Music Fix: The potential of conceptual codification in music. Part II: Intertextuality.


(Read Part I here)

Intertextuality refers to the “complex interrelationship between a text and other texts taken as basic to the creation or interpretation of the text” (Source). Even though this concept is primarily applied to literary texts, creativity in a lot of other domains often implies inspiration from previous works. ‘Inspiration’ is an ambiguous term since it comes in different degrees. If you are too much inspired from a piece, you risk copying it and committing the fraud of plagiarism. Yet, this should not be an obstacle to comparing different ways of expressing an idea in order to create an appropriate and more or less genuine manifestation.

The next video nicely illustrates how the famous film composer John Williams took up ideas of different composers in order to create the musical atmosphere of the desert planet Tatooine, angry rebels and the main theme of the Star Wars suite. (Note: even though the video is in French, the name of the various pieces and composers should be understandable.)

First, John Williams seems to have used a segment from the Rite of Spring by Stravinsky (00:16-00:38) in order to represent the mysterious and lone atmosphere of a desert sand planet. Choosing something from an expressionist composer and piece is surely not an accident. While some composers like Bach were more fond of symmetry, Stravinsky employed visual imaging in a different way. He once wrote that “[he] wrote the Polka (of Eight Easy Pieces) first, as a caricature of Diaghilev, whom [he] saw as a circus animal trainer cracking a long whip”. This humorous anecdote embodies Stravinsky’s freedom of imagination. This may also explain how his “use of musical fragments and compelling rhythms to provide a structure to drive the dramatic action” (Source) may serve as a great inspiration for film music.

In the second example (00:49-01:16), the French presenter shows how John William depicts “angry rebels” by literally copying a passage of the Symphony of the Planets by Gustav Holst. It is difficult to tell whether this is an act of plagiarism since there is no clear guideline stating from how many minutes, measures or notes on something is considered plagiarism or not.

The third and last example shows where the main theme of Star Wars may have come from. Erich Korngold’s theme (01:40-02:10) for the movie King’s Row (1942) most interestingly sounds as if it had been copied from Star Wars which is highly unlikely since the latter was first aired in 1977. The story is not even over yet since both soundtracks may have been inspired by the Intermezzo of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut (02:22-02:35) which was composed approximately 50 years before King’s Row.

This little journey through film and classical music has started to show in how far both are tied together. An interesting final thought is that the term “intertextuality” has its etymological root in textus, which literally means “thing woven” and texere “to weave, to join, fit together, braid, interweave, construct, fabricate, build”.

(Read Part III here)


Written by Amaury Neumann

Study visitor at TermCoord