Composers as translators: intersemiotic transference, adaptation and interpretation

Minors, Helen Julia (2010) Composers as translators: intersemiotic transference, adaptation and interpretation. In: Portsmouth Tenth International Translation Conference: Translating Multimodalities; 06 Nov 2010, Portsmouth, U.K.. (Unpublished)


The concept of translation is often limited to that of language transfer. Yet we can argue that translation is a process necessary to most forms of expression. Music, which is often considered to be a language, can be understood to refer to text and other art forms. This paper asks: in what way can music translate the sense of text and other art forms? If music can translate in its own terms, what are these terms and how does its sense transfer and cross from one sensory domain to another? There is an inter-modal transference of ideas from one system (e.g. text) to another system (e.g. music). Exploring the notion of translation in a musical context, this paper focuses on the composer’s response to another art form, testing the process of intersemiotic transference, the adaptation of form and content, and the interpretation the composer gives to an extra-musical source which is projected through the musical composition. Claude Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune (1894) forms the central case study. I question the process and role translation has to play in his Prelude through analysing Debussy’s musical response to Stephane Mallarme’s eclogue L’apres-midi d’un faune. Endemic to early twentieth century French modernist music, Debussy collaborated with other artists and wrote about music and art in the critical press. Through the application of two models, the first drawn from Musical Ekphrasis (Sigling Bruhn, 2000) and the second drawn from Cross Domain Mapping (Lawrence Zbikowski, 2004) I ask: How has Debussy responded to Mallarme? What remains of Mallarme? How has Debussy interpreted the context, style, sense and structure of the text in musical terms?

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