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date: 21 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Musical topics have invited comparison with language ever since Leonard Ratner adopted the rhetorical term topos. Yet topic theory has not addressed the “double articulation” of language: while words function as meaningful signs, they are articulated by meaningless elements, what Louis Hjelmslev referred to collectively as “figurae.” This chapter develops an analogous theory of topical figurae, structural features that articulate multiple topics but do not themselves signify topically, adapting concepts from phonology (deletion, markedness, assimilation, neutralization). The musical analyses explore both the semantic and syntactic implications of topical figurae, focusing on Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony and Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F major, K. 332. Embedded equally in the musical structure and the topical code, figurae bridge the gap between formal analysis and cultural hermeneutics and can lead to a more holistic understanding of topical meaning.

Keywords: articulation, assimilation, deletion, figurae, markedness, neutralization, syntax, semantics

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