LANGUAGE AS MUSIC

There is currently a resurgence of poetry and theatre that cross the boundary of language as abstract acoustic sound and language as meaning. Rhythm and music are essential to the oral texts of Montreal playwright René-Daniel Dubois. In his play Don’t Blame the Bedouins the language sounds of Italian, German and English create a counterpoint of rhythms and simultaneous melodic lines, resulting in a dense, polyphonic texture and an intensified declamatory form of verbal expression. Martin Kevan describes the work:
Don’t Blame the Bedouins is a poetic play for theatre and, as such, should be read aloud. Only in this way can the sounds and rhythms be appreciated fully and the confusions that arise from the silence reading of accents be avoided. Rhythm and music are vitally important to the oral texts of Dubois.

Dubois explores the concept of language as music, recalling a concept of language that can be traced back to Sophocles and ancient Greece.

In his work A-24, the American poet Louis Zukofsky arranged this writings into a five-part score. Each part was conceived as an independent voice – Handel’s music is one voice, and the other four voices are thematic arrangements of Zukofksy’s writings such as thought, drama, story and poem. With the American language as basic source material, Zukofsky organized the text into simultaneous melodic lines in which the resulting harmony and counterpoint is as important as the meaning of each individual line.

Poetry is a sonic art form in which timbre is a much stronger parameter than pitch in the structuring of form. The form-bearing elements in speech are vowels and consonants, and the structuring of these sonic elements in time is rhythm. In the English language, pitch is not a significant structural parameter – it functions mainly in grouping sounds into phrases, and in communicating meaning.

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