Musical quotation

Musical quotation is the practice of directly quoting another work in a new composition. The quotation may be from the same composer's work (self-referential), or from a different composer's work (appropriation).

Sometimes the quotation is done for the purposes of characterization, as in Puccini's use of The Star-Spangled Banner in reference to the American character Lieutenant Pinkerton in his opera Madama Butterfly, or in Tchaikovsky's use of the Russian and French national anthems in the 1812 Overture, which depicted a battle between the Russian and French armies.

Sometimes, there is no explicit characterization involved, as in Luciano Berio using brief quotes from Gustav Mahler, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and others in his Sinfonia.

Quotation vs. variation

Musical quotation is to be distinguished from variation, where a composer takes a theme (their own or another's) and writes variations on it. In that case, the origin of the theme is usually acknowledged in the title (e.g., Johannes Brahms's Variations on a Theme by Haydn).

In the case of quotations, however, an explicit acknowledgment does not generally appear in the score. Some exceptions are found in Robert Schumann's Carnaval:

  • in the section "Florestan" he quotes a theme from his earlier work Papillons, Op. 2, and the inscription "(Papillon?)" is written underneath the notes (he quotes the same theme in the final section "Marche des Davidsbündler contre les Philistins", but without acknowledgement)
  • in the final section, he also quotes another theme first used in Papillons, the traditional Grossvater Tanz (Grandfather Dance), but this time the inscription is "Thème du XVIIème siècle".


Examples of musical quotations in classical music include:

Quotation is also a tradition in jazz performance, especially of the bebop era. Charlie Parker, for instance, quoted Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in his solo on "Repetition", and "Country Gardens" on his Verve recording of "Lover Man"; Dizzy Gillespie quotes David Raksin's "Laura" on "Hot House" during the Massey Hall concert. Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins are especially famed among jazz fans for their addiction to quotation. Often the use of musical quotation has an ironic edge, whether the musician is aiming for an amusing juxtaposition or is making a more pointed commentary (as when a youthful Rollins, playing alongside Charlie Parker on Miles Davis's Collector's Items, throws in a snippet of "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better,"[5] or when the avant-garde saxophonist Ornette Coleman rebuffs a skeptical heckler at the Croydon Hall concert with a snippet of the jazz standard "Cherokee").[6]


  1. Baxworks
  2. Boosey & Hawkes
  3. { Mansfield Tickets]
  4. Robert Maycock, "Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959): Chôros No. 10, ‘Rasga o coração’ (1926)". Proms 2009: What's On / Programme Notes: Prom 76. BBC Radio3 website (Accessed 13 July 2012).
  5. MILES DAVIS Collector's Items (Original Jazz Classics) Review by Ron Saranich, October 2000
  6. Free radical Andrew Purcell, The Guardian, Friday 29 June 2007

See also

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