One of the most common discussions about music from its beginnings to the present day is its ability (or not) to imitate the natural or human environment. Although it may now seem relatively anecdotal, this was vital in a Greek context (the artistic theory of which was followed for many centuries), where the reason for art was in its capacity for mimesis, that is, for its imitation of nature. But the ability of music to imitate was not emphasized too much even among the Greeks, and philosophers generally preferred to talk about its ethical or educational qualities rather than its imitative capacity. And they had a very comfortable grip on instrumental music being quite residual in that culture since music was very much tied to language (or on the contrary, language was tied to music, not to fall in the perpetual value trap of linguists), and it was assumed that its mimetic capacity affected music. It’s more than likely that music, like language itself if they were not born together – what I think – was very dependent on its onomatopoeic capacity. And let us not forget that musical-linguistic onomatopoeia reaches the Greeks.
Thus, one comes to believe in the ability of music to describe, that is, to imitate, anything, although the alleged imitations are conventions most of the time. The use of these stereotypes in Bach’s Passions and cantatas has been studied very thoroughly, not so as to insist but rather to underline that a convention is not an imitation. As a matter of fact, the tension occurs when we have to face the alleged musical imitation with a fact that is stubbornly real and incontrovertible: Music has an abstract nature, and even when it wants to imitate, it is a vehicle, as always since that is the way it is, for emotions, never for descriptions or narrations. Perhaps this is why most current composers avoid musical mimesis, and perhaps the final refuge for descriptive-imitative music is in big blockbuster soundtracks, although in reality, the convention works the same as it did in the Baroque period. Of course, the songs from Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings o Avatar seem to be descriptive because they stick to the image. Without them, they’re like any other song, abstract and then diluted. Because in that case, frankly, I prefer, Beethoven’s last quarter, even though it doesn’t describe or imitate anything and is simply (and nothing less than) music.
Tomás Marco – Cheap Imitation: The Utopia of Musical Mimesis
Javier Gomá – Imitation: History of an Idea and Basics of a General Theory
Mercedes Zavala – The Way It Is: Mimesis and Poiesis
Gotzon Arrizabalaga – Beyond Mimesis?
Carme Fernández Vidal – Representation, Symbolism, and Musical Memory: Mimesis Versus Subjectivity
Francisco Jarauta – Poussin: Ut Pictura Poesis
Marta Cureses – The Art of Noises: A Provisional Crime
José María Sánchez-Verdú – Praise for the Copy Praise for the Copy Praise for the Copy
Víctor Gómez Pin – Versus Mimesis: Complicity in the Abstraction of Music and Mathematics