This article discusses irony both as a narrative archetype in tonal music and as an interpretative strategy on the part of the listener. Beginning with a discussion of Northrop Frye's four narrative archetypes (romance, comedy, tragedy, irony), the article turns to a semiotic interpretation of the archetypes by James Liszka and an application of that work for music analysis by Byron Almén. Arguing that ironic narratives in tonal music often take as their premise a topical field associated with romance or comedy that leads to an unexpected failure, the article also claims that our interpretation of musical narratives must be invested in the semantic level (topics, codes, conventions, genres) as well as the syntactic one (harmony, voice leading). The four archetypes function as structures of the musical text and as master signifiers that the listener uses to organize an interpretation. As such, the archetypes function as ideologies of the musical text and as ideologies of the reader. The article illustrates these ideas with analyses of Chopin's Nocturne in B, op. 32/1, Chopin's Second Ballade, and Brahms's Rhapsody in E♭, op. 119/4.
Michael L. Klein; Ironic Narrative, Ironic Reading. Journal of Music Theory 1 April 2009; 53 (1): 95–136. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00222909-2009-022
Download citation file: