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GESTURE, MIMESIS AND IMAGE: ADORNO, BENJAMIN AND THE GUITAR MUSIC OF BRIAN FERNEYHOUGH

  • Diego Castro-Magas

Abstract

One important stimulus in attempting to apply Adorno's constellation of concepts on performance to Brian Ferneyhough's guitar music is that both display the influence of Walter Benjamin's thought. Benjamin's concept of mimesis influenced Adorno's theory of musical reproduction, however much Adorno may have reformulated it, and various Benjaminian topics are traceable in Ferneyhough's guitar music, especially Kurze Schatten II (1983–89) for solo guitar. Adorno claims that true reproduction is the X-ray image of the work of music, a rendition of all the aspects that lie hidden beneath the surface. By exploring the conceptual traces of Benjamin's thought in Kurze Schatten II, this article examines how performer's interpretative choices are likely to render the X-ray image of this music in performance, as seen through a gesture-based approach.

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References

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1 I exclude from this list Renvoi/Shards (2008) for quartertone guitar and quartertone vibraphone and other (non-soloistic) appearances of guitar and electric guitar in large ensemble pieces.

2 As expressed in Adorno, Theodor W., Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction: Notes, a Draft and Two Schemata (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006).

3 Andersson, Magnus, ‘Brian Ferneyhough: Kurze Schatten II – considerations d'un interprète’, Contrechamps 8 (1988), pp. 128–38; Morris, Geoffrey, ‘Brian Ferneyhough's Kurze Schatten II: Performance Approaches and Practices’, Context 11 (1996), pp. 4046 ; Castro, Diego, ‘Brian Ferneyhough's Kurze Schatten II: Towards an Auratic Model of Performance Practice’, CeReNeM Journal 4 (2014), pp. 4766 .

4 Note, however, that this article concentrates on movements 1 and 2 only, and was written before I consulted the sketches/manuscripts for the piece and before I had been able to meet the composer.

5 Ferneyhough, Brian, ‘ Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, in Collected Writings, ed. Boros, James and Toop, Richard (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 139152 ; Brian Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II (1983–89)’ [programme note], n.d., www.editionpeters.com/resources/0001/stock/pdf/kurze_schatten_ii.pdf (accessed 4 February 2016).

6 First published in 1933 in the Kölnische Zeitung and collected in Benjamin, Walter, Selected Writings 1927–1934, Vol. 2, trans. Livingstone, Rodney, ed. Jennings, Michael W., Eiland, Howard and Smith, Gary (Harvard: Belknap, 1999), pp. 699702 . The ‘(II)’ appended to the title by the editors of the latter volume is used to distinguish this sequence – which contains seven texts – from the 1929 sequence of eight texts which Benjamin also titled Kurze Schatten (Short Shadows). The two sequences, although otherwise different, both conclude with the same text.

7 Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, p. 139.

8 Ferneyhough, programme note.

9 Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, p. 245.

10 Adorno, Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, p. 185.

11 Adorno, Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, p. 62.

12 Adorno, Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, p. 67.

13 Neumic notation – itself of Greek origin – was developed from cheironomy: the imitation of ‘the hand-movements of the choral conductor of antiquity, who directed the melodic movement and the corresponding movements of the choir. (Adorno, Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, draws here on Riemann, Hugo, Handbuch der Musikgeschichte, Vol. I: Altertum und Mittelalter (bis 1300), 3rd edn, ed. Einstein, Alfred (Leipzig, 1923).)

14 Adorno, Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, p. 62.

15 Adorno, Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, p. 55.

16 Adorno, Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, p. 67.

17 Adorno, Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, p. 1.

18 Collected in Benjamin, Selected Writings.

19 Benjamin, Selected Writings, p. 698.

20 Benjamin, Selected Writings, p. 697.

21 Hoban in Adorno, Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction, p. xix. Hoban is both the translator of Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction and also a remarkable composer.

22 See Godøy, Rolf Inge and Leman, Mark, eds, Musical Gestures: Sound, Movement and Meaning (New York: Routledge, 2010).

23 Hatten, Robert S., Interpreting Musical Gestures, Topics, and Tropes: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), p. 95. Meanwhile, François Delalande claims gesture to be the intersection of observable actions and mental images (‘La gestique de Gould: élements pour une sémiologie du geste musical’, in Glenn Gould Pluriel, ed. G. Guertin (Quebec: Louise Courteau), pp. 85–111), and Anthony Gritten and Elaine King state: ‘A gesture is a movement or change in state that becomes marked as significant by an agent. This is to say that for movement or sound to be(come) gesture, it must be taken intentionally by an interpreter, who may or may not be involved in the actual sound production of a performance, in such a manner as to donate it with the trappings of human significance’. ‘Introduction’, in Music and Gesture, ed. Anthony Gritten and Elaine King (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), p. xx.

24 Alexander Refsum Jensenius, Marcelo M. Wanderley, Rolf Inge Godøy and Marc Leman, ‘Musical Gestures: Concepts and Methods in Research’, in Godøy and Leman, Musical Gestures, pp. 12–35 (here p. 13).

25 Ferneyhough used this term when he and I discussed the text in an interview/rehearsal in 2013.

26 Benjamin, Selected Writings, p. 699.

27 Elaine King, ‘Supporting Gestures: Breathing in Piano Performance’, in Musical Gestures, p. 145.

28 Termed as ‘melodies’ in the composer's sketches at the Paul Sacher Foundation.

29 Cox, Frank, ‘Notes toward a Performance Practice for Complex Music’, In Polyphony and Complexity, ed. Mahnkopf, Claus-Steffen, Cox, Frank and Schurig, Wolfram (Hofheim: Wolke-Verlag, 2002), pp. 70132 . Cox coins the term when advocating ‘translation’ in the communicative chain of conception, notation, realization and perception: ‘Each domain in this chain should be seen as qualitatively different from the other: each has its own independent structuring, imperatives and history, and could be treated as a separate “language”. Following this analogy, the translation between domains (as with human languages) must begin by acknowledging their fundamental differences, then attempt to create analogical bridges’ (p. 104).

30 Rolf Inge Godøy, ‘Gestural Affordances of Musical Sound’, in Musical Gestures: Sound, Movement, and Meaning, pp. 103–25, here p. 110.

31 See also Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, p. 246.

32 See Richter, Gerhard, Thought-Images (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007). According to Richter, the Denkbild ‘is a poetic mode of writing, a brief snapshot-in-prose that stages the interrelation of literary, philosophical, political, and cultural insights’, mostly employed by four major German-Jewish philosophers associated with what came to be known as the Frankfurt School of critical theory.

33 See Kirst, Karoline, ‘Walter Benjamin's Denkbild: Emblematic Historiography of the Recent Past’, Monatshefte 86/4 (Winter 1994), pp. 514–24.

34 After Benjamin, Selected Writings, pp. 699–702, and Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, pp. 139–152.

35 See Castro, ‘Brian Ferneyhough's Kurze Schatten II’ for a similar approach to movements 1 and 2.

36 Benjamin, Selected Writings, pp. 699–700.

37 Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, p. 143.

38 Interview with Ferneyhough, 2013.

39 See Fitch, Lois, Brian Ferneyhough (Bristol: Intellect, 2013), p. 88.

40 Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, p. 144.

41 Charles-Joseph, Prince de Ligne (1735–1814), Belgian military officer, diplomat and man of letters, was a favourite at many European courts. His memoirs and his correspondence with figures such as Rousseau and Voltaire established him as an important literary voice in Belgium.

42 Benjamin, Selected Writings, p. 700.

43 Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, p. 144. He continues: ‘Further operations take this idea much further, by reversing that relationship, changing its proportions (for example into 2 and 3 subdivisions of a 3/8 bar) or by self-replicational “nesting” of such values one within another’.

44 Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, pp. 146–7.

45 See King, ‘Supporting Gestures’.

46 In this way, this movement is prescient of Ferneyhough's Les Froissements d'Ailes de Gabriel, made of 124 fragments which succeed one another.

47 Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, p. 150.

48 Benjamin, Walter, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. Osborne, John (London: Verso, 1998).

49 See Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, p. 246.

50 Caygill, Howard, ‘Walter Benjamin's Concept of Allegory’, in The Cambridge Companion to Allegory, ed. Copeland, Rita and Struck, Peter T. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 248.

51 This recalls the ‘frozen rhetoric’ that Ferneyhough pursues in relation to Lemma–Icon–Epigram. See Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, p. 246.

52 See Ross, Alison, Walter Benjamin's Concept of the Image (New York: Routledge, 2015), pp. 5660 .

53 Ferneyhough, programme note (See fn. 5.)

54 Ferneyhough, ‘Kurze Schatten II for solo guitar’, p. 139.

55 Andersson, ‘Brian Ferneyhough: Kurze Schatten II’, p. 128.

56 See Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, p. 175.

57 Interview with Ferneyhough, 2013.

58 Ross, Walter Benjamin's Concept of the Image, p. 57.

59 Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, p. 233.

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GESTURE, MIMESIS AND IMAGE: ADORNO, BENJAMIN AND THE GUITAR MUSIC OF BRIAN FERNEYHOUGH

  • Diego Castro-Magas

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