Signs of Music: A Guide to Musical Semiotics

Signs of Music: A Guide to Musical Semiotics

Signs of Music: A Guide to Musical Semiotics

Signs of Music: A Guide to Musical Semiotics


Music is said to be the most autonomous and least representative of all the arts. However, it reflects in many ways the realities around it and influences its social and cultural environments. Music is as much biology, gender, gesture - something intertextual, even transcendental. Musical signs can be studied throughout their history as well as musical semiotics with its own background. Composers from Chopin to Sibelius and authors from Nietzsche to Greimas and Barthes illustrate the avenues of this new discipline within semiotics and musicology.


This book consists of essays and articles mostly written after the publication of my Theory of Musical Semiotics (Indiana University Press, 1994). They have been chosen to fit the series Applied Semiotics, hence their emphasis is more on application than on theory.

Since the appearance of my theory of semiotics, however, much has happened, both in musicology and semiotics. The so-called “new musicology” movement has grown stronger, opening hitherto unexplored avenues of interpretation for musical theory and analysis. In semiotics, new trends have arisen as well, especially in areas dealing with the post-modern, deconstruction, media studies, and biosemiotic. Also, I have been developing a new philosophical theory called “existential semiotics” and recently published a monograph under that title (Indiana University Press, 2000). My forays into these new areas can be traced between the lines of the present book.

This volume is meant to serve as a more or less “practical guide” to musical semiotics, i.e., the study of music as sign and communication. It includes both a history of this relatively new discipline as well as some new contributions of my own devising. Originally the book was much longer, but some chapters, such as those dealing with Wagner, have been removed, to be saved for another volume. I hope that what remains will encourage readers – be they students of music, musicology or semiotics, more advanced scholars, or inquiring minds of any stripe – to learn more about musical semiotics. The field is now undergoing fascinating processes of formation, growth, and diversity. For me, musical signs come alive both through practice – by listening to and performing music – and also through their history and aesthetics. Still, one also needs a theory, a sufficiently complex discourse and meta-language, in order to talk about music's subtle and variegated meanings. My hope is that the present volume goes at least some way toward providing such a discourse.

I am very grateful to colleagues, students, and scholars of the International Project in Musical Signification, launched in 1985 at a discussion in Paris at the French Broadcasting Company and now a . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.