Intertextuality in Music

PDF Intertextuality in Music June 17, 2021

Book author
  1. Paulo F. de Castro
  2. Violetta Kostka
  3. William A. Everett

The concept of intertextuality – namely, the meaning generated by interrelations between different texts – was coined in the 1960s among literary theorists and has been widely applied since then to many other disciplines, including music. Intertextuality in Music: Dialogic Composition provides a systematic investigation of musical intertextuality not only as a general principle of musical creativity but also as a diverse set of devices and techniques that have been consciously developed and applied by many composers in the pursuit of various artistic and aesthetic goals. Intertextual techniques, as this collection reveals, have borne a wide range of results, such as parody, paraphrase, collage and dialogues with and between the past and present. In the age of sampling and remix culture, the very notion of intertextuality seems to have gained increased momentum and visibility, even though the principle of creating new music on the basis of pre-existing music has a long history both inside and outside the Western tradition. The book provides a general survey of musical intertextuality, with a special focus on music from the second half of the twentieth century, but also including examples ranging from the nineteenth century to the second decade of the twenty-first century. The volume is intended to inspire and stimulate new work in intertextual studies in music.


This book has its origin in two international conferences held at opposite ends of the European continent: the first, ‘Intertextuality in music since 1900’, organised by the CESEM (Centro de Estudos de Sociologia e Estética Musical) research centre, took place at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universidade Nova, in Lisbon, Portugal, in March 2015, in cooperation with the Institute of Musicology, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck, Austria; the second, ‘Explicitly intertextual music since 1890’, an initiative of the Institute of Music Theory, Stanisław Moniuszko Academy of Music, took place in Gdańsk, Poland, in May 2019. As the respective conveners and active participants in both conferences, Paulo F. de Castro and Violetta Kostka joined efforts to assemble a collection of essays, partly based on revised and enlarged versions of papers originally read at the two conferences, supplemented by a number of specially commissioned essays from internationally renowned scholars, with the aim of creating a substantial contribution to the scholarly literature on the subject of intertextuality and music, as well as providing a reference point and framework for future research in the field. This book, coedited in collaboration with William A. Everett, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory (USA), is thus the result of a genuinely international cooperation, involving scholars of different nationalities and belonging to different academic traditions, which, it is hoped, has lent the book a healthy diversity in terms of thematic scope and methodological approaches, a diversity that seems especially appropriate to any discussion of intertextuality.

Dialogic, multivoiced and relational: these words capture not just the spirit of the book as a whole but also the very concept of intertextuality, as it has evolved since Julia Kristeva’s coinage of the word in 1966–67, the result of her own adaptation of ideas originally put forward by Mikhail Bakhtin, of which Kristeva was among the first to introduce to Western readers. (In this, Kristeva was giving a practical example of intertextuality in action: hers was an act of creative appropriation of Bakhtin, mediated by Derrida and Lacan.) In her essay ‘Word, Dialogue and Novel’ (‘Le mot, le dialogue et le roman’ [1966], included in Kristeva 1969), Kristeva hailed the Russian scholar’s pioneering role as one of the first to replace the static vision of the text with a model where ‘structure’ does not simply ‘exist’ but is generated in relation to another structure. In more precise Bakhtinian terms, an utterance can only exist in a context of other utterances, presupposing a particular situation of discourse. As Bakhtin himself put it in ‘Discourse in the Novel’, ‘the word in language is half someone else’s’ (1981, 293). A spatial metaphor – conceiving of the literary word (in Kristeva’s interpretation, the text) as an intersection of surfaces rather than a point – was combined with a communicational one: the text as a dialogue among several writings, that of the writer (or the literary character’s own voice), the addressee and the contemporary or earlier cultural context. Whatever else the text might be, it was no longer possible to see it as a stable, self-contained and self-sufficient artefact, thus presenting an immediate challenge to structuralist or New Critical dogmas.

By thus fully situating the text within history and society and seeing these as (con)texts that allow the text to be reread and rewritten, the writer had the power to question the abstractions of linear history and the closure of the signifier, as well as harnessing the polyvalent and multidetermined logic of the poetic word beyond the bounds of official, codified and ‘monologic’ discourse. According to Kristeva (1969, 145), in Bakhtinian dialogism the ‘horizontal’ axis (subject-addressee) and ‘vertical’ axis (text-context) tended to merge, with an important consequence: whatever the text, at least one other text could always be read in it, implicitly or explicitly. This led Kristeva to suggest that poetic language is always at least double, and that what she christened as intertextuality would come to replace the earlier notion of intersubjectivity, deemed too compromised with a degraded, bourgeois-humanist ideology. In her later work La Révolution du langage poétique (1974), Kristeva would actually distance herself from the word she herself had previously launched so successfully, a word that, in her view, had all too often been understood in the banal sense of a study of sources, henceforth preferring the term ‘transposition’, as the passage from one signifying system to another, entailing a change of enunciative and denotative position.

Intertextuality, however, has remained the preferred term among the international academic community. Quickly taken up by Roland Barthes, Michael Riffaterre, Gérard Genette and other theorists of literature in the context of poststructuralism, the word made its way into the language of theory worldwide, inspiring many other authors to develop their own varieties of intertextual thinking, not always entirely congruent with Kristeva’s, or among themselves, beyond, perhaps, the potential metaphorisation of the text as a mesh, a web, a network, a palimpsest or a relational event rather than a ‘thing’. Inevitably, this plurality also brought about a proliferation of concepts, theoretical models and analytic methodologies, rendering futile any attempt at epistemological and terminological unification.

Some general tendencies, or approaches, to intertextual studies have nevertheless emerged from the work of these scholars, especially Riffaterre and Genette, albeit in different ways. They have led to the systematic research of literature and the arts as well as the exploration of intersemiotic relations in and among different domains. Riffaterre’s system (La Production du texte, 1979) has clear pragmatic and hermeneutic assumptions. Two issues are crucial in it: the concept of intertext as a set of texts that a recipient finds in her/his memory while reading, and the concept of explaining the process of reading based on a ‘semiotic triangle’ consisting of the text read, intertext and the intermediate text, called – after Peirce – the interpretant (1979a, 248; 1979b, 135). Genette’s work (Palimpsestes. La littérature au second degré, 1982) is the most systematic attempt to map what he terms transtextuality, in its quasi-structuralist approach to textual interrelations. The French scholar (whose work is drawn upon in this book by several authors) proposes a five-part categorisation of transtextual relations, which includes: (1) intertextuality (allusion, quotation, plagiarism), (2) paratextuality (title, subtitle, preface, motto, afterword, notes), (3) metatextuality (commentary), (4) hypertextuality (parody, travesty, pastiche) and (5) architextuality (types of discourse, genres).

Some authors active in the field of literary studies have even preferred to skirt the term intertextuality almost completely and introduce such alternative notions as ‘misreading’, as in the case of the American literary theorist Harold Bloom, who gave a new impetus to the study of poetic influence with his much-discussed books The Anxiety of Influence (1973) and A Map of Misreading (1975). His approach favours a subjective analysis of relations between artistic creators and the recipients of culture. However, even Bloom has come close to a theory of intertextuality by claiming that influence is predicated not so much on texts per se but rather on relationships between texts (1975, 3). Most theorists have been wary of the all-too-quick equation of intertextuality and influence, making a clear distinction between the two: whereas issues of influence have remained closely linked with authorcentred perspectives and canonic valuation, studies of intertextuality have generally adopted a more impersonal if not an openly reader-oriented attitude towards the crossing of texts, influence remaining perhaps a particular issue within a much wider domain of intertextual relations, not at all limited to questions of origins (or originality), filiation, authorial intention or chronological priority. At the same time, it would be an over-simplification to declare subjectivity and agency definitively excluded from the purview of intertextuality, especially in those versions of intertextuality that emphasise the role of the receiver as the focus of interpretation.

As of 2021, the international bibliography on intertextuality (both theoretical models and analytical methodologies) has grown to such proportions that it is hardly possible to offer a comprehensive survey of all the recent scholarly work on the subject, especially as the notion has been appropriated and elaborated in differing ways by scholars from various disciplines. Perhaps the most relevant development has been the proliferation of approaches to intertextuality beyond the traditional sphere of literature, embracing the visual arts, architecture, film, theatre, dance, photography and, of course, music. One of the first extended studies of intertextuality as a non-literary phenomenon was introduced by Marc Eigeldinger (Mythologie et intertextualité, 1987). Interdisciplinary dimensions of research were outlined by Heinrich F. Plett (‘Intertextualities’, 1991), while Ryszard Nycz proposed his own approach to intertextuality in literature and the arts (‘Intertextual Poetics: Traditions and Outlooks’, 2005). For Nycz (whose work is invoked in several contributions to this book), intertextuality is a category that defines the structure and meaning of the text, which points to an inherent dependence of its creation and reception on the existence of other texts and architexts (stylistic rules, discursive generic conventions and semiotic cultural codes) and includes literature and all the arts of the modern and postmodern eras. Drawing in part on Riffaterre, Nycz focuses on intertextual indicators and sees in them potential for the creation of meaning. Perhaps one could also add that intertextuality has never been – and has never aspired to be – a single theory, but rather a special ‘angle’ from which to observe the dynamics of meaning formation in and between (inter) texts, their uses and their users; more than anything, intertextuality can be said to be a field of study rather than a unified body of discourse. Today, the concept of intertextuality can be said to embrace virtually any field of cultural studies where the image of the ‘text’ can be reasonably appropriated as a conceptual metaphor for the interweaving of meanings and the interplay of discourses.

This metaphor has obvious musical ramifications, to an extent reinforced by the role music notation played historically in the equation of the musical score with a text in the traditional sense. This should not be taken as a reduction of the musical phenomenon to its notation, however, as the metaphor of the ‘text’ itself has received a considerably enlarged interpretation, encompassing even music that is not habitually fixed in notation. In a sense, it seems appropriate that intertextuality should come full circle and be applied to musical studies as well as literary ones, since the Bakhtinian roots of the concept were themselves partly inspired by the musical notion of ‘polyphony’, as the interaction of different voices within a text. Bakhtin used the term primarily in connection with Dostoevsky’s ‘multivoiced’ novels, in which authors’ and characters’ discourses are supposed to interact on equal terms and ‘dissonances’ remain that are mostly unresolved (another related Bakhtinian term, ‘heteroglossia’, tended to foreground the multiplicity – if not the antagonism – of discursive strata within a language). Also for Roland Barthes, the intertext appeared on occasion in the guise of ‘a music of figures, metaphors, thought-words’, as ‘the signifier as siren’, rather than a field of influences (1975, 148). A focus on musical intertextuality seems the natural corollary for the understanding of intertextuality itself as multivoicedness, either harmonious, seductive or cacophonous, embracing the listener as an intertextual partner in dialogue, or as an endless web of echoes and resonances reaching one’s ear from different points in space and time.

Questions of influence, appropriation, imitation, quotation and various other forms of intersecting texts have obviously been debated in the musical literature long before intertextuality, or even a concern with full-dress theory, entered the remit of musicology. In part, interest in such questions was also spurred by the practices of collage, quotation and other forms of music ‘in the second degree’ actively explored by composers since at least the 1960s, giving rise to various threads of an intertextual poetics of music.


The editors of this volume wish to thank Federico Celestini (Institut für Musikwissenschaft, Universität Innsbruck, Austria) for his collaboration in the first stages of the preparation of this book. Many thanks are also due to Paula Gomes Ribeiro (CESEM) for her help in the organisation of the Conference ‘Intertextuality in music since 1900’ (Lisbon), and to FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia) for providing financial support for this conference. The editors also thank the authorities of the Academy of Music in Gdańsk, who provided financial support for the second conference of the series, and Lacie Eades for compiling the index.​
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