège), Caryl Phillips's Jazzy Prose: The Nature of Blood
11:50–12:30 Inge Arteel (VUB), Experimental Acoustic Life Writing – Gerhard Rühm’s Audioplay Hugo Wolf und drei Grazien, letzter Akt
12:30 – 13:15 Lunch
13:15 – 15:15 Session 2, chair Bruno Forment
13:15 – 13:55 Katherina Lindekens (KULeuven), Eros and Thanatos in John Blow’s Venus and Adonis: A Musico-Poetic Analysis
13:55 – 14:35 Krisztina Lajosi (UvA), Listening in Verse: Sounds and Con-verse-ation
14:35 – 15:15 Maarten Steenmeijer (Nijmegen), De muziek van de vertaling
15:15 – 15:30 Koffiepauze / coffee break
15:30 – 16:30 Keynote Vincent Meelberg (Nijmegen), chair Reindert Dhondt
Get into the Groove: Comprehending Music through Embodied Narrativity
16:30 Slot | conclusion


Emily Petermann, Universität Konstanz
Sounds Like Nonsense: Elements of Orality in American Nonsense Literature

With its tendency to foreground sound over sense, nonsense is a rich field for examining the influence of musicality and orality on literature. This particular body of literature draws heavily on language’s own sounds for many of its most recognizable effects, from nonce refrains and neologisms coined for their associative sound quality to an emphasis on particular sounds and sound patterns over content, as with the prominence of alliteration, assonance, rhyme, and other forms of repetition that permeate nonsense poetry. While this focus on the form of the message corresponds to the poetic function as identified by Roman Jakobson (“Linguistics and Poetics,” 1960), it also allows nonsense to approach music in its relative disregard for content.

Some strains of nonsense further exploit the written word’s implicit connections to the spoken word by drawing on techniques from oral storytelling. The improvised, playful feel of much nonsense is dependent upon the creation of a storyteller persona who seems to play with the sounds of his language as he goes, much as a jazz narrator in a jazz-inflected musical novel will imitate improvisation through the use of oral devices (see Petermann 2014). The poetic personas of James Whitcomb Riley’s poetry (e.g., selections from Rhymes of Childhood, 1890) and the many oral storytellers of Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories (1922) demonstrate this connection very clearly, particularly in the way they are tailored toward either an oral performance by the poet on the stage (Riley) or a reading by parents to children (Sandburg). At the same time, Riley and Sandburg both employ dialect to further emphasize the spoken quality of these texts and create a strain of American nonsense that is specifically Midwestern and that celebrates a working-class, regional identity far from the perceived cerebral quality of 19th-century English nonsense. This paper will argue for the importance of orality and musicality in Riley’s and Sandburg’s nonsense in constructing and perpetuating an American folk sensibility that is rarely associated with nonsense literature or with literary modernism.
Bart Eeckhout, Universiteit Antwerpen & NIAS Fellow
Wallace Stevens into Music
This paper will investigate a number of musical settings of Wallace Stevens' poetry, including by three major composers from the second half of the twentieth century: Ned Rorem ("Late Poems," which gathers six poems from "The Rock"), Elliott Carter ("American Sublime" and "In the Distances of Sleep") and George Benjamin ("Mind of Winter," a setting of "The Snow Man"). Particular attention will go to the methodological use of adaptation theory and transmedial studies to situate and analyze these transpositions from the written word to orchestrations with sung text.
Giulia Mascoli, Université de Liège
Caryl Phillips's Jazzy Prose: The Nature of Blood
Caryl Phillips is a contemporary British author of Caribbean descent. His oeuvre has a social and political agenda: to give a voice to those who were forgotten by history and to make their story resonate through time and space. The musicalization of his writing seems to be a way to achieve this ambitious goal. My paper will be devoted to Phillips’s novel The Nature of Blood, in which music is present both thematically (with an explicit reference to Louis Armstrong and scenes of dancing) and formally. I will mostly explore the formal aspect by addressing the techniques with which Phillips musicalizes his literary text. In order to do so, I will rely upon Emily Petermann’s The Musical Novel: Imitation of Musical Structure, Performance, and Reception in Contemporary Fiction [2014]. In this monograph, she defines three different ways of imitating jazz music: sonic effects in prose (alliteration, rhyme, meter), structural patterns (the riff, the Call-and-Response pattern, chorus) and the performance situation (imitating orality, improvisation, use of repeated lexical items). All these features are present in Phillips’s novel. The second part of my paper will contextualize the author’s musical choices: the musicalized passages occur when his characters go through or reflect upon very traumatic experiences. These musical techniques in fact enhance the emotional effect of Phillips’s narratives, firstly by creating an acoustic foregrounding which goes on inexorably in the readers’ memory and haunts them, and secondly by transmitting some of his characters’ disharmonious psychic states to the readers who become confused/lost in the non-linear narrative just like the characters. Meaningfully, Phillips once said that he wanted to touch people with his art and that musicians had that capacity to bring people into a beautifully devastating world of pain. I believe that through his musical prose he has definitely fulfilled his aim.
Inge Arteel, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Experimental Acoustic Life Writing – Gerhard Rühm’s Audioplay Hugo Wolf und drei Grazien, letzter Akt
In German speaking countries the so called Neues Hörspiel of the 1970s marked a prolific genre of experimental radio plays that focused on the materiality and musicality of language and the sensational reality of the acoustic event (what Helmut Heißenbüttel called the “Hörsensation”). The Austrian poet and composer Gerhard Rühm (°1930), a main figure of that period, continues to write and/or compose for acoustic media until today. In my presentation I want to talk about Rühm’s recent audioplay Hugo Wolf und drie Grazien, letzter Akt (WDR/HR 2015, voices: Gerhard Rühm and Monika Lichtenfeld). Rühm draws on the biographical constellation of the 19th century composer Hugo Wolf’s love relationships and his last years of mental and verbal deterioration. Interestingly enough, he gives shape to these (auto)biographical life writing aspects – aspects not done in the experimental 1970s – in a highly experimental way. Rühm radicalizes techniques of the Konkrete Poesie and the Lautdichtung, transgressing linguistic and generic conventions into a “radiophonic chanting oratorio [radiophones Redeoratorium]”. His pieces could be termed “experimental acoustic life writing”. Through experimental acoustic techniques it enhances a referential effect: the existential urgency and complexity of an artist’s lifelong preoccupation with language and sound.
Katherina Lindekens, KU Leuven
Eros and Thanatos in John Blow’s Venus and Adonis: A Musico-Poetic Analysis
Like most operas from the English Restoration period, Venus and Adonis has come down to us in a range of sources that is tantalising and frustrating at once. John Blow’s music survives in several manuscripts dating from the early 1680s to ca. 1710, while the anonymous libretto – tentatively ascribed by Winn to Anne Kingsmill-Finch – is extant in a printed copy from 1684. All these documents have their problems and lacunae, and several other key sources have evidently been lost. In recent decades, scholars have started to fill the gaps, through musical and textual editing, bibliographic and historical reconstruction. However, comparatively little attention has been paid to the formal characteristics of words and music in Venus and Adonis, and to their dramatic function. Can we decipher the architectural design encrypted in the libretto’s poetic form, metre and rhyme? How does Blow’s setting respond to that dramatic blueprint? And what kind of musical drama emerges from this collaboration? These questions are particularly pertinent since the extant libretto is derived from at least one musical manuscript, thought to represent the original version of the work (British Library Add. MS 22100). By moving from poetic form (‘words for music’) to its musical setting (‘words to music’), this paper will show how words and music – librettist and composer – join forces in Venus and Adonis to convey a specific reading of an age-old myth.
Krisztina Lajosi, Universiteit van Amsterdam
Listening in Verse: Sounds and Con-verse-ation

As a discipline, musicopoetics has focused primarily on influences and exchanges between music and literature, but other auditory effects or ancillary sounds (for example, the non-musical noises of urban and natural settings) recorded or evoked in poetry have not been subjected to systematic evidence-based scholarly investigation. Soundscapes carry a plethora of information about their social, cultural, and political environments; and poetry can imitate, amplify, reconfigure, and create a blueprint of auditory spaces. The musical and non-musical sounds of the past preserved in visual, literary, or audio records can be a valuable historical source material. These records and representations of sound production and reception can be seen as an epistemological repository of resonance and of listening. Jean-Luc Nancy in his book entitled Listening distinguishes hearing from listening; hearing is a matter of sense perception and is often passive, while listening is an active and conscious process of (re)constructing meaning.

A poem that has sound as both its medium and its subject is straining to become a reflection and refraction of soundscapes; at the same time it evokes and invites the interpretation of sounds. How do surrounding noises and aural stimuli affect the composition of poetry? How does poetry render sounds, and by what means do poets translate their acoustic experiences into words? What does the reconstruction of urban soundscapes in verse tell us about the life of a certain city in a specific era and about the nature of the poetry that immortalizes these sounds? How does the musicality of poetry relate to the musical styles and practices of a particular age? How does listening change through time, and how does the history of poetry record this transformation? How do readers make sense of the listening experiences of poets? How can we listen to listening? These and similar questions will be addressed on the basis of selected poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) and Alfred Noyes (1880-1958).
Maarten Steenmeijer, Universiteit Nijmegen
De muziek van de vertaling
‘Heb je even voor mij’: elke Nederlander en veel Vlamingen kunnen het refrein van deze megahit van Frans Bauer meezingen. Weinigen weten daarentegen dat dit liedje geen origineel is, maar een bewerking van ‘How Do You Think That I Feel’, een nummer dat Elvis Presley lang geleden opnam. In Emile Hartkamps vertaling is de muziek van het origineel nog wel te herkennen, maar van de tekst heeft hij iets heel anders gemaakt. Zo gaat dat vaak bij het vertalen van liedjes. De muziek blijft, de tekst verandert. Bij het vertalen van vormgebonden poëzie zetten vertalers vaak alles op alles om zowel de muziek (klank- en ritmepatronen) als de woorden en woordcombinaties waarin zij in de brontekst gestalte krijgt tot hun recht te laten komen in de doeltekst. Bij literair proza met onmiskenbare muzikale kenmerken lijkt er minder consensus te zijn over de te volgen vertaalstrategie. Maar het heeft er veel weg van dat bij dit genre het vertalen van de muziek van de tekst veelal niet de hoogste prioriteit heeft. Maar waarom eigenlijk? Dat is de vraag die centraal staat in deze bijdrage.
Vincent Meelberg, Universiteit Nijmegen
Get into the Groove: Comprehending Music through Embodied Narrativity
"Narrative" or "story" are often used as metaphors in order to point out what it means to understand a piece of music. Listeners have the impression that they are able to comprehend a musical work when it seems to them as if the music is telling a story while the music is unfolding. Listeners can discern a certain development in time in the music, one that resembles a narrative, and therefore they are able to grasp the music, to make sense of it.

At first sight, such a narrative understanding of music appears to be a mental process primarily. Interestingly, however, music theorists such as Lawrence Zbikowski assert that musical understanding can also manifest itself via the body. According to Zbikowski, to respond in a physical manner to music is a proper way to demonstrate a particular kind of cultural knowledge. Dancing is a case in point: if you are able to dance to a piece of music, you exhibit that you are able to physically understand the music you are dancing to.

In this presentation I propose a third perspective on musical comprehension, one that incorporates both narrrative and physical understanding. More specifically, I will argue that many of the stories listeners imagine while listening to music have their origin in embodiment. Musical narrative is embodied in the sense that the physical sensations listeners experience while listening to music are co-responsible for the stories that are heard/felt in the music. In this way I hope to make clear not only how narrative musical comprehension can be understood, but also what the relation may be between narrative and embodiment.