Repeated Borrowing: The Case of “Es ist genug”

Author: Metzer, David

Publications details: Journal of the American Musicological Society 71, no. 3 (2018): 703-748.


Abstract: “Repeated borrowing” refers to the incorporation of elements of a preexisting work in several new compositions. While various studies have focused on songs that have been frequently borrowed, such as “L’homme armé” and “Apache,” they have not considered what the numerous uses of those songs say about the practice of borrowing. This article discusses quotations of the chorale “Es ist genug” in Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (1935), Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s “Ich wandte mich und sah an alles Unrecht, das geschah unter der Sonne”: Ekklesiastische Aktion (1970), David Del Tredici’s Pop-Pourri (1968), and Christopher Rouse’s Iscariot (1989). As these works illustrate, repeated borrowing enhances aspects of borrowing. In repeated borrowing, borrowing becomes prolific and increasingly referential. Works not only borrow the same melody but also borrow from the ways in which other works use that melody. The works by Zimmermann, Del Tredici, and Rouse, for example, refer to the way Berg’s concerto connects a chorale to a twelve-tone row or a secret program. They also expand upon various aspects of borrowing that are emphasized by the concerto: the importance of the cultural meanings of a borrowed work (in the case of “Es ist genug,” associations of death); the internal and external dimensions of borrowing (whether it operates at a deep structural level or appears as an outside element); and the declamatory power of borrowing, which emerges when a borrowing disrupts a work with such force that it seems to be announcing a particular image or idea.