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The Homology of Music and Myth: Views of Lévi-Strauss on Musical Structure Author(s): Pandora Hopkins
The Homology of Music and Myth: Views of Lévi-Strauss on Musical Structure Author(s): Pandora Hopkins

The Homology of Music and Myth: Views of Lévi-Strauss on Musical Structure Author(s): Pandora Hopkins Source: Ethnomusicology, Vol. 21, No. 2 (May, 1977), pp. 247-261 Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/850946 Accessed: 28-05-2019 15:27 UTC

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Pandora Hopkins

As the myths themselves are based on secondary codes (the

primary codes being those that provide the substance of

language), the present work is put forward as a tentative draft

of a tertiary code, which is intended to ensure the reciprocal

translatability of several myths. This is why it would not be wrong to consider this book itself as a myth: it is, as it were, the myth of mythology. (L6vi-Strauss 1964:12)

Thus, in presenting my views concerning the mythological theories of

Levi-Strauss, I must see myself (if I am to accept the above declaration at

face value) as working with a quaternary code. Nevertheless, I am accepting

the invitation of Gilbert Chase, put forward in his exemplary background

article on LUvi-Strauss, to write a separate essay relating to

what he has

to say on the 'homology' of music and myth" (Chase 1972:154). Perhaps

Chase and I may feel rather complacently secure from the criticisms of others,

since it is doubtful if anyone can readily bring to mind the proper numerical adjective to describe the code such a critic would be using. Be this as it may,

I would like to begin this study with a quotation that demonstrates the

serious interest of Levi-Strauss in musical construction; for it is my conviction

that the musical analogies are indeed an integral part of his philosophy,

although not necessarily in ways that have thus far been described. I do not

agree with Chase that "there is more meat in it [this work] for the

musicologist (and not necessarily the ethnomusicologist) than for the folklorist or the traditional mythologist" (ibid.: 156). But we shall return to this, as well as to the ideas expressed in the introductory quotation. First, let us consider the above-mentioned quotation on musical structure:

Perhaps because the combination of musical expression with intellect is less obvious, musicians do not seem to have experienced the same

constraints in explaining the logical scope of their art. Harmony and

counterpoint treatises demonstrate how the different structural distributions

exist and become perceptible only through the relationships of keys,

pitches, tonal qualities, and rhythm. For a long time, there has been

recognized in the field of music two principal means of composition: the

juxtaposition of one structure with another, or the maintenance of the same

structures while transforming their perceptible supports (1971:582).

Claude LUvi-Strauss was so thoroughly impressed by the structural

nature of European art music-and its long history of musical analysis-that he


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has utilized concepts from this body of musical thought (includ set forms themselves) as the intellectual framework for his mo

on mythology (Levi-Strauss 1964, 1967, and 1971). His purpos

more ambitious than simply a description, or even an e

mythology. He views myths as exhibiting structures similar

constructions that have been so minutely scrutinized by Europe

thus, he hopes that analytical methods-or models-drawn f

analysis will enable him to see analogous mythological struct

way as to shed light on the pattern-forming nature of the hum

(LUvi-Strauss 1971:583).

We are all well acquainted with the hazards of sweeping gen

as well as with the obsession for discovering universal truth

leads to them. In the present case, the problems are obvious: Ho

seriously attempt to analyze over 800 myths belonging to d

spanning two continents of the world through apparatus drawn

elite tradition from western Europe-and, at that, a musical

scholar, S. Diamond, reacts with perhaps understandable vi


His commitment to an abstract, metalinguistic paradigm, combined

disinterest in particular languages, has here led the anthropologist

impossible situation, which can only be understood on grounds ot

those he has himself proposed. That situation can be defined as the

avoidance of the particularity of self and other. Ethnology becomes an exercise in an infinitely regressive series-neither the observor nor the

observed can be located relative to each other; they can only be reduced to

a common denominator

and he continues by quoting Lvi-Strauss in the first volume of th

under discussion: "it is in the last resort immaterial whether

. the th

processes of the American Indians take shape through the medium

thought, or whether mine take place through the medium of theirs" (

Strauss 1971:13). The criticism concludes:

It is enough to bear in mind that error compounded exponentially remains

error-"facts" like Scripture can be quoted to fit almost any systematic

hypothesis. In marshaling so many details, L6vi-Strauss pays ironic tribute t empiricism, while proving that the data never speak for themselves. It is th

organization of LUvi-Strauss' ideas that creates his facts-as a cyclotron

creates subatomic particles.

LUvi-Strauss is, in short, a successful iconoclast, who has violated both

the most romantic and the most technical demands of his colleagues. An yet, his reputation among anthropologists remains exalted in spite of th

criticism to which his work is subjected: this being a symptom of the

unwitting reorientation of the profession (Diamond 1974:295).

However with Levi-Strauss (unlike most generalizers) the problems his approach are often more obvious than the insights that led him to

them. He has admitted that the criticism against his wholesale cro

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language and cultural boundary lines is the most serious of

theories; and he has devoted some space in his last volu

to a defense. His explanation has been grossly misunder

tors on it (see, for example, Diamond 1974:294). This concerns his argument that translations of myths ar

purposes, because it is impossible to obtain the original.

that by original version he means versions in the original

he explicitly states that, from his point of view, the origin

is not in any language at all. Myth, like music, is not t

other form of communication; again, like music, it is formable" in shape, but neither myth nor music exis

language (1971:579). All literary manifestations, he tells us

or oral, must have had an individual creation, and ever

potentially a myth (ibid.:560). Only when one of these

begins to have a life of its own-which happens as soon as i

other individuals-can it be called a myth (ibid.:560).

It is of special significance that, in his conception of does not make the usual lines of distinction (drawn on eith ethnological grounds). Anyone, he asserts, (of literate or n

can originate a myth, although when communicated t

already exists in a secondary code. It becomes clear that he declaration quoted at the beginning of this paper; accordin

himself is creating myth, if his theories are to be taken up

others. Hence, he remains one of the few scholars who pla

midst of the universe he surveys and can with equanim

last resort immaterial whether

. the thought process

Indian take shape through the medium of my thought, or

place through the medium of theirs." Some of his vie

position of phenomenologists (from whom he has received

As happens in the case of an optical microscope, which is incapable of

revealing the ultimate structure of matter to the observer, we can only

choose between various degrees of enlargement: each one reveals a level of

organization which has no more than a relative truth and, while it lasts,

excludes the perception of other levels (1964:3).

His convictions concerning the primacy of thinking over language are

not new. Some years ago, while attending a meeting of anthropologists and

linguists, he complained:

we have been behaving as if there were only two partners-language on

the one hand, culture on the other-and as if the problem should be set up

in terms of the causal relations: Is it language which influences culture? Is it culture which influences language? But we have not been sufficiently aware of the fact that both language and culture are the products of activities

which are basically similar. I am now referring to this uninvited guest which

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has been seated during this conference beside us and which

mind (LUvi-Strauss 1963:71).

In La Penste sauvage (considered to be an introductory volume to

Mythologiques), Levi-Strauss has questioned the significance often ascribed to literacy. According to a well-known historian, the seventeenth through nine-

teenth centuries in Europe were "the three centuries in which literary

languages ruled supreme. These were the same centuries that saw the triumph

of rationalism, of individualism, of capitalism, of the nation-state-all the familiar features that mark the classic era of European world dominance."

Language during that time was

fixed in the dead print of grammars and

dictionaries," it had become more intellectual than sensual through the predominance of the sense of sight over the sense of hearing (Hughes

1964:38ff). This line of thought, popularized by McLuhan and others, was

reflected in the classification of societies according to whether or not they

were literate. Lvi-Strauss has produced evidence to demonstrate the point

that abstract thought and the practice of science itself are not the exclusive

prerogatives of our society: "Knowledge as systematically developed as this

clearly cannot relate just to practical purposes

primitive is founded on this demand for order." He points out that agri-

The thought we call

culture, the domestication of animals, pottery, and weaving can only be

arrived at by logical mental process (Levy-Strauss: 1962). Thus, the search, in Mythologiques, for basic structural patterns of the

human mind follows a consistent line of thought on the part of Levi-Strauss.

It is further consistent that he survey other fields besides that of language for

this study. Of the four fields he isolates as being particularly efficacious for

structural analysis (language, mathematics, music and myth), he singles out

music as being most closely related to myth in this respect (1971:579).

Music and myth, while both untranslatable into terms other than

themselves, are basically structural; the component parts of each are infinitely

convertible, each within its own sphere. Each contains a basic dichotomy:

theme, countertheme, both of which can be inverted, rhythmically distorted

(through augmentation, diminution or otherwise), modally transformed, or

presented in a new timbre. This he calls the capacith anagrammatique

(ibid.:577 and 581f). Further, both music and myth are coded schemes

(music, of sounds, and myth, of images) that are culturally determined (and vary from society to society) but have what he refers to as an "external level"

(a physiological dimension, in the case of music, and historical facts or

"supposed facts," in the case of myth). The cultural (internal) level itself has

two levels: a large reservoir of culturally determined possibilities (in music, for

example, of specific pitches used by a society) and schemes that involve

certain of the total possibilities available (1964:15 and 1971:584). In both

cases, there must be an auditor who plays a necessary, complementary role in

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the communicative act, which is likened by Levi-Strauss

(1971:585). Both are "instruments for the obliteration of t

"diachronic and synchronic" (1964:15 and 1958:218). These

in their linguistic sense, seem inappropriately applied to

Strauss is referring, not to approaches of study, but to

simultaneous presentations of material (see Chase 1973:32


Levi-Strauss has been accused of ethnocentricity in his use of European

art-music models for mythological analysis. However, the mere fact of this

usage is not enough to convict him; for, if, from his viewpoint, a scholar can

invent myth, there is no reason to make an essential line of distinction

between art and folk musics. Sometimes, his critics display a complete lack of

musical understanding, as the one who complains that Lvi-Strauss ignores

West African drum music:

Among such peoples [West African] a drummer may, either alone or in combination with others, create incredibly complex contrapuntal rhythms, which disappear at the moment of invention; they are not fixed in any system of notation. Themes may be relatively limited, but the elaboration is

rich and everyone seems capable of "invention"; indeed the distinction

between theme and elaboration becomes trivial, merely academic under such

circumstances (Diamond 1974:298).

This scholar shares the common academic fallacy of assuming that only

written records have any permanency; and he further associates the existence of formal structure with permanency. Thus, he does a gross disservice to West

African music and shows his lack of knowledge concerning the nature of


Levi-Strauss is in fact especially interested in musical improvisation; he is

well aware of the improvisatory nature of earlier western art music (of the

tonal variety that interests him) and deplores the fact that

to be insidiously disassociated from improvisation upon structures up to the

music comes

point where one is confused with the

." (1971:582). In making these

observations, Levi-Strauss shows himself to be more than usually knowledgeable

about a tradition that, up until recent years, has exhibited a gradual tendency

toward standardization with a concomitant increase in the separation of

composer and performer roles. Many of the assumptions often made concern- ing the supposed essential differences between folk and art music are made as

a consequence of the faulty association of a particular (and short-lived) style

of art music within the entire tradition (and generalizations therefrom).

Especially significant is Levi-Strauss's description of the creative process

in art music: Composers, he says, use

the works of their predecessors as a

point of departure for creating works that nonetheless have a marked

individual style, impossible to confuse with any other" (1971:578). This

passage demonstrates his awareness of the traditional nature of art music; but

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it is of more particular interest to us than that, because i

exposition of the kind of mental structures he has in mind. denied the idea that these structures are universal, archetypa since this is another area of his thinking that has been widel

by his critics, it is worth quoting him in full:

these are already structures which, by transformation, pro

structures, and the existence of structure itself is foremost [of

importance]. Less confusion would be produced concerning th

human nature as we persist in using it, if people had noticed t

not intend to thus designate a piling up of pre-ordained and

structures, but rather molds from which are produced forms that

entities without being obliged to remain identical, either during of human existence from birth or death or, in the case of huma

for all times and all places (1971:561).

Thus, it is the pattern-forming nature of the human

Strauss sees as universal first and foremost; this pattern-

manifests itself in different spheres of human activity

communicatory codes within these spheres are culturally det

case of music, those who share a particular sound system

induce) specific emotional (affective) responses in one anothe

Lvi-Strauss, "The musical work is a system of sounds capa

the mind of the auditor, of affecting the emotions" (1971:58 has constructed sound systems from which particular struct

Thus there are two levels of cognitive, culturally-determined

The affective response of the auditor is determined by h

intellectually interpret the cultural codes involved. It is this of cognitive, perceptual, and affective factors that makes m meaningful field for structural analysis. We remember that "Perhaps because the combination of musical expression with

obvious, musicians do not seem to have experienced the sa

explaining the logical scope of their art."

Levi-Strauss is not alone in his interest in the non-verbal manifestations

of the human intellect. Rudolf Arnheim has presented an impressive mass of evidence in support of what he terms "visual thinking":

The arts are neglected because they are based on perception, and perception

is disdained because it is not assumed to involve thought (Arnheim 1969:3).

Arnheim comments in passing that music "

. is one of the most potent

outlets of human intelligence" (ibid.: 18), and mentions the high prestige value historically accorded music in our culture where it was once classified in the

quadrivium, the group within the Liberal Arts considered to be based on


The high esteem of music and the disdain of the fine arts derive, of course,

from Plato, who in his Republic had recommended music for the education

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of heroes because it made human beings partake in the mathe

and harmony of the cosmos, located beyond the reach of the senses;

whereas the arts, and particularly painting, were to be treated with caution

because they strengthened man's dependence on illusory images (Arnheim


Levi-Strauss's downgrading of painting in comparison with music is indeed

reminiscent of Platonic thinking:

There is no true equality, then, between painting and music. The former

finds its materials in nature: colors are given before they are

seems to me that this congenital subjection of the plastic arts to objects

results from the fact that the organization of forms and colors within sense




as an initial level of articulation of reality. Only

thanks to it are they able to introduce a secondary articulation which

consists of the choice and arrangement of the units, and in their interpreta- tion according to the imperatives of a given technique, style or manner-that

is, by their transposition in terms of a code characteristic of a given artist or

society (L6vy-Strauss 1964:19).

This is not the only aspect of his thought that suggests Greek

philosophy. The notion of affective communication described above is notice-

ably close to Plato's conception of ethos; we remember that Greek heroes

were only allowed to study certain modes and instruments, those that could

be expected to induce the appropriate emotions in soldiers. It is thus

especially interesting that Lvi-Strauss gives musical communication a cathartic


Every melodic phrase or harmonic development offers an adventure.

The listener surrenders his (own) mind and his feeling to the composer's

initiative; and if tears of joy flow at the end, it is because this adventure-

which has lasted, from beginning to end a far shorter time than if he had

been involved in a real adventure-has been crowned with a success and a

feeling of happiness of which real adventures offer few examples

(Consequently) each work ought to offer a speculative formula to seek and

find an issue whose problems are establishing, properly speaking, its theme


This function of music is important to Levi-Strauss because of the analogy he again draws with myth: "procuring the pleasant illusion that

contradictions could be surmounted and difficulties resolved, it is a character-

istic shared by both" (ibid.:590). He then proceeds to test the universality of this theory, for he feels that, if he is correct, it should be possible to find a

manifestation of this function in any particular musical work. For his

experiment, he utilizes the well-known orchestral music for the ballet, the

Bolero, by Ravel; and he chooses this work precisely because a recent theorist

has described it in terms that seem to flatly contradict his thesis. The

composer, Henri Pousseur, in reference to this work, explains that:

One might object that there is at least one exception to this universality of

oscillating forms, periodic in the large sense; this would be precisely the*

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process of simple transformation, developing itself in a

(an) extreme case of uninterr

ality, perfectly continued

that is to say that it is not possible to go beyond in this di

it would be necessary then to continue by returning back

1970:246 & LUvi-Strauss 1971:590 who quotes section after

without returning on

having this in common that t

Levi-Strauss was also aware that Ravel himself did not take the Bolero

very seriously; he was genuinely surprised that it became so popular. Ravel is

known to have commented: "Unfortunately, it is empty of music" and to

have explained its popularity by saying, "It's the style" (Myers 1960:81).

Upon another occasion, he was more explicit about his intentions:

I am particularly desirous that there should be no misunderstanding

about this work. It constitutes an experiment in a very special and limited

direction and should not be suspected of aiming at achieving anything other or more than what it actually does. Before its first performance, I issued a warning to the effect that what I had written was a piece lasting seventeen

minutes and consisting wholly of "orchestral tissue without music"-of one

long, very gradual crescendo. There are no contrasts, and there is practically

no invention save the plan and the manner of execution. The themes are

folk tunes of the usual Spanish-Arabian kind, and

(whatever may have been said to the contrary) the orchestral writing is

altogether impersonal

simple and straightforward throughout, without the slightest attempt at


I have carved out exactly what I intended and it is for the

listeners to take it or leave it (Seroff 1953:251).

LUvi-Strauss, however, was not willing to accept this invitation; for, in

his words:

Even if Ravel used to describe the Bolero as an instrumental crescendo and

pretended to see in it only an exercise in orchestration, it is clear that the

enterprise gets deeply involved in other things; when it is a question of

music, poetry, and painting, one could not go far in the analysis of works

of art if one limited oneself to what their authors have said or even believed

they have done (1971:590).

Levi-Strauss's exhaustive analysis of Ravel's Bolero is of central impor- tance to his thesis, and we shall, therefore, consider it in some detail. His aim

is to find unconscious structuring in the work-patterns that have manifested

themselves despite the avowed intention of the composer; and he seeks first

for the structure he has posited as the most essential to all human beings,

what he sees as the fundamental duality of being and not being (that has

manifested itself, according to the theories explicated in his four volumes in

such oppositions as raw and cooked). The importance of this analytical

experiment to Levi-Strauss may be gauged by its position in the structure of his own work where it occurs at the conclusion of the fourth and final


In the Bolero, Levi-Strauss finds basic oppositions between two themes

(which he refers to as subject and counter-subject) and their responses; an

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oscillation between binary and ternary rhythms; and an alterna

two modal flavors (although the second of these last is never fu He presents a graph to illustrate the symmetrical nature of the

and argues that "

the whole work seeks to surmount

oppositions that are enmeshed with one another" (1971:594).

tions (rhythmic, tonal, and melodic) are resolved through the s various opposing factors and through a brief return to the orig

after the sudden change of key only 15 measures from the

modulation in the work):

In order to reconcile these oppositions, the composer addresses hi

the outset to the only musical dimension not yet brought into this

discussion: that of instrumental timbres. First presented in solo, the

instruments then perform in pairs, following which they are combined into

increasingly large numbers until it becomes clear that the entire resolution

disappears upon arrival at the tutti, that is to say when quality is changed

into quantity and all the sonorous volume provided is not of any help at all.

But then, at the moment when this orchestral aggravation arrives at the

breaking point, the happy solution to this impotence breaks forth from an

area where one would never have looked if the preceding defeats had not

led one to it. Despairing about bringing this to such a head and not being

able to further inflate the sound [and] as an ultimate resort, the orchestra

changes key: it modulates (1971:595).

He maintains that this "celebrated modulation" has been prepared "by

what might be called a rhythmic modulation" and further believes that the

new key itself (E major) has been foreshadowed by the countersubject

through a series of relationships that may seem somewhat forced:

this modulation-into E major-is related to the key of c# minor, the

enharmonic equivalent of D} which is related to the tonality of F minor (subdominant minor of the tonic) toward which the counter subject has

been vainly heading (1971:595).

Levi-Strauss (aided by the analytical skills of the late Rene Leibowitz)

has indeed succeeded in demonstrating the existence of formal, interrelated

structures in this work, both in its larger dimensions and in its subdivisions

down to the smallest of motivic details. Whether he has been successful in

proving that these factors are of predominate musical importance and produ

(in their eventual synthesis) the required resolution of conflict is anoth

matter. In order to accept Lvi-Strauss's interpretation, one must agree th

the Bolero is a traditional example of tonal composition. Yet from the

harmonic point of view the utilization of chordal resources is so unambitious

that we could describe the work as a single-chord chaconne (being base

almost entirely on a composite of the C and G major chords) while the ba

relentlessly reiterates the dominant, tonic notes in ostinato fashion. The tona ambiguity is further enhanced by the "countersubject" which not only leads away from the tonal matrix of the work (as stressed by Levi-Strauss) but als

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is melodically structured on the notes of an equivocal dimin


There is no doubt that the sudden modulation in the final section of

this work comes as a surprise and has a powerful effect upon the listener at

that point; but it is highly doubtful all would agree that the return to the

original key in the final coda (which concludes with the ambiguity of a plagal cadence) constitutes a satisfactory resolution of the engendered tension-that there is in fact a resolution at all. Even the conflicting nature of the "subject"

and "countersubject" could be questioned, for they exhibit both rhythmic

and motivic interrelationships that serve to impress at least this observer with

their similarity rather than the reverse. And, again, since an extremely

restricted number of rhythmic motives are repeated constantly throughout the

work, it would seem that their repetition, rather than the perceived binary-

ternary oscillation within the motives themselves, is considerably more im-

portant. It is difficult not to conclude that this reiteration of harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic material makes an obvious contribution to the

gathering momentum of the "orchestral crescendo."

Levi-Strauss has indeed found a convicing example for proving the

essential structural character of music. However, his contention that every

musical work contains within it a resolution of conflicts remains questionable.

The difference of opinion on this matter between Levi-Strauss and the

composer of the Bolero is occasioned by the differing degree of importance accorded by each to the role of timbre in the communicatory message of the

totality. The questions brought to the surface by these conflicting viewpoints are important because they involve LUvi-Strauss's notion of intentionality, a concept that has been much debated and is of central importance to his view

of structuralism. As has been pointed out: "Levi-Strauss clearly asserts that

meaning is intentional since the receiver has to perceive it and understand it

and in so doing he casts it in his own mold" (Rossi 1974:25). He has

articulated this point explicitly in relation to music when, as described above, he refers to the listener as playing a necessary role in musical communication (a role, we remember, he likened to that of a participant in "carnal union"). Since the work under discussion became immensely popular, it seems reason-

able to seek out the reasons that made it meaningful to so many people at

that time. Were its auditors impressed by the subtle and skilled craftsmanship

employed within a narrow scope of highly limited traditional materials (harmonic, melodic and rhythmic) or were they interested and affected

by the previously described momentum wrought chiefly by an obvious (but

original and bold) use of orchestral resources? Ravel, as has been noted above, re-

marked: "It is the style." Indeed, the most dramatic changes in European mu- sical styles concerned a new emphasis on orchestration as a meaningful entity

in itself (showing the influence of music from the part of the world where

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matters of timbre have traditionally played a predominant role)

difficult not to make the obvious conclusion.

Thus, there seem to be at least two cognitive structures through which

Ravel's Bolero may be perceived, only one of which was intended by the

composer (the one shared, in all likelihood, by most auditors). We have seen

that LUvi-Strauss believes that affective musical communication takes place

through cognitive structures and that the listener plays a necessary role in the

reception of messages. That the intentions of the sender must be communi-

cated seem implicit in his bitter criticism of contemporary western art

composition, when he asks:

What has happened to the first level of articulation, which is as indispens-

able in musical language as in any other, and which consists precisely of

general structures whose universality allows the encoding and decoding of

messages (1964:24)?

This inadmissability of new structures seems to have been contradicted by

LUvi-Strauss in his last work when, in defending himself from his critics, he

declares that all (oral and written) literary works are individually created,

although some may become common property as flexible molds for new


The confusion here seems to revolve around what is meant by "new." If Levi-Strauss simply means that all new human efforts must in some sense deal

with the transformation of known material in order to operate on a communicative level, then it is possible to accept some of his ideas on

unconscious communication. Certain composers of contemporary music, for

example, have maintained that they have severed all ties with tradition;

however, it is apparent that atonal music could only achieve an effect as such

on those who were already conversant with tonal music-and, we might add,

those who would be most impressed by an "orchestral crescendo" might be

expected to be those to whom the dramatic utilization of instrumental

resources was still a novelty. Such communication must be seen as intentional,

I believe, although existing beneath the level of articulate reality.

However, the confusion cannot be cleared up so easily. For Livi-Strauss

does not follow his (essentially liberating) ideas to their logical conclusions.

Indeed, the fundamental importance of his theories seems to be obscured by

what may be described as the old practice of putting the cart before the

horse. While the goal of his research is to lead the way to an understanding of

what remains constant in human thought patterns despite diverse cultural

manifestation, he actually presents his theories through patterns of thought

that he has determined in advance. First and foremost, it is by no means

self-evident that all peoples see being and non-being as an essential dichotomy.

The assumption of a binary foundation to musical manifestations cannot be

corroborated by either cross-cultural evidence or even by evidence from the

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tradition with which he is most familiar. While he makes allowances for

different scale systems within his cultural grid, he nonetheless makes assu

tions concerning certain common characteristics of these systems: the

istence of an hierarchical arrangement among the notes, for example

(1964:16) and the concept of resolution (1971:590).

The necessity for justifying these a priori assumptions may be the cau

of some of the weakest arguments in his study. There is an apparent

contradiction concerning L'vi-Strauss's interest in the willingness of musici to "explain the logical scope of their art" and his insistence upon unconscio

use of structures by composers. But Levi-Strauss has invented an histo

hypothesis that attributes to the very existence of this analytical tradition

Europe (and the consequent development of self consciousness among m

cians) a gradual disintegration of the quality of the music itself as structur

and ornamental factors became more and more confused with one another;

and he points to the gradual disappearance of the improvisatory tradition (as

referred to above in this paper.) "The musical language has thus been

progressively detached from what has made its distinctive character for a long time," until finally the traditional roles of form and content in music become

reversed in contemporary works that Levi-Strauss does not hesitate to call

examples of "anti-music" (1971:582). Elsewhere, he quotes the French

composer, Boulez, to the effect that: in serial music:

There is no longer any preconceived scale or preconceived forms-that is,

general structures into which a particular variety of musical thought can be


gravitation and attraction, serial thought on a world which is perpetually

expanding (1964:23).

Classical tonal thought is based on a world defined by

Unfortunately, the idea of a progressive analytical consciousness is not in

accord with the facts as we know them. Theoretical treatises have had a long history; and the progression (so far as composer involvement with theory is

concerned) seems to have gone in the other direction: As time went on, the

theorist became more and more differentiated from the musician, not the

other way around. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, for example, the French composer, Rameau, established the principles according to which tonal harmony has since been viewed (until questioned by Heinrich Schenker

almost two hundred years later). In the preface to his famous treatise on

harmony, Rameau complained:

In whatever progress music has made thus far, it appears that the more

sensible the ear becomes of its marvelous effects, the less curious is the

mind to fathom its true principles

us from the ancients make it very clear that reason alone enabled them to

discover the greater part of music's properties (Strunk 1950:564).

Such writings as have come down to

Livi-Strauss makes it clear that, for his explication of mythological

structures, he is not interested in the forms of pretonal music any more than those of post-tonal music. Again, he presents a justification in the form of an

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historical hypothesis; and he tells us that seventeenth-centu

the structures of myth (which had always had them) (

apart from the metaphysical aspect of this theory, it is evi

formal structures (comparable to the fugue to which h

connection) had played an important role in European music

time. As a matter of fact, the very changes in style tha

consider themselves to be writing in a "New Practice" at the

Baroque period were in opposition to the kind of musical

interests LUvi-Strauss; Monteverdi and others of his persuas the structural intricacies of late Renaissance music and atte

portray emotions found in verbal texts.

It is important that these seemingly premature (and

judgments concerning the universality of particular str

obscure the actual significance of this work. Levi-Strauss, w

insisted that it is the existence of structuring that is of

(1971:561). Structuring (the systematic and meaningful in

parts within a totality) may be seen to not only be an

western art music but also of many (if not all) musics of

been carefully described through complex verbal and pictori as far back in time as the ancient Indian epic, the Ramayana an account of the raga system). That it is also present in mu

having formal analytical models is apparent from descrip

folk musicians. However, it is further apparent that musica not depend upon descriptions, formal or otherwise, for pro which is demonstrated by the very fact that interaction am takes place within carefully circumscribed rules of appropri propriateness that are as difficult for outsiders to learn as i

grammatical system of a foreign language. In the conclu

volume of Mythologiques, LUvi-Strauss defends himself fro not see the significance of his views on affective communic

. the preceding apparent digressions [the Bolero analysis] pla

They demonstrate that, contrary to what critics have affirmed,

ignored the importance of the affective life. I only refuse to

myself to that form of mysticism that proclaims the intuitive a character of moral and aesthetic sentiments, and even at times maintains

that they illuminate the consciousness independently of all intellectual

apprehension of their object (1971:596).

In highlighting the cognitive component in affective communication,

LUvi-Strauss has made it possible to compare classificatory systems (and,

therefore, patterns of thought) that have been traditionally considered dif-

ferent in kind and not comparable. In concentrating on human thought as

primordial to its cultural manifestations, he is able to ignore standard lines of societal demarcation (according to literary or technological achievement, for

example). Thus, Lvi-Strauss's concepts are liberating; they free the scholar

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from making assumptions that have never been proved bu to avoid. They should lend themselves fruitfully to furth



1. I am indebted to Dan Ben-Amos for valuable comments and suggestions on


Arnheim, R.


1969 Visual thinking. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Boon, J.

1972 From symbolism to structuralism: LUvi-Strauss in a literary tradition. New


Chase, G.

1972 "Pirogue to the moon: the Mythologiques of Claude L6vi-Strauss" in Year-

book of the International Folk Music Council, p. 152.

1973 Two lectures in the form of a pair. I.S.A.M. Brooklyn, N.Y.

Diamond, S.

1974 "The myth of structuralism," in I. Rossi, ed., The Unconscious in Culture: the

Structuralism of Claude L&vi-Strauss in Perspective. New York.

Feld, S.

1974 "Linguistics and ethnomusicology," ETHNOMUSICOLOGY 18:197.

Hughes, H.

1964 History as art and as science. New York.

King, A.

1974 "Review essay: Claude L6vi-Strauss: Les Mythologiques," ETHNOMUSICOL-

OGY 18:101.

L6vi-Strauss, C.

1958 Anthropologie structurale. Paris. Eng. trans., Structural anthropology

York, 1973. References here to Eng. trans.


La pensbe sauvage. Paris. Eng. trans., The savage mind. Chicago, 1966.

References here to Eng. trans.


Mythologiques I. Le cru et le cruit. Paris. Eng. trans., The raw and the

cooked. New York, 1969. References here to Eng. trans.


Mythologiques IV. L'homme nu. Paris. Quotations here are my Eng. trans.

Myers, R.

1960 Ravel: life and works. London.

Nattiez, J.

1973 "Du fonctionnalisme a L6vi-Strauss" in Musique en jeu, 7:12.

Pousseur, H.

1970 Fragments thboriques I sur la musique exp6rimentale. Brussels.

Rossi, I.

1974 "Intellectual antecedents of LUvi-Strauss' notion of unconscious," in I. Rossi,

ed., The unconscious in culture: the structuralism of Claude L6vi-Strauss in

perspective. New York.

Seroff, V.

1953 Maurice Ravel. New York.

Strunk, 0. comp. and ed.

1950 Source readings in music history. New York.

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Maurice Ravel's Bolero



Ob.2 (& Ob.d'A)


Eb C

Bb C1.1

Bb C1.2

Bsn 1

Bsn 2


4 Hns

D Trp 3 C Trps

3 Trb


Spino Sax

Spno Sax

Ten. Sax


S Dr





Vln 2


Thematl struoore,


Tonal -agntert C







Bb C 2


Bsn 1

Bsn 2




D Trp

3 C Trps

3 Trb



Spino Sax

Ten. Sax,,.,,,





Vln 1

Vln 2


Ib Ia Ib IIa IIb IIa IIb Ia Ib Ia Ib IIa IIb IIa IIb Ia Ib Ia


Ib IIa IIb IIa IIb Sa Ib la Ib IIa IIb IIa IIb la Ib IIa IIb' b K

Key to graphb


Four measures =

Ia = "subject"

Ib = "response = ca

K = coda

IIa = "counter subject"

IIb = "response"to counter subject

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