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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The sabbatical begins

Chapter 1
Lorca: The Musical Imagination
This is not a book about Federico García Lorca’s own extensive musical activities, but about the many works of music he has inspired after his political assassination, in 1936, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. I have devoted two previous volumes, Apocryphal Lorca (2009) and Lorca’s Legacy (2019), to the literary and cultural legacy of this central figure of modern Spanish literature. A study of his musical influence, in my view, is a logical extension of these other projects. In fact, the critical problems of interest to me here are similar, even when the materials and methodologies might vary.  
Like translations and other forms of creative adaptation, musical settings set into motion new meanings in new contexts of reception. As a consequence, they tell us about what the work of Lorca has meant to a wide variety of people across the globe, over the span of more than eighty years. The premise of almost all of my work on Lorca has been that creative adaptations are informationally rich, providing insights into his reception that would not otherwise be available. Jerome McGann has called this mode of interpretation “performative,” contrasting it with more conventional academic reading practices: “Within that general field of dynamic reflection we might usefully distinguish two kinds of interpretive action: a mode oriented in performative models, of which translation and parody are perhaps the master types, and a mode oriented in scholarship, which is our customary exemplar of interpretation” (137).  
This perspective differs from traditional views of a translation—for example—as a simply a  reproduction of content, to should be judged by its fidelity to the original. What is significant about translation, surely, is the new information it releases, not the degree to which it corresponds (or fails to correspond) with the original. I also believe that my work on Lorca’s reception has led to new insights about “Lorca himself.” In other words, studying his work indirectly, through its subsequent refractions, has generated ideas about his work that would otherwise not have occurred to me. What is more, creative adaptations like translations, parodies, film adaptations, theatrical performances, and musical settings all have an inherent vibrancy lacking in academic literary criticism. Writers who live on through these new acts of creation remain relevant in a way that doesn’t occur through scholarly exegesis alone. While the notion of the literary canon is usually discussed only in the context of academic teaching and scholarship, hypercanonical figures live on in numerous other ways outside the school and university.          
Why music? This is a logical object of study because of Lorca’s own musicianship, because of the inherent musicality of its poetry, poetics, and drama, and because of the abundance of music indebted to him. A large quantity of available material, in and of itself, is not sufficient justification for a work of scholarship. Yet surely it is striking that Lorca is the twentieth-century poet most frequently set to music, in both classical and vernacular idioms and in a wide variety of geographical settings—in Spain, other parts of Europe, and the Americas. In fact, he has few if any close rivals in this respect. There is no other modern poet, for example, who has a strong presence in the world of classical music and also in a vernacular style like flamenco. Clearly, then, it is necessary to explain why Lorca has been an extremely attractive figure for musicians around the world. At some point the sheer quantity of materials produces a qualitative effect, making Lorca a kind of point of reference or touchstone in a way only a few other poets have been. 
Lorca: The Musical Imagination belongs to a select genre of studies of the musical legacies of major literary figures. Books of this type are few in number, in part because most writers—even canonical ones—have not inspired enough music to justify an entire monograph. What is more, apart from a few older works on Shakespeare, Goethe, and Schiller, the genre is of relatively recent vintage, arising out of the interdisciplinary field of “word and music studies” beginning in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Typically, such books will be categorized in the Library of Congress system under subject headings like “Baudelaire, Charles—musical settings—history and criticism.” 
Recent books—some monographs and others edited collections—have been devoted to the musical afterlives of Baudelaire, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Paul Celan, and Samuel Beckett—a group including only writers of great literary prestige. These volumes do not all employ the same methodologies, nor do they address identical issues. 

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