A semiotic approach to musical metaphor : theory and methodology
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The idea that music acts in part as a vehicle for meaning is a truism in both popular reception and music scholarship. The language used to speak and to write about music is replete with words that describe it metaphorically. Melodies descend; rhythms speed up; timbre is smooth. Certainly, we use these terms for communicative facility, yet by applying this language to music, we create metaphors that, according to Ludwig Wittgenstein, act as frames that direct interpretation. In the paper, I put forth a theory that views metaphor as the process of semantic transfer or substitution in which a non-musical concept stands in for a musical feature, effectively enabling us to hear music as more than simply sound. The use of certain metaphors receives inspiration from previously heard music, programs, a perceived similarity with non-musical phenomena, or a combination of these. The methodology that I propose coordinates these metaphors—places them within a single frame—and enables them to interact with one another and to create a more palpable musical experience for the listener. I use Chopin's E minor and A major preludes from Op. 28 as the primary models for expounding this hermeneutic.