V. Nabokov noted: “Derivative writers seem versatile because they imitate many others, past and present. Artistic originality has only its own self to copy.

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4310/the-art-of-fiction-no-40-vladimir-nabokov and his words returned to me while I was listening to Johann Sebastian Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" (Weihnachts-Oratorium), BWV 248, after I recognized two melodic lines with which I was familiar from his other works. I checked the repetition in the wiki  and I learned that it "was written for the Christmas season of 1734 and incorporates music from earlier compositions, including three secular cantatas written during 1733 and 1734 and a now lost church cantata, BWV 248a. The date is confirmed in Bach's autograph manuscript.[  ] The work belongs to a group of three oratorios written towards the end of Bach's career in 1734 and 1735 for major feasts, the others being the Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) and the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249). All parody earlier compositions, although the Christmas Oratorio is by far the longest and most complex work."*   This musical recognition had already occurred with  his Cantata BWV 82, “Ich habe genug”, reminiscent of the aria “Erbarme dich” in  Bach's St Matthew Passion (there are others more and very recent citations, such as in Brazilian movie director Luiz Fernando Carvalho’s 2001 “Lavoura Arcaica”)

The first time I tried to compare what is here named “parody” and, elsewhere, “self-plagiarism, ** with some of V. Nabokov’s works and “repetition, was in connection to LATH and TOoL but my lack of training in musical theory hindered my project and I dropped it.

Today the idea rose up again, although I’m still unfit to pursue it further. However, this time, I found another interesting musical clue which experts (not I) could explore and this is why I decided to share this with the List: in the Wikipedia addendum there is a reference to musical “key signatures” employed by Bach to establish the unity in his work within the music itself” which his practice of “parody” when using different pieces of his own work demanded. Would VN’s mathematical talents have stimulated him to find “literary key signatures” in novels like LATH, for instance, or in those that borrow from The Enchanter, Speak, Memory, aso? (particularly for the passages from irreverence and humor onto seriousness, as described in RLSK as “when a clown develops wings.”)

Would the variations around the meanings attributed to plagiarism and parody, in the past and at present, illumine any aspect of VN’s self-plagiarism or his disguised mimicry of other writers’ color, rhythm and wording, or in the very subtle references to the content or the style of other author’s works?

In a way all these conjectures were linked to my present pursuit of the interpretations around “reference mania, through the book “Anatomy of a Short Story: Nabokov's Puzzles, Codes, Signs and Symbols Paperback – May 24, 2012 by Yuri Leving  (Editor). VN had informed his editor, K.White, that these two words were assembled by him (they were not medical terms) and that their comprehension was the key to  understanding the entire short story - but he was distressed after he realized that the staff of “The New Yorker”, including Mrs. White and several critics, had failed to grasp the pathos of his story in order to dwell on its suggestive parody and satire, now directed against over-interpretative scholars and readers.

I thought VN’s neologism might relate to the usage of “mania” in “egomania”, “cleptomania” (etc), more than to mania=madness or agitation.


*- Still following Wikipedia: "Bach expresses the unity of the whole work within the music itself, in part through his use of key signatures. Parts I and III are written in the keys of D major, part II in its subdominant key G major. Parts I and III are similarly scored for exuberant trumpets, while the Pastoral Part II (referring to the Shepherds) is, by contrast, scored for woodwind instruments and does not include an opening chorus. Part IV is written in F major (the relative key to D minor) and marks the furthest musical point away from the oratorio's opening key, scored for horns. Bach then embarks upon a journey back to the opening key, via the dominant A major of Part V to the jubilant re-assertion of D major in the final part, lending an overall arc to the piece. To reinforce this connection, between the beginning and the end of the work, Bach re-uses the chorale melody of Part I's Wie soll ich dich empfangen? in the final chorus of Part VI, Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen; this choral melody is the same as of O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, which Bach used five times in his St Matthew Passion.

The music represents a particularly sophisticated expression of the parody technique, by which existing music is adapted to a new purpose. Bach took the majority of the choruses and arias from works which had been written some time earlier. Most of this music was 'secular', that is written in praise of royalty or notable local figures, outside the tradition of performance within the church." 

**-  Self-plagiarism in music and science by  Renato Baserga: "Nature 470, 39  (03 February 2011) doi:10.1038/470039e : “ Composers are much more relaxed about self-plagiarism than scientists. It was practised by the best: take Bach's Christmas Oratorio, which recycles several of his secular cantatas

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