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Signs of music, intertextuality, and narrative strategy

Cultural semiotics and 19th-century funeral music: The case of Karol Kurpiński’s Elegia na śmierć Tadeusza Kościuszki [Elegy on the Death of Tadeusz Kościuszko]

Małgorzata Gamrat ORCID logo
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies


The musical culture of modern Europe has produced numerous extra-linguistic elements which constitute a kind of code making transmission of content possible between sender and receiver. These elements also permit a kind of narrative strategy which organizes this communication. One of the codes most important for this field of European culture is musical rhetoric, made up of dozens of signs such as rhetorical figures or the symbolism of musical keys. I demonstrate the functioning of these elements on the example of funeral music, whose topoi, signs, and codes have developed in European culture for several centuries, along with characteristic musical and literary genres, and their mutual interactions. My methodological approach is mainly based on the tools of cultural and musical semiotics, and of narratology combined with analyses of musical rhetoric, supported by elements of literary analysis. I discuss this subject using the example of Karol Kurpiński’s Elegy on the Death of Tadeusz Kościuszko (1818), which perfectly illustrates the signs typical of European culture in the first half of the 19th-century and of nascent Romanticism, with its complex nationalisms and its quest for signs typical of a given nation or region, as well as for individual solutions. All of my analyses point to the power and versatility of cultural semiotics, which allows us to study human creativity in a highly comprehensive manner, exploring areas which are inaccessible to other research methodologies.

Corresponding author: Małgorzata Gamrat, Faculty of Humanities, The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Lublin, Poland, E-mail:

Funding source: National Science Centre Poland

Award Identifier / Grant number: 2016/23/B/HS1/02325


This paper has been written as part of a project financed by the National Science Centre Poland, entitled: “Philosophy of music. Metaphysical, phenomenological, and deconstructivist directions in the study of music, its theory and practice, No. 2016/23/B/HS1/02325.”


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Published Online: 2021-05-12
Published in Print: 2021-05-26

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