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Negotiating borrowing, genre and mediation in the piano music of Finnissy: strategies and aesthetics

Pace, I. ORCID: 0000-0002-0047-9379 (2019). Negotiating borrowing, genre and mediation in the piano music of Finnissy: strategies and aesthetics. In: Pace, I. ORCID: 0000-0002-0047-9379 & McBride, N. (Eds.), Critical Perspectives on Michael Finnissy: Bright Futures, Dark Pasts. (pp. 57-103). London: Routledge.


A very large amount of the piano music of Michael Finnissy draws extensively upon existing music, of a highly diverse variety, from Dunstable motets, through various highly contrapuntal works of Bach, Beethoven Symphonies, Berlioz’s orchestral and choral works, the operas of Verdi, through to piano and orchestral works of Busoni, the dodecaphonic compositions of the Second Viennese School and later examples of musical modernism, not to mention folk musics from Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and Australia, hymn tunes, music hall songs, ragtime, and other popular genres. However, invariably this source material is radically transformed using a huge variety of different techniques which nonetheless generally preserve a few key stylistic or other attributes. This process has been demonstrated and its compositional meanings considered in a certain amount of existing literature, but there has been to date very little critical engagement with the implications of this for performance. In this article, I begin by giving an overview of scholarly models for musical borrowing, then setting out a new taxonomy of Finnissy’s borrowings, extending and modifying especially the model developed by J. Peter Burkholder for the music of Charles Ives, as well as drawing upon the work of Gérard Genette on intertextuality. Then I explore in detail the implications of these in terms of interpretive practice, specifically focusing upon the extent to which one looks to situate performing practices in terms of genres associated with performance of the original sources (and in some cases, their later performance history), or in distinction through emphasis upon Finnissy’s individual mediation of these sources. Through a variety of approaches to voicing, tempo, tempo flexibility, phrasing, articulation, execution of continuity or discontinuity, as well as strategies for ‘distancing’ or objectifying musical materials, I will show how a pianist’s conclusions and concomitant strategies in these respects can affect perceptions of individual works in terms of their relationship to modernist, neo-romantic and other aesthetic ideologies. Works under consideration are those which combine simultaneously highly disjunct sources, in particular in The History of Photography in Sound. Otherwise, I considerpieces or sections of pieces from the Strauss-Walzer (1967, rev. 1989), Gershwin Arrangements (1988-90), Verdi Transcriptions (1972-2005) and Second Political Agenda (2000-8).

Publication Type: Book Section
Additional Information: "This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge/CRC Press in Critical Perspectives on Michael Finnissy: Bright Futures, Dark Pasts on 21 May 2019, available online:
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
Text - Accepted Version
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