Tom Wappler


Intertextualität als musikkulturelle Praxis in der Oper Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts


Intertextuality is a complex term which until now has primarily been applied to the materiality of texts (in the case of music, this would be the score). By introducing a new perspective on the discussion about intertextuality, i.e. the perspective of music-cultural praxis, and applying it to the European opera culture of the second half of the 18th century, my PhD project would like to tackle this imbalance, draw attention to different intertextual practices and ask how these practices can be specified within the framework of pre- and post-texts and their related (co-)actors.

The discourse about intertextuality is no longer the exclusive domain of literary studies. Two of this discipline’s initial theoretical approaches have however remained dominant, influencing a broad spectrum of research on the topic. These two concepts deal with the question whether reference structures are an innate characteristic of every text, or merely a phenomenon that can be observed and analysed within certain texts only. Regarding music, it would be necessary to think about the extent to which a composition is constructed as a “mosaic of quotations” all along, as “absorption and transformation” of other compositions (Kristeva 1986/1999, 37), and to what extent the music that inscribes itself into other music is already inscribed by music itself in the sense of an infinite regress (cf. Pfister 1985). Or does one, on the other hand, focus on compositional techniques that could be described with the vocabulary of literary studies as citation, persiflage, allusion, parody, collage, pastiche etc., which would also mean to focus on their typology in order to make them applicable for textual analysis? And does one ask about the coding of meaning by the author and the decoding of it by the recipient?

No matter how apparent this polarity of the concepts may be, they share an argumentation that stays within the realm of the materiality of the text. If the control over references lies within the texts themselves, the discussion about the autonomy of the artwork is deconstructed as the borders of a text become permeable in principle and the texts (not the subjects) absorb and transform one another at any time. The concept of an ingenious and autonomous author- or composer-subject is deconstructed as well. He/she is degraded to a “kompilatorischen Schreiber” (compiling writer, Berndt & Tonger-Erk 2013, 50), which means he/she is not in control of intertextuality. According to Roland Barthes, the death of the author is the birth of the reader (Barthes 2000). But hermeneutics may also criticize this substitution within poststructuralism because the reader seems to be desubjectivized as well. It is assumed that, just like the author, he/she eventually dissolves in the plurality of texts that flow through him/her and that he/she contributes in the act of reading (Pfister 1985, 21). If, in their sense, the author’s intention and the position of the knowing reader (cf. Holthuis 1993) is reinforced as conditions of a successful outcome of intertextuality, the autonomous author-subject and competent reader-subject are yet again (re-)constructed – a development which brought poststructural criticism into the arena in the first place. The reclaimed subject appears to be an idealized one and to be bound to the text: The author and his/her intentions can only be interpreted through the text and the reader is not the real but the fictive recipient that by recognizing the intertextual qualities of a text starts the intertextual game (ibid., 32). In this case, intertextuality would not be existent if it is not recognized.

Theses concepts of an either deconstructed or constructed subject are not the focus of my PhD project. To address these issues, the project shall instead examine the context and handling of references by different actors. It seeks to apply a new perspective to intertextuality, that of music-related cultural activity (cf. Rode-Breymann 2007). In order not to risk falling into the trap of idealizing the individual, music-cultural activities counteract a historiography that centers around the composer and his artwork. Instead the perspective includes the practices and their actors (composing, performing, singing, teaching, publishing or collecting) without which compositions would not have a chance to “survive” (cf. ibid., 279). The research interest lies in the study of the phenomena of opera at the end of the 18th century and its music-cultural practices. They namely demonstrate an interaction with reference structures, i.e. they seek intertextuality or they are triggered by intertextuality. Consequently, intertextual practices entail other intertextual practices. The opera Prima la musica e poi le parole (premiere: Vienna 1786) by the librettist Giambattista Casti and the composer Antonio Salieri may exemplify this point: As a so-called metamelodramma, it satirically targets the genre of the oper seria in general. But it is also furnished with a series of references to Giuseppe Casti’s opera Giulio Sabino as the libretto includes some rehearsal scenes of the original opera itself (cf. Betzwieser 2013, preface). Significantly, Salieri himself ran the Viennese production of Giulio Sabino one year before (1785). Besides that, it was Nancy Storace who not only sang the cited arias of the Sabino in her character Donna Eleonora, but who also imitated the singing technique of the castrato Luigi Marchesi. In the Viennese production of 1785, however, Marchesi had sung the original parts that were now cited. This is not only a caricature of the castrato culture in general, it is also based on the personal contact that Storace and Marchesi had in their joint engagement at the Regio Teatro in Florence a few years prior to this incident (Armbruster 2001).

Consequently, intertextuality is rooted in multiple aspects. Through Salieri’s practice of composing with references, it becomes part of the musical material. But it is also performed vocally and bodily, and enacted by Storace. The citations are perceived in a certain temporal and geographical surrounding (Vienna in the mid-1780s). Personal constellations come into view via intertextuality. With this diversification, the project has both an interest in the textual component of referencing – questions of the textual and music-dramaturgical relevance of intertextuality – and in the appearance of a “reference-subject” within the framework of participating composers, librettists, audiences, singers, performances and venues of pre- and post-compositions. Hence, the question becomes: Which role do the people, acts, spaces and performances invoked by intertextuality play in the practices of referencing, and how do they affect the emergence of a reference-subject?


Armbruster, Richard: Das Opernzitat bei Mozart, Kassel 2001.

Barthes, Roland: „Der Tod des Autors“, trans. by Matias Martinez. In: Fotis Jannidis, Gerhard Lauer, Matias Martinez, Simone Winko (eds.), Texte zur Theorie der Autorschaft, Stuttgart 2000, 185-193.

Berndt, Frauke; Tonger-Erk, Lily: Intertextualität. Eine Einführung, Berlin 2013.

Betzwieser, Thomas: preface to: Casti, Giambattista; Salieri, Antonio: Prima la musica e poi le parole. Divertimento teatrale in un atto, ed. by Thomas Betzwieser, Adrian La Salvia and Christine Siegert, Kassel 2013.

Finscher, Ludwig: „Intertextualität in der Musikgeschichte“. In: Hermann Danuser, Tobias Plebuch (eds.), Musik als Text. Bericht über den Internationalen Kongreß der Gesellschaft für Musikforschung Freiburg im Breisgau 1993, vol. 1, Kassel 1998, 50-53.

Genette, Gérard: Palimpseste. Die Literatur auf zweiter Stufe, trans. by Wolfram Bayer and Dieter Hornig, Frankfurt am Main 1993.

Holthuis, Susanne: Intertextualität. Aspekte einer rezeptionsorientierten Konzeption, Tübingen 1993.

Kristeva, Julia: „Word, Dialogue and Novel“. In: Toril Moi (ed.), The Kristeva Reader, Reprint: Oxford 1999.

Pfister, Manfred: „Konzepte der Intertextualität“. In: Ulrich Broich, Manfred Pfister (eds.), Intertextualität. Formen, Funktionen, anglistische Fallstudien, Tübingen 1985, 1-30.

Rode-Breymann, Susanne: „Wer war Katharina Gerlach? Über den Nutzen der Perspektive kulturellen Handelns für die musikwissenschaftliche Frauenforschung“. In: Susanne Rode-Breymann (ed.), Orte der Musik. Kulturelles Handeln von Frauen in der Stadt, Köln 2007, 269-284.

(Changed: 2021-04-30)