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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Part Two

If music is easier to write than words, then if you are trying to write a song then you will often be in that uncomfortable position of having to reverse the more natural order.  In other words, you will often come up with the melody first.

When trying to set a text, I have found that I follow a solution that the text suggests to me. The text is a stimulus and constraint (which is actually easier than composing a melody from scratch.)

A lyric I write after a melody will always sound banal to me.

I saw a girl and she smiled at me
She said her name was Natalie
We shared some laughs and a bottle of wine
I thought that she should be all mine

That's one of the better ones, at least it has the elements of storytelling in a concise way.

In a way it would be a lot to expect, for me to have that skill without working to develop it as much as I work to master piano playing and writing original melodies with their harmonizations. Even though I am a poet the writing of song lyrics is a substantially different skill set, given the type of poet I am.

So I would need to write a different sort of poem, meant as a song lyric in the first place.

Words first, then music

Even though there are counter-cases, the normal order is words first, then music, even in vernacular genres. Though the tendency in the vernacular is to not worry so much about the priority, or to think of the music and words as simultaneously arising, or with a smaller temporal gap, the words tend to precede the musical setting of them.

For example, there is not a tradition of poets finding musical melodies and then trying to write words to them.

I guess you could write new verses to an existing song, adding lyrical material. A translation of a song lyric would have to match the melody note for note, syllable by syllables, if it were being sung to the same tune.

It's not that music or words are easier to write. That would depend on who was doing it and what the standard of being a good or bad melody or set of lyrics was. But all other things being equal, it is easier to set a text to music than write words to existing music.

Of course, when I sat it is hard, that is meaningless, because I could easily think of a phrase or two that fits the melody of Ode to Joy:

We have time to finish dinner

Then we'll watch a Netflix show... 

Or Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring

We'll have some dinner then shopping and zen meditation we'll live out our lives in a state of perpetual motion and stillness and never will darkness become our condition we'll never say never to all the great life possibilities facing us now 

The trick is to get from the dummy lyric to a real one.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Super powers

If you had an invisible car, where would you park it?

Not on the street, where other cars would crash into it

Not even  in your own garage, where you would trip on it

You could only drive it where no other cars were,

no children to cross the road looking both ways

so who would you be invisible from?

If you were invisible who would fall in love with you?

If you were stronger than all you would win the weight-lifting contest

but wouldn't it be cheating?

Monday, January 27, 2020


I went to a percussion concert last night. It was a solo performance by Colleen Bernstein. I liked her Bach cello suite playing on the marimba.  Bach works well for any instrument. She also played some Debussy and then some Debussy-ish things on vibes. The second part was more didactic, with a project she call "Strength and sensitivity," with percussion + spoken word. She played a march on snare drum while projecting inspirational feminist quotes on a screen. She read some poems and played music that went along with them, or was paired with them. As might be expected, the spoken word / poetry part of the pairing was not all that impressive.  She doesn't have a great poetic sensibility, so the result came off as too didactic / content driven (for me). Her playing is very good, and the spirit behind the project is idealistic. The project might develop into something more interesting, but that would involve using words in a more interesting, maybe musical way, not for their content alone.


We think that to work on music, we have to have a great musical erudition, but people work on literature all the time without a deep understanding of literature. And I am including people trained in literature in this category.


I discovered the work of someone supposedly the leading philosopher of music, Peter Kivy. It is a bit odd. He takes the position that we listen to music for the music itself, not a fashionable position at all. He makes some good points, but there is something a bit off about it.  For example, in a thing on repetition he talks about the repeat sign, but doesn't consider that music is repetitive even within a section that is then repeated. Of course, the meter of a piece does not count as a repetition, though it is, in a sense, and rhythmic patterns are constantly repeated. Motifs are pounded home relentlessly. The point is not the repeat sign, with an entire section being repeated verbatim, but that the entire structural principle of music is repetition. Imagine a piece entirely through-composed: it would be impossible to follow. Now, because of the importance of repetition, we need to counter balance it to avoid monotony. So we derive the next principle of music, which is variation. I'll give you the "same thing," but changed up a bit. If it's not a variation, it will be an elaboration or development, but it has to be a development of the same thing.

But variation is not enough, we need contrast too. But all of this only makes sense if we first think that repetition is the main game in town. Whole sections that are repeated verbatim are not really the main problem to be considered here.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Program Music

The intellectual embarrassment of seeing cadence as "patriarchal" is similar to the embarrassment we feel at "program music." The idea of music imitating storms or battles just seems hokey, cartoonish.

I have listened many times to Duke Ellington's Shakespeare suite, "Such Sweet Thunder." I still cannot identify which piece of music from the "Sweet" goes with what character.  I'm sure someone could explain it to me, (why this piece of music is about this character) but if you have to explain it...I'm sure I would forget the explanation and go back to my non-programatic listening.  

We know music can mimic a storm, but we feel that is not what music does best. Those effects seem secondary. We have the sounds of nature already, we can tape them and we don't need a musical mimesis of them. Those kind of "sound effects" seem secondary, unnecessary at best, the grounds of a hokey kind of "appreciation."

National Poets

Canonical poets set to music are often national poets, in other words the standardly cited representatives of their national literatures: Dante, Shakespeare, Burns, Whitman, Lorca, Goethe. This is partly because of their hypercanonical status.

Song Setting

I found it very difficult to write words for music I had written. I was a bit puzzled by this at one time, but the reason is a very simple one. My melodic lines were rhythmically complex and sometimes long. There were a lot of notes. It is much, much easier to go in the other direction. Unless, of course, you write melodies that already fit a strophic form. When I start with a text, it is easy to find a melodic shape that fits that text. You might think too that there are only 12 notes but thousands of words, so you have too many possibilities for a lyric.

Music and Literature

Our library has 391 books under the subject heading "Music and Literature." Most of them are irrelevant to me, of course, but when can get a a kind of "lay of the land" from reading through all the titles. There are the books about "______ and Music," where blank is the name of a writer of literature.

Saturday, January 25, 2020


I know when I have prepared well for a lesson when my piano teacher starts addressing things like the pedaling, the articulation of a sforzando or of a rolled chord, when we get to talk about the musicality of it all. I am learning Mompou prelude 6 pour la main gauche.  I like left hand studies (this one at least) because they are linear.


Charles Rosen is a viciously funny critic. Even when he is handing out praise, he will do so in a semi-malicious way--though sometimes he hold back a criticism a bit. For example, he find the equation of "cadential closure" with "patriarchal domination" to be to "too facile to be convincing"(in Susan McClary). I would say it is intellectually embarrassing.  He also gets in a dig about her writing style being "macho," not exactly what a feminist critic would want to hear. By doing so, he is actually making a pertinent point: that we identify things as male in female in a rather arbitrary way.  

At another point, he responds to the idea that there is a "conspiracy" against a minor composer that he obviously thinks is mediocre.  (I forget who.) He says, "where can I sign up for this conspiracy?" Noting the absence of an article on eroticism in an opera dictionary, he says there is an article on Milwaukee.

At one point, he says he has left in some mistakes in his own writing when reprinting articles as an object lesson. Since he is eager to point out other people's slips this is a good reminder. Reading his books I feel my own ignorance rather keenly. Rosen had a PhD in French as well being a concert pianist and a self-taught musicologist.  I cannot even say that I know more about literature than he does, or that my prose is more refined.

Friday, January 24, 2020


The meaning of music is always a literary meaning.

It is either associated with the words set to music, or with a "progammatic" interpretation, or with an allegorical reading of the harmony. There has to be a literary device there at some level. There have to be words there in the music itself, or else words supplied later to account for what the meaning is.

This not to say that music is meaningless.  But its meaning is literary in any given instance.

The words frame our interpretation of the music, and vice-versa. It can be easy to see that a setting of a poem gives it a certain interpretation.

For example, a poem by JRJ that is all about contained emotion, gets a setting and performance that is highly emotive and expressive in the flamenco style. Then you see that the music frames the text in a way different from that of other possible readings.

Or a mournful reading of a cheery lyric, by Billie Holiday.  We get ironic performance.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

String quartet dream

I was at a string quartet concert. I changed my seat a few times to get a better view, ending up in the first row, where there were people's coats spread out but no-one else sitting.

 The string quartet started behind some object like a couch that muffled their sound.  Later, a trombone was doubling the cello part. Then the first violinist and cellist came out into the audience and were dancing while singing their parts to each other instead of playing their instruments. The cellist was a man and the violinist a woman. They were singing in tune but not very well. The melody of the quartet was the same as the minuet from one of Beethoven's piano sonatas...

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Today's Change

Today's change: I went to a session for volunteers at the Audio Reader, a reading service for the visually impaired.

I want to volunteer in at least one way.

February I will introduce no new changes, simply try to consolidate those I've already begun.


Rorem makes the point that a song are not adaptation of a poem, because the poem is still there, intact. He says this is the only kind of union of two artistic media that works in this way. For example, if we adapt a novel into a movie, the novel disappears.

I would say that there are other cases, like if we were to put choreography to a piece of music: the music is still there, right? But his point is still a valid one. The translation replaces a text with another; the song setting does not.

The Footnotes

I write long and very interesting footnotes. Then, if they are truly interesting, I need to fold them back into the body of the text, since many people will not know to read the footnotes.

The notes, for me, are a place to develop ideas apart from the main argument, but if those ideas become more important than the main argument, then that is not right either.


I've been exploring the idea that musical is essentially vocal. I think many musicians continue to think in that way.


I've decided to give up the internet.  Reading blogs, etc... Even though I only read one or two blogs, and I do get something out of it (or I wouldn't read them), I don't like being slave to a compulsion. I'm also giving up some online magazines. I think that the constant flogging of the "woke" mentality is not doing me any good. I do agree that one kind of "wokeness" has gone too far, but I don't need to be consumed by the flogging of it either. I don't need to be that guy. There is always a danger in that the clear perception of some of the idiocy on the left can drive one to the other side. But what is that other side offering?

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Anti elitism

Elitism and anti-elitism have the same structure. In each case, we attach an extraneous value to the aesthetic object based on its perceived place in a sociological hierarchy.

Monday, January 20, 2020

A rubric

1. What musical / lyrical traditions are evoked by the original text? What is the metrical form of the text?

2. What is the style / genre of the music? What is the relation between the style / genre of the music and these musical / lyrical traditions? For example, what is the distance in time between the composition of poem and that of the music?

3. What are the areas of explicit kinship / connection between music and text? At the obvious level, for example, a strophic form in the poem could lead to a strophic musical setting. Or a less structured text could be through-composed in its setting. In what senses is the setting a "good" one in the conventional sense?  That is, showing sensitivity to the original.

4. What are some areas of divergence? For example, the use of melisma could obscure the words of the text. Or the music could have a radically different mood from one suggested by the original. Did the composer set the original text as is, or are there modificaitions (repetitions, omissions, additions). Is the text translated or in the original?

5. What other things do you notice about the music that aren't necessarily covered by the compare  and contrast method of analysis? In other words, you can talk about the music in and of itself.

6. In what senses does the setting interpret the text? For example, does it introduce elements not fully present in the text itself.  Does this interpretation close off other possible ways of reading the text?

7. How does this setting compare with others of the same poet, or others by the same composer of other poets? Or of conventions of setting poetry to music generally?


I want to make the argument that studying poetry through musical settings is one of the best ways of studying it. Depending, of course, on what the poetry is.  It's the same argument that we should read poetry in translation, because translation sheds light on the original. The argument that "all translation is interpretation" means that when we read a translation, we have to think about how this is so (in a way that we don't when reading the original without thinking about its translation.).

So we need a kind of fissure in the wall of the poem to be able to climb it: we can't climb a smooth surface. The fissure is the impetus provided by someone else's intervention (the translator or musical adaptor).

Yet this is hard to do. I have the experience of playing a song for students and .... nothing happens!  They have nothing to say. I need to have rubric, I guess?


The inner critic woke me up to at 3:30 am. berate me, reminding me of other times I've tried and failed to change things in my life. It was pretty harsh. It is ok, though, because the inner critic is very tied to a particular view of me and is feeling threatened by my recent changes. I wants to pull me back into a more restrictive view of myself.

I take his outburst last night to be a sign that I am moving in the right direction, but that I am not there yet.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

What does not change is the will to change

Two minor personal hygiene changes (I won't bother you with.)

Went to zen center this morning (rather than must meditating on my own.)

The one grown-up superpower behind all the others is this:

The belief in the possibility of change.  Without this belief, change is impossible. With this belief, change can happen.

How do I know change can happen? Positive change comes from changing habits, either introducing good ones or leaving off bad ones. This does occur in people's lives. They start or stop doing things (on a factual basis this is true.).

It is also demonstrable that change occurs even without effort in any direction: nothing in life is stable or immutable; everything is in flux. So the question is not whether change is possible, but whether you can influence it in a particular direction or not.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Solving a problem in one day

You can solve a problem in one day. I wouldn't recommend doing this every day. Change can be difficult, and you don't want to overwhelm yourself. But during the first month of the year when you are still thinking in terms of making changes, it is good to instantiate several changes, as I've done this year.  I'm not listing everything I've done, because there are some that are too personal to discuss here.

What you do is identify a problem that has a single solution, involving stopping or starting a habit. On a single day, you either begin or end a habit, by which action you solve a problem.

For example, I have decided not to have my email on in the background on my computer.  Now I will not read every email as it comes in.  I have solved that problem, of being distracted by email.

Other things you can do:

delete your facebook profile or your twitter account (I did this with twitter and haven't looked back)

deleting an app from your phone which is a waster of time (I've done that with some stupid games)

begin meditating (I've done this one, beginning in 2019)

quit smoking

join an organization (I've done this; joining the choir; not singing with them now, but I put in a few years with good results)

sign up for a class

cutting off a toxic friendship

Now you want to make sure they are things you can really do, that you won't backslide on.  Things like quitting smoking can be hard, because it may be you really like to smoke. Maybe binging on Netflix is a good release for you, and you don't really want to quit it.  That's fine too.  I thought about giving up my crossword puzzles, but I don't think they are a bad addiction to have, as addictions go.

Friday, January 17, 2020

What I've been reading

The last three books I read were a book on insight meditation, by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield, a book on raising special needs children, by my cousin Ann Ellsworth, and a textbook on music composition. I've also peered into some books by Lawrence Kramer on music and meaning and a book on Luigi Nono, just to see if it deals with Lorca, and Artistotle's Poetics, and I read a book ms. on Lorca for a press.

Think of the complexity of cognitive activity involved in thinking about everything that goes into this.


The music composition book talks about two flaws in a composition, "holes" and "bumps." Holes happen when the music is inert when it shouldn't be, while bumps are things that call attention to themselves in a bad way. I like these metaphors and want to use them.

A course?

I would like to give you a blog course in February. Let me know what you want, if anything, and I will give you that course. I did it once on translation, with a grand total of two students.  The course will be free of charge or name-your-own price. It could be on scholarly productivity, prose writing, verse; literature and the other arts...

School of Languages

They are abolishing our school of languages, which was an unnecessary administrative unit (in some people's opinion) between the language departments and the College.  In Spanish we never liked having it much, because they wanted to get our donors, and because of various personality frictions, etc... We were both a part and not a part of it, so there were constant tensions. The school did not increase enrollments in lesser taught tongues, so it did not succeed in that dimension.

Thoughts for the day

Both music and language have literate traditions, traditions of writing something down. I saw that I wrote a song even if I don't actually write it down. We speak of reading music, too, and of interpreting the written text. Music has a hermeneutics by virtue of this literate character. There is a primary system of notation (notes on the staff, with rests, etc..) and then there is a conventional system of verbal indications, with words like accelerando. If I wrote down more music, I would use very detailed verbal instructions, That would seem to be part of the fun of it, getting to write a word or phrase in Italian about how you wanted your music played, dolce or cantabile.


Intonation is the among the first aspect of language acquired, along with rhythm. A childlike intonation is stylized, more "sing song" than an adult's. When we call intonation "speech melody" we are not using a metaphor. Likewise, the


When we speak of bird song, is that a metaphor? It is true that the bird's song is a metaphor for poetry itself, as in Keats. But we don't have another, better word for it.  It is a catachresis, like the legs of a table? (A metaphorical designation that has no literal equivalent). Or does the bird song actually qualify as song by its melodic and rhythmic characteristics.


Words like prosodymeter and phrase only refer to language, temporal arts like poetry, dance, and music. Aristotle says that dance has rhythm without music. Of course, most dance is still dance to music. What would prosody be in sculpture? It would probably be the gestural language expressed even in stillness or apparent stasis. (We can talk about rhythm in painting.) In visual arts, we could apply the idea of measure, to talk about proportionality or the like.


Aristotle includes music among the imitative arts, like poetry and painting. What is less important than their imitative quality (surely weak in music?) is the fact that they are forms of art closely allied and linked to each other, in the sense that melos is one of the six aspects of poesis.


What does music imitate, anyway? A treatise on music might not start with mimesis, but a treatise on ta poetika will start with imitation while including music and visual art as points of reference.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


I can go to the music library to work, and then in the same building practice piano, and walk in the gym, in another building not too far.  I found books on music in Dickens, Proust, and Willa Cather, and on Dante (2) and Petrarca. There is a book on Mallarm√© and Debussy.  The model of "Dickens and Music" seems quaint now.  I hate that AND.


I came across a sentence about how "The Sound of Music" ignores the presence of African-Americans in the US.  I should hope so, since it doesn't take place in the US. The author clearly knows this, because he talks a little later on how Nazis are represented in the movie.


Intonation, and linguistic prosody generally, is the earliest part of language to be acquired,  Language is musical from the get-go. Is it a fallacy to think that the evolution of language parallels the process of acquisition?  Like the idea in evolutionary theory that the embryo of an organism represents the organism in an earlier stage of development.  What is the name for that?

Monday, January 13, 2020

I do not like it, Sam I am

I started reading a book ms. today. I started out liking it, then became less enamored of it as I went along. I started reading faster and faster, skipping over parts. I will read more tomorrow. 

It starts out as one thing, and then morphs into something else that I like a good deal less. I will recommend it for publication, but not because I particularly care for it, its author, or its approach. In a way I am relieved that it does something so different than I would do (have done!). It would have been bad it if had done what I do better. 

Dream of Indy

I was in a hotel with my daughter. We looked off the balcony and we were trying to figure out what city we were in. She saw Indiana license plates so she said Indianapolis.  Then I said we had to figure out what year it was.  By the make and model of the cars, it had to be a different year than it actually was in our own lives. It was more like watching movie. We said 1980. We started to talk to the people on the street. They invited us down, and everyone noticed that the people here were much smaller in stature than we were. It was an alternate reality of some kind. We went out to eat with some of the people.

They were in a parallel world. Their year was 2030, but they had a different way of calculating the date. Later, I was playing Mompou's Prelude for left hand for everyone... I met student I had to take to Argentina on a study abroad program (as I actually will do this summer) and there was a dense, Trump-like man there who didn't quite understand what that meant.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Swiss army phone

In my pocket is a small device that is a metronome, a tuner, a radio. A computer. It can transpose music to a different key. It is compass, a flashlight, a calendar, a gps device, an atlas, a clock, stopwatch and timer. A weather forecaster and stock ticker. A tape recorder. It could play chess if I wanted it to, or do countless other things. It is a video and still camera, a dictionary.

If I ask my students what their favorite app on their phones, they will tell me something stupid and silly. As though their favorite tool on a Swiss army knife was the toothpick.

My cousin Ann

My cousin Ann Ellsworth is musician and she wrote a book about adopting some kids. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Lorca's Afterlife

I get to review a book for a UP on the exact topic of my own last book. Watch for me to be totally objective.

All kidding aside, I had to think for a few minutes before saying yes. Obviously I have a stake here.  If the person does not cite me then I will have to say that. If there is disagreement, I will negotiate that.  

But really, it is a good chance for me to practice not being defensive or territorial, and to put aside anything personal. I actually can be objective, in the sense that if the book does something I don't do, or addresses the topic in another way, all the more power to this scholar. I shouldn't even have to have a strong attachment to my own ideas. How does that benefit me?  

Self help book

I decided to write a self-help book called "superpowers for grown ups."  The idea is to write it for myself as a guide to cultivating things that I think are important. Then I will publish it on amazon, or something.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Practice time

I time my practice time and devote between 5 minutes to an hour to a particular task. I write down what I do. I found that I was practicing too many separate things a day, so I have decided to do only a few things a day, and at least one for a longer time.  5 minutes is a long time for a short piece I already know.  I can work on specific things or play through it 5 times. 60 minutes is a long time for studying a piece of three pages. I can work on every specific phrase or on the whole.


It is interesting to look at the word practice.

It can mean rehearsing or repeating to learn something, like practicing an instrument.

It can be a habit or habitual method.

It can be someone's meditation practice.

Or the professional practice of an attorney or physician.

It can be doing something as opposed to theorizing about it.

What all this has in common is in doing something. A practice is always an activity.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Bathrobe Dream

This little kid wanted me to help him put on a bathrobe, but instead I taught him how to do it for himself. I showed him how to hold it out at armslength in front of him, with the front of the bathrobe facing him. Then you take your right arm and extend it diagonally into the right sleeve while also taking a diagonal step with your right foot. Then you pivot around and feel with your left arm for the left sleeve. You collapse your elbow and then straighten it to enter the left sleeve. It was a very detailed process, part of a night of many dreams that I don't recall.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Decade in JM's Life

I published two books and got promoted to full in 2009, right before the new decade began.  So the entire decade I have been LORCAMAN. I gave five or six lectures, all on Lorca, and published the 2nd Lorca book in 2018.

The salary has not gone up by more than few thousand dollars in this decade. I need to do something about that.

I directed two Barcelona and two BA study abroad programs, something I had not done in previous decades.

My daughter graduated from High School, then College. That's what a decade will do.

I got some ideas for the third and fourth Lorca books. Got a lot written on both of them at the tail end of the decade. I published some miscellaneous articles, not too many book reviews.

I was president of the University Senate at one point. I won't do that again.

I got separated from ___ in 2011, met someone new in January of 2010, and we are still together. I guess I have spent a lot of time working on myself in this decade.

My musical activities began in earnest in 2015, and I taught myself to compose music, joined a choir and sang in Carnegie Hall.

My sister's husband died, she went to live with my mom in California, then was diagnosed with an early non-Alzheimer's dementia. She has gone from functional adult to not knowing how to stand, sit, or feed herself.

I am a totally different person! My hobbies are different, my way of relating to others. I am less socially awkward. I meditate. I no longer have acquaintances only of academic stripe.

Yet I feel I am at the beginning of things, still. My new decade resolution is to develop the adult superpowers. Things like equanimity, humility, generosity, attention and mindfulness. I do want to be a composer after retirement, so I am working toward that goal as well. Studying music for the Lorca book should help with that.


I just realized the other day that musical structures are not complicated.  Well, they can be, but in a kind of arithmetic way, not algebra or calculus.  Phrases can be 4 bars, and put together with another complementary one, and you get an 8 bar question and answer. Forms can be ABACADA, like a rondo.  The structures are containers; you still have to put something in them, but the structures themselves are not super hard to understand, except for a few more advanced kind of things. Most of musical form is repeating things, varying things (repetition with variation) and development / extension. If a novel were a symphony chapter two would tell you the same story again, but with a different ending. Then the last chapter would be always seem like it was about to end, but stuffing in a few extra things before the real ending. The essence of music is this    |:    :|  


I got a very good insight from Bernstein's lectures for young people. Musical motives for longer compositions aren't fully formed melodies like I was composing.  They are shorter and more malleable, and sometimes not even great melodiically.   To write something longer I have to go shorter first, then expand the short motif outward.  I can write melodies fine, so I should be able to write motives.

It should be super obvious, I guess, but it isn't if you aren't a composer.  I was trying to write "Body and Soul" and was wondering why I was stuck with the 32-bar song.  Well, it was because I was trying to write "Body and Soul." If I had been trying to write a Clementi Sonatina then I would have written that instead. The best I've done with longer forms is putting together related songs as a suite.  That works too. It sometimes works even better with shorter songs, like my Lorine Niedecker ones.


I was reading Edmund Wilson on how Proust was influenced by Wagner, and that is why he talked so much about this "themes." It reminded me that themes used to be a thing in literature, not themes like the "theme of death in Lorca," but as in recurring musical motives. It doesn't even occur to Wilson to talk about "themes" in the dumb high-school way we were taught.  Theme as "subject matter."

That was one of the worst examples of a "bad" meaning of a word taking over from a more interesting one.  Nuance used to be nuance, now it means considering another factor along with the ones you already have (Kieran Healy). Postmodernism was a movement in literature, now it is bad poststructuralism.