Repetition, Fairy Tales, and Classical Music

Fairy tale castle

Have you ever thought about how much repetition there is in music? If you read my last post on the subject (Repetition in Pop Music, Classical Music, and Poetry) then you probably have! And since you guys seemed to like that post a lot I’m back to talk about other types of cool musical repetition!

Repetition: Fairy Tale Remix

“Looking glass against the wall,
Who is fairest of us all?”
And the glass answered:
“Queen, thou art of beauty rare,
But Snow-White living in the glen
With the seven little men
Is a thousand times more fair.”

“Looking glass against the wall,
Who is fairest of us all?”
And the looking glass answered as before:
“Queen, thou art of beauty rare,
But Snow-White living in the glen
With the seven little men
Is a thousand times more fair.”

-Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

In a fairy tale, there is often an event or events that occur multiple times throughout the story. When the Queen asks the mirror “who is fairest of us all?” for the nth time, we experience a degree of expectation (especially when she believes Snow White to be dead, since the reader knows better). So what if the same thing happened in music? Music will frequently have repetitions, and it can be a challenge to understand why. But just as in fairy tales, each time a section is repeated, the listener experiences it differently precisely because he or she recognizes it from before. You know what’s going to happen; you’ve seen it before. So when it does happen all over again, there’s a sense of satisfaction and validation. But of course if it starts out the same and ends differently…well, then you have more angles to explore.

Repetition: Altered

“Looking glass against the wall,
Who is fairest of us all?”
And the looking glass answered as before:
“Queen, thou art of beauty rare,
But Snow-White living in the glen
With the seven little men
Is a thousand times more fair.”

“Looking glass against the wall,
Who is fairest of us all?”
At last it answered, “You are fairest now of all.”

-Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (p. 173-174)

But what if it’s almost a repetition, but there’s just something a liiiiiittle different in that musical phrase? Well, it could be just that: an ever-so-slight alteration of a thought previously expressed. It could also simply be a slight change in a character’s mindset or situation.That alteration could be a big deal, though. It could be the difference between victory and defeat, glory and despair.

Another possibility to play with is that the altered repetition is a memory of the event (For example, if the initial musical phrase reminded you of when Mr. Lorry transported Lucie Manette overseas when she was a child, an altered statement of the phrase could be how she remembers the journey while conversing with Mr. Lorry many years later.)

 

Whichever way you slice it, repetition can be one of the oddest yet most meaningful aspects of classical music. And it’s so pervasive!

Do you like these two ways of thinking about it? Have you had similar experiences in music (whether pop, classical, or some other genre)? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

You might also like: The Weirdness of Time in Classical Music (And Books, Too) and The “Fairy Tale” Genre in Music

8 thoughts on “Repetition, Fairy Tales, and Classical Music

  1. I don’t know if I’ve ever read the original Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I’ve read the story, of course, but who knows if it was ever the og. I like repetition in old stories like that but it bothers me in modern ones. Is that weird? I guess because it isn’t usually so obvious in modern stories so it seems lazy or accidental.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What’s even more interesting is when music/ literature and repetition repeat within itself. Pop music has borrowed so much from other domains it’s silly, but it does make many songs instantly recognizable. The now infamous 4 count in EVERY Pharrell song EVER for instance, or the Bible quote in Rivers of Babylon by Boney M. Not the mention the array of artists who utilized classical music as inspiration or blatantly ripped them off. William Orbit’s Adagio for Strings anyone?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great point! I find it interesting that despite the overarching repetitiveness of pop music, each song is still different enough to exist in its own right! And I know of some similarities between pop and classical pieces, too. Cool stuff to think about! Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s