13 Metamusic? Potentials and Limits of ‘Metareference’ in Instrumental Music: Theoretical Reflections and a Case Study (Mozart’s Ein musikalischer Spaß) [2010]

In: Selected Essays on Intermediality by Werner Wolf (1992–2014)


One of the most intriguing – as well as neglected – areas of musical self-reference is instrumental ‘metamusic’: that is, music which, similar to, for example, metafiction, metapainting or metafilm, draws attention to its status as an artefact and/or (acoustic) medium. The neglect of this aspect in research is easy to understand, for instrumental music has well-known difficulties not only with (hetero-)reference but also, and a fortiori,with explicit metareference, since it is unable to make overtly metareferential statements. Yet, this does not necessarily entail that instrumental music cannot at least covertly foreground its status as music and thus testify to a potential for implicit metareference.

In the first part of this essay, the concept of ‘metareference’ as a special case of ‘self-reference’ is explained, and its principal forms (which are derived from metafiction) are presented. The main part opens with general reflections on the potential, but also the limits, of instrumental music to produce these forms and, where applicable, to mark metareference. This is followed by a discussion of forms and functions of ‘metamusic’ in some examples, in particular Mozart’s sextet, Ein musikalischer Spaß (K 522).

The overall aim of this contribution is to highlight yet another aspect under which (instrumental) music can be shown to possess transmedial features which have traditionally been attributed to other media. The transmedial perspective on ‘words and music’ adopted in this essay reveals that, in spite of appearances and obvious restrictions, music can in fact be aligned with other media, and in particular with verbal media, even in the field of metareference.

Selected Essays on Intermediality by Werner Wolf (1992–2014)

Theory and Typology, Literature-Music Relations, Transmedial Narratology, Miscellaneous Transmedial Phenomena



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