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19/12/2016

OxfordJournals

ATheoryofMusicalNarrative.ByByronAlmn.
Arts&Humanities

MusicandLetters

Volume91,Issue2

Pp.299303.

MusicandLetters
ml.oxfordjournals.org
MusicandLetters(2010)91(2):299303.doi:10.1093/ml/gcq011

ATheoryofMusicalNarrative.ByByronAlmn.
A Theory of Musical Narrative. By Byron Almn. . pp. xiv + 248. (Indiana University Press,
Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2008, $39.95. ISBN 978-0-253-35238-5.)

Arnold Whittall
+

Author Affiliations

Musical styles are states rather than stories. Yet the infinite variety of their
compositional manifestations drives Byron Almn to explore the possibility
of reducing infinity to a manageable group of categories in which the
confluence of form and mood that creates genre can be aligned with the
four basic archetypes of literary narrative (according to Northrop Frye)
comic, ironic, romance, tragic. That theoretical expositions and analytical
discourses are themselves, as successions of words, also stories is no
hindrance to this process. Plausible narratives linked to particular
compositions are likely to involve considerable degrees of category-

interaction or overlap, and the effect of spelling out those narratives can
well be to underline their essentially subversive otherness in relation to
the music which they appear to serve, but from which they are utterly
estranged: even if music is in some sense a language, it does not use
words.

Almn is understandably concerned to argue that narrative is not


necessarily and exclusively literary. Rather, it is medium-independent ,
and musicas much as literature, drama, or mythis capable of
displaying markedness and rank relations and their revaluation through
time (p. 52). Almns terminology in that statement is unexceptionable:

markedness acknowledges that in compositions some things are always


likely to be more prominent, more strongly emphasized than others, while
revaluation through time suggests that such degrees of markedness

often if not invariably change as the composition proceeds. More typically,


however, Almns preferred terminology creates certain difficulties. His
understanding of narrative requires him to identify markedness with
hierarchy : he defines this (after his principal source, James Jakb
Liszkas The Semiotic of Myth: A Critical Study of the Symbol
(Bloomington, Ind., 1989)) as the configuration of relative markedness
and rank values in a system that generates the tensions that gives [sic] rise
to narrative transvaluations (p.
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