Jan, Steven (2002) The Evolution of a “Memeplex” in Late Mozart: Replicated Structures in Pamina’s “Ach ich fühl’s”. In: 17th Congress of the International Musicological Society, 1st - 7th August 2002, Leuven, Belgium. (Unpublished)

Pamina’s aria Ach ich fühl’s from Die Zauberflöte K.620 (1791) is the last of a series of four pieces from the end of Mozart’s life – the others are the Arietta Da schlägt die Abschiedsstunde from Der Schauspieldirektor K.486 (1786), the Adagio before the finale of the G minor String Quintet K.517 (1787), and the Lied Die Engel Gottes weinen K.519 (1787) – in which a distinctive sequence of discrete musical figures recurs. The sequence consists of at least four components and as many as seven in the Quintet Adagio and Pamina’s aria. Using concepts first developed by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his The Selfish Gene (1976), these recurrent figures are understood as ‘memes’ – replicated patterns transmitted by imitation between the members of a cultural community in analogy to the genes of biological transmission. The memes identified in the four pieces, whilst shown to exist independently in other contexts, are seen as forming a ‘memeplex’ or conglomeration which is replicated in the pieces as a unit, albeit one which evolves over time. Although controversial, the memetic paradigm is regarded by some as capable of offering powerful insights into the structure and evolution of human cultures and their artefacts, and this paper attempts to apply it to music in order to understand the individual structural organization of the four Mozart pieces and their broader intertextual relationship to a memetic-evolutionary nexus encompassing works from Bach to Verdi.

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