A Question of Standards
"My Funny Valentine" and Musical Intertextuality
Keywords:Intertextuality, Musical Theatre
Umberto Eco’s understanding of postmodernism as the “ironic rethinking” of the past is one that insists – by definition – on a contextualist reading of cultural texts. In this sense, then, an understanding of the dialogical mutuality of texts and contexts – “postmodern” or otherwise – is inherent in Eco’s formulation, suggesting that any analysis of intertextuality must engage with issues not only of textuality but also of social and cultural history. In this paper, drawing on Eco’s insightful model, I propose an expanded understanding of musical intertextuality that moves beyond issues of appropriation and quotation, to examine not only the interrelationship of cultural texts but also the interaction of those texts with their socio-historical contexts: aspects of intertextuality which textually biased approaches inevitably fail to address. My analysis focuses on recordings of the popular standard “My Funny Valentine” by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Miles Davis, addressing a range of both textual and contextual issues, and tracing the song back to its Broadway origins in Babes in Arms, the 1937 stage musical by the songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The analytical method is one that allows a broadly eclectic theoretical approach to the complexities of contemporary music and its canons, denying narrow interpretations of musical meaning and cultural value, and offering instead a suggestively intertextual reading of musical forms and practices. I argue that intertextuality needs to be understood as a fundamentally historical phenomenon, in which questions of meaning and value remain constantly in flux – revisited, reinterpreted, and reassessed as an understanding of the complex interrelationship of texts and contexts is broadened and deepened.
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