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Musical Orientalism - Essay Example

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Orientalist music is not poor imitation of another cultural practice: its purpose is not to imitate but to represent. Therefore, the Orient can begin in Spain if the intention is simply to connote a cultural other. Even then, there may be no distinction made between Spain, Mexico, and South American countries…
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Musical Orientalism

Download file to see previous pages... Imitation aims to duplicate; musical Orientalism has little to do with the objective conditions of non-Western musical practices-rather, it brings something new into being. Here is a list of Orientalist devices, many of which can be applied indiscriminately as markers of cultural difference.
Orientalism describes the representation of the Eastern Other to the Western Self; it is not an impartial account of cultural difference, it is alternity understood in terms of fear and desire, terror and lack.
Orientalism is never quite a case of "anything goes"; it is possible to mix signifiers of difference in a confusing manner: for example, it would be possible to write a calypso using Liszt's "Hungarian" scale. Moreover, Orientalist signs are contextual. For example a mixture of 6/8 and 3/4 is not a sign for Spanish in William Byrd's madrigal "Though Amaryllis Dance in Green," but it is in Bernstein's "I Want to Be in America" (from West Side Story). Likewise, the similarity between the close of the first movement of Anton Bruckner's Sixth Symphony and the theme tune of Maurice Jarre's Lawrence of Arabia does not create confusion. It is interesting, nonetheless, to wonder how much more stress on the Phrygian in Bruckner's coda would have been necessary to conjure up Sinbad for Donald F. Tovey, rather than Odysseus.
In westerIn western music, Orientalist styles have related to previous Orientalist styles rather than to Eastern ethnic practices, just as myths have been described by Lvi-Strauss as relating to other myths. One might ask if it is necessary to know anything about Eastern musical practices; for the most part, it seems that only knowledge of Orientalist signifiers is required.
Nevertheless, the state of affairs found in a work like Rameau's Les Indes Galantes (1735), where, for example, Persians are musically indistinguishable from Peruvians, was to change. Distinctions and differences developed in the representation of the exotic or cultural Other, and that, as well as the confusion that sometimes results, is my present concern. This confusion is most evident in the nineteenth century, when Western composers, especially those who worked in countries engaged in imperialist expansion, were torn between, on the one hand, making a simple distinction between Western Self and Oriental Other and, on the other hand, recognizing that there was no single homogeneous Oriental culture. Thus, even when different Orientalist styles had become established, they could sometimes be applied in a careless manner.
J. A. Westrup stated apropos of Purcell's The Indian Queen: "For all the music tells us, the action might be taking place in St. James's Park." His remark indicates that there is a historical specificity to musical Orientalism and thus helps to establish its beginnings. Consider the music sung by the Indian Boy, which concerns "native innocence," part of a favorite colonizing theme in which the indigenous peoples of conquered countries are looked upon as children-and here they are indeed a boy and girl.
Lakm's "O va la jeune Indoue" (the "Bell Song" from Delibes's opera Lakme, 1883) is a tale of a young Indian girl's seduction by the divine Vishnu. It begins with a wordless vocalize, a device that became common in representations of the "emotional" Easterner, the lack of verbal content pointing to a contrast with the "rational" Westerner. Carolyn Abbate (1991) remarks that ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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