An intersection may describe a direct relationship between music and another artform. It may designate the discernible connection of common themes, characters, or creative ideas. An intersection may also allow us to trace the influence of musical practices, or speak about musicianship, musical activities, or musical meanings. Links between music and film, visual art, or sculpture, or links between music and literary or dramatic works, are illuminating subjects for intersectional study.1 For example, an investigation of the connections between music and literature within a particular time period, accompanied by material and cultural evidence of their historical association or their shared consumption, might reveal important correspondences and overlapping characteristics. An example might include a musical structure that influences the crafting of a literary work or vice versa, or a character who appears in both a musical and a fictional work.
Although intersection often takes place on a representational level, more basic instances may occur, such as when lyrics from a poem or novel are set to music, or when a published song is cited in a literary fictional scene. In the latter example, the cited song may be used to drive the plot or enhance the setting or character description. Ian Bostridge’s Schubert’s Winter Journey is an intersectional monograph on both levels. Bostridge contextualises Winterreise using songs and poems that simply share themes or titles with those in Schubert’s song cycle; but he also investigates the broader connotations of the romantic figures and motifs—including the lonely winter wanderer, the charcoal-burner, the will-o’-the-wisp, the linden tree, the horn-call—appearing across these lieder and related paintings and fictional works.2 As this article will contend, such instances of musico-literary and musico-visual intersection afford scholars valuable opportunities to analyse complex webs of artistic reception, whether geographically or historically defined.
The principal meaning of the verb “intersect” is to “divide [a thing] by passing or lying across it.”3 The noun form, “intersection,” brings to mind the familiar North American term for a road junction, where two roads meet and cross each other. The noun “intersection” also describes “the act of intersecting” and “a point or line common to lines or planes that intersect.”4 These definitions are cogent for musicological study. In this article, the word is not simply a synonym for such similar verbs as “interlink” or “interrelate” but denotes an active interaction between artworks. Moreover, this active interaction is one that is meaningful and useful to music historians. Scholars have already recognised relationships of proximity or contextual affinity between literary works of different genres through the use of such terms as “intertheatricality” or “intermediality.”5 However, this article sets out a theoretical reference point for understanding music within its wider artistic context, denoted by the term “intersection.”
Musico–Literary Intersection in the Postmodern Critical Landscape
By nature, the intersectional approach is interdisciplinary. It thus aligns with several key ideals of the new musicology—signaled by Joseph Kerman’s call in 1985 for more meaningful and less positivistic music criticism—in that it seeks to understand musical works within their cultural contexts, rather than as hermetically-sealed units.6 As this article argues, intersectional criticism is endemic to important philosophical shifts in the investigation of pieces of music that took place preceding and during the turn of the twenty-first century. Formalist readings of musical structures, previously accepted as adequate in their own right, have in recent decades been considered only as limitedly useful beyond the subdiscipline that American universities term “Music Theory” or “Music Analysis.” New interpretative devices, derived from poststructuralism and literary theory, among other rubrics, have opened up a wider spectrum of interpretative models to musicologists, those who study musical styles and practices.7 As Susan McClary asserts, there is no longer any need for music critics or musicologists to “shield music” from outside influences, or to protect it “against cultural interpretation,” as it may once have been shielded and protected before the late-twentieth-century disciplinary changes.8
This professed “postmodern turn” in music studies9 has seen a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship investigate the interactions between music and literature in Anglophone culture during the long nineteenth century.10 Indeed, the interplay of music–text relationships is crucial in intersectional music studies. In 2017, Michael Allis wrote an introductory essay for a special issue of the Journal of Musicological Research titled “Reading Music through Literature.” Allis noted that such interdisciplinary approaches show “significant potential” to revise or enhance “our understanding of specific musical works.” 11 However, analyses of music in the context of literary criticism and interpretations of musical vocality—important though they are for understanding subjective identities in such works—are only part of the historical impact of these intersectional studies.
Reading Victorian novels as sources of evidence for British music of the period, Phyllis Weliver has adopted an intersectional approach to identify musico-literary connections in fiction. Weliver’s method promises to inform scholars’ views of contemporary music itself by providing a “social, cultural and political context” for the musicianship under examination.12 Scenes from novels often depict the manner of a song’s performance, illustrate an imaginary audience’s reaction to actual repertoire, or show how repertoire was significant in the lives of its fictional singers and players. Literary works may also reveal the place of particular musical instruments and performers within society.13 Recognising that English literature offers music researchers a useful investigative tool is an important part of the intersectional methodology. Intersectional theorists seek to identify mutually influential interactions between at least two artforms—interactions that may be traced in extant historical materials—to understand aspects of British social life in the past.14
Though Weliver has interpreted nineteenth-century English literary works as records of musical reception, another strand of intersectional musicology uses sources from Italian courts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.15 Inspired by the cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz, Gary Tomlinson, in 1984, offered a “prescription” for music historians studying the madrigal, a secular vocal genre of music popular during the Renaissance and early Baroque eras.16 Tomlinson describes a methodology that qualifies as intersectional, in that it begins by comparing a song with its original poem. Tomlinson underscores the importance of the relationship between these artefacts, identifying it as “the particular nexus in the cultural web that we chose as the object of our study.”17 For Tomlinson, this intersection defines critics’ interpretations of both artworks—song and poem—and, in the context of other related poems and madrigals, helps to convey aspects of the court society their performers inhabited.18 Eschewing formalist and positivist approaches to music from past cultures, Tomlinson opens the way for intersectional studies; he defines this interpretative process as “a reciprocal one, in which the art work illuminates the context even as the context illuminates the art work.”19
In a more recent example of intersectional criticism, Theodore Ziolkowski has identified a number of “stages” in the development of European Romanticism. Ziolkowski devotes six chapters of his book to analysing intersectional interactions between different types of artworks in the years 1798, 1808, 1818, 1828, 1838, and 1848. In this way, Ziolkowski avoids reenacting the approach, established among many cultural historians, in which genre or nation is the main organisational principle.20 Ziolkowski’s monograph, along with the other examples, demonstrates that intersectional readings of music and music history need not be confined to studies of any specific milieu. This important point is also evident from the recently published Edinburgh Companion to Literature and Music. It begins “before 1500,” extends to the present, and concludes with “A Future for Literature and Music.”21
However, notwithstanding its broad applicability, it is arguable that intersectional study should always be supported by the key theoretical frameworks that have arisen with the poststructuralist turn in literary and cultural studies—frameworks such as postcolonial theory and interdisciplinarity. According to Raymond Williams, works of literature can become anecdotes or examples of “residual” culture, so that they are seen as works “effectively formed in the past” but are still “effective element[s] of the present.”22 In this way, literature can establish counterhistories and undermine teleological narratives of historical “progress,” especially those influenced by nineteenth-century ideals of establishing national or individual “greatness” in musical development.23 Moreover, critical interpretations can emphasise these effects. New historicist and cultural materialist approaches to artworks, for instance, may subvert traditional interpretations of authorial hegemony in favour of theories of readership. In such readership-focused studies, we may identify hitherto unexamined symbolism, representation, and moments of reception in canonical and non-canonical texts or artefacts especially when they are read in combination.24 In music, such approaches champion the individual listener and their aesthetic experiences.
Intersection is close in meaning to reception, since both theories trace an artwork’s influence across its own and other media over time. The overriding concern of the intersectional approach is to establish the extent and meaning of cross-media connections. This aim is not necessarily contrary to the aim of reception studies, a field that discerns the value, impact, or canonicity of works through their afterlives.25 Rather, intersectional research draws on reception-type study methods but applies its findings to an insightful reading of the music at the centre of the given semiotic web. The specific pieces for examination need not have been considered “canonical works” at any point.
While studies of intersection form geohistorically grounded examples of intertextuality and discourse, they are not usually instances of hybridity. The exception is where intersection studies involve contact between popularly “opposed” or contrasting cultures or groups.26 Kevin Korsyn, in charting the broad influence of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Julia Kristeva, suggests that groups of texts with deconstructed and therefore permeable boundaries may become a form of mutually-referential discourse.27 The meanings of these texts are defined not just by their authors, but by their readership, as well as by intersectional conceptions of race, gender, class, sexuality, or disability.28 In recent years, several academic conferences have focused on exploring one or more of these categories in musico-literary studies, allowing artefacts and associated artistic practices to be read and understood as intersectional. Intersectional studies of gender and sexuality29 or intercultural and transnational exchanges through diasporic intersection have emerged.30 Furthermore, new research into the voice or the body as an intersectional category is an expanding horizon.31
Relatedly, the term “intersectionality” was originally coined by the feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989 to denote the way in which one’s social and political identities may combine to engender unique experiences of discrimination and privilege.32 In her original essay, Crenshaw was intent on drawing attention to the way in which black women plaintiffs are subject to multiple burdens that, when viewed through the “single-axis framework” of discrimination, obscure the complexity and “multidimensionality” of their subordination.33 It was not until the early 2000s, however, that the term “intersectionality” was more broadly adopted by feminists and advocates of social justice.34 On citing Crenshaw, Reni Eddo-Lodge writes:
America, with its grid-like road system, neatly packed full of perfect rectangles and squares, was the right place for the birth of this metaphor. Every person knows of a place where all the roads meet… Black women, in these theories [of Crenshaw’s “intersectionality”], were proof that the roads didn’t run parallel, but instead crossed over each other frequently.35
This type of intersection, concerned with striving for the liberation of subjugated individuals, is pertinent to pressing social concerns of 2020, and it is therefore a fruitful avenue of research for twenty-first-century intersectional arts studies.
For the purposes of this article, intersectional approaches more broadly are those that seek to erode the text/context divide that has traditionally distinguished analytical from historical methodologies in music research. These approaches aim to show that structural and representational judgements about musical works can be complementary. For Delia de Sousa Correa and her co-authors, resolving the tension between apparently contradictory analytical approaches represents one of the greatest challenges and opportunities for graduate students researching the so-called “sister arts” of music and poetry.36 Through adopting intersectional methods in the study of artworks and their contexts, musicologists might more deeply understand the unique identities of different performers, composers, and music consumers. In the following section, the article will present a case study to explain the term “received intersection” as I have theorised it in my intersectional monograph Figures of the Imagination, before going on to consider the ways that intersection and received intersection may expand the depth and impact of future musicological research.
Moments of intersection are themselves subject to the processes of reception identified by musicologists and cultural theorists. An understanding that such intersectional moments are texts, with their own interpretative meanings and afterlives, underpins the term “received intersection,” which I introduced in my 2017 book Figures of the Imagination. There, I used the term to identify a specific way in which imaginative figures form points of intersection between British fiction and drawing-room songs in the period 1790–1850. The point of introducing this term was to reveal more clearly a culture of domestic romanticism that was understood and consumed intersectionally. The main intersectional figures under scrutiny in that work were minstrels, supernatural figures (such as fairies, ghosts and witches), Christian figures, and siren figures (represented by mermaids and nightingales).37 Comparing artistic intersections of the early- and mid-nineteenth century, the monograph demonstrated how changes and developments in the identities of these figures continued through the period so as to show that intersection “was a dynamic and meaningful process.”38
As the book contends, while some figures retained their established core traits within new social and political contexts of the Victorian era, others spearheaded increasingly complex intersections, reflecting evolutions of style and genre in the various artforms in which they appeared.39 Ghosts and witches declined in popularity, the minstrel remained prominent, and the romantic siren’s manifestations as mermaid or nightingale emerged—all while the Victorian air became increasingly florid and more technically challenging for performers.40 Structured around the differing identities of the figures, the monograph applies a theory of intersection to interrogate print culture’s evolving social commentary on contemporary issues, such as Christianity in the home, the accuracy and freedom of the press, and gender roles in the professionalisation of musicianship.41 To paraphrase significant thematic intersections identified in the print materials, the study investigates how Christianity was portrayed and practised through fiction and song, how far editors in both artforms manipulated motifs of romanticism—including a supposed “folk” heritage—to promote their publications, and how female musicianship was contested as women musicians increasingly aspired to perform beyond amateur concerts within familial domestic settings.
An example of received intersection I examined in Figures of the Imagination, but will do so in a new way here, appears in Edward Bulwer’s Zanoni, a romance novel published in 1842.42 The novel reanimates a figure that was “intersectional”—that is, a figure who moved between literature and music—in earlier Anglophone print culture.43 The character first appears as a supernatural figure in Matthew Lewis’s 1796 gothic novel The Monk, but then later reappears in a musical composition that responds to Lewis’s novel: David Bruguier’s 1827 song, The Fire King (figure 1). The Fire King is a compound time and strophic Allegro setting for three voices in A major, with contrasting dynamics and an expressive piano accompaniment.44
Figure 1. David Bruguier, The Fire King (London: D. Galloway, 1827), GB Lbl E.270.(5.), bars 1–17. Novels by Matthew Lewis (1796) and Edward Bulwer (1842) both feature a fire king. Reproduced courtesy of the British Library Board (copyright holders).
Figure 1 (continued). Bruguier, The Fire King, GB Lbl E.270.(5.), bars 18–36. Reproduced courtesy of the British Library Board (copyright holders).
Figure 2. John Wall Callcott, The Water King (London, 1799), GB Lbl E.600.n.(4.), bars 1–32. This song was published three years after Matthew Lewis’s The Monk referred to a water king; it has textural similarities with Bruguier’s The Fire King and presents an equally demonic figure. Reproduced
courtesy of the British Library Board (copyright holders).
In Zanoni, the eponymous character is described as a “fire-king” during a pivotal scene of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption, after which a gentleman declines a respectable marriage in favour of pursuing training from Zanoni in the dark arts, feeling an “asbestos-fire” in his heart.45 The “fire-king” term refers in part to personifications of the volcano’s fire and lava flows, but also to supernatural elements of Zanoni’s spellbinding character, such as the power of his forbidden knowledge and artistic insight, and, according to several of Bulwer’s characters, his associations with witchcraft and the diabolical. Bulwer’s reception of the intersectional fire-king moment enhances the author’s description and plot direction; traces of the dramatic song and earlier gothic novel also deepen meaning for informed readers. An anecdotal figure in Lewis’s text, Bulwer’s “fire-king” has satanic power to dominate and terrify, showing literary developments in character portrayal but also presenting intersection as an evolving process in material culture. The topic of Bruguier’s song, a fire-king’s separation of marriage partners using the element of fire as a lure, resonates specifically with Bulwer’s plot moment, making Zanoni the reception document for a figure with prior intersectional resonance. This case study illustrates “received intersection,” a phenomenon active in several examples highlighted by my monograph where material culture demonstrates its reception of—and receptiveness towards—preceding musico-literary intersections.
New Directions in Music Scholarship
Intersectional studies offer relevant approaches for postmodernist, poststructuralist, and postcolonial scholars in music. Several published investigations of music and literature have enacted intersectional readings of those artforms outside Victorian Britain, showing that composers from periods beyond the case study just outlined are also inclined towards extra-musical influences, just as authors from many cultures and traditions are inspired by music.46 Emerging from word-and-music studies, intersection is a key tool for musicology, opening up new possibilities for its many subdisciplines. An intersectional approach to a composer’s biography might amplify the fact that he or she had also published literary works, allowing scholars to trace influences on their later compositions through discerning shared thematic content, musical ideas discussed in the writings, or common representational motifs. Bostridge demonstrates this technique, enhancing his study of Schubert’s song cycle by linking relevant biographical snippets, and even the composer’s autobiographical comments, to the overriding sense of loneliness he perceives in Winterreise.47 The potential to approach musical biographies in an “eclectic” and “pluralistic” manner is an aspect of the new musicology; in 1997, Kofi Agawu drew attention to the importance of the “individual subject” in his list of new musicology’s achievements, while also defending the continued scholarly value of traditional music analysis.48
Richard Leppert’s portrayal of visual art’s relevance to music history, and Andrew H. Weaver’s original application of narratology theory to the texted German Lied, are examples where intersectional methodologies illuminate historical and analytical approaches to music.49 More innovatively, intersection enables the mapping of complex interactions, like sampling in popular music, the reception of popular chart songs in film soundtracks (and vice versa), and the performative analysis of musical contexts, such as ritual or speech in ethnomusicological studies. Many possibilities are open to researchers intent on studying musico-literary intersections with respect to race, gender, sexuality, nationality, class or disability, as well as examining how music enacts or encodes facets of individual or collective identities. Future empirical research could trace the way in which the human mind functions in relation to intersectional attributes. Assessments could be designed to discover the impact of various intersectional factors on individuals and how they might develop understandings of music in extra-musical contexts. Overall, intersection is a concept through which Nicholas Cook’s call for a “broader musical scholarship” may be applied, notwithstanding individual scholars’ disciplinary or institutional loyalties.50 As McClary writes, twenty-first-century musical scholarship is interested in “bringing issues familiar to anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies to the examination of ‘our own’ music.”51 If “our own” music is the Western classical music canon, intersection may help us to expand, explode, or at least reevaluate, these institutionally-revered examples of human creativity.
The rhetorical Quadrivium, which Richard A. Lanham called “a place where four roads meet,” recapitulates the crossroads metaphor, in linking arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.52 Together with the Trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, the Quadrivium comprised the medieval curriculum of the seven liberal arts that have influenced modern university curricula. The foundations for intersectional study—an embodiment of musicology’s more recent diversification and changes in outlook—may not be as ancient as these syllabi, but they are in one sense traceable to the foundational components of the discipline itself. In his article of 1885 titled “The Scope, Method, and Aim of Musicology,” Guido Adler made the histories of mimetic arts, dance, literature and philology “auxiliary sciences” to historical musicology, writing that literature and language were “inextricably connected with music research, in the same way as in vocal works the musical tone is inseparable from the word.”53 Reading music and other artforms reflexively elicits a plethora of scholarly possibilities to expand the scope of music research.
About the Author
Roger Hansford holds a PhD in musicology from the University of Southampton. He has taught courses in music history and delivered research papers at conferences throughout the United Kingdom. His main research interests are nineteenth-century keyboard and vocal music and their socio-cultural contexts. He has published three books and he is an academic editor for Romance, Revolution and Reform: The Journal of the Southampton Centre for Nineteenth-Century Research.