Music and dance as text in three novels by Karel Schoeman: Na die geliefde land, ’n Ander land and Verliesfontein

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In most novels by Karel Schoeman music and dancing are integral parts of the narrative. In essence three texts are mentioned in these novels: the literary text – language; the musical text – sound; and the dance text – movement. The purpose of this article is to investigate the way these three texts are worked out in three novels by Schoeman.

During the 20th century, research about literature and music developed from the field of comparative literature, and most research was done on allusions to music in a text.

By reading the oeuvre of Schoeman’s novels with music and dancing as foci, it was found that Schoeman, to a greater or lesser degree, has included allusions to music or dancing in all his novels. These references are not detached or incidental but form an integral part of the narratives, connecting to the eras the novels take place in.

Steven Paul Scher (1982), a pioneer in research about literature and music, distinguishes three general categories in the use of music in literary texts, namely: (i) the setting to music of poems, or stories for an opera; (ii) the application of larger musical structures and techniques to literary works; and (iii) the use of fictional or real musical compositions in a literary work (Allis 2017; Bernhart and Wolf 2004).

Gradually the theory of intertextuality, where the meaning of a text is influenced by another text, has gained in importance. Furthermore, developments in the field of the media, such as in movies, television and technological innovation, have started opening up new worlds for the arts. Gradually the borders between different ways of expression, communication media and art forms became blurred, and to describe these complexities the term intermediality was coined (Bernhart 2017; Jensen 2016). Schoeman was influenced by these developments.

The question remains how these developments find expression in a literary text, specifically one by Schoeman. That is the reason why this study focuses on the way Schoeman uses music and dance in his art. However, owing to the large scope of Schoeman’s oeuvre of the novel and the limited scope of this article only three extracts from three novels are discussed. For a balanced view each of the extracts was studied from a particular angle:

  1. Na die geliefde land (1972): music and dance in a socially and politically divided society
  2. ’n Ander land (1984, first edition): multiple voices in music and text
  3. Verliesfontein (1998, first edition): a choir of voices.

The motivation for these choices was determined by the publication dates as indicated above, the nature of the narrative, the location where it takes place and the most important events of the story; similarly, the kind of music and dance as part of the narrative is crucial for the choices. In addition, theoretical approaches such as intertextuality, intermediality and coherence between text and music were taken into consideration.

The chosen extracts were subjected to the practice of close reading. Close reading is a method of literary analysis focusing on specific detail in a passage as part of a text with the purpose of determining the deeper meaning of the text – in this case the meaning of the literary text with music and dance as integrating part thereof (Van der Mescht 2009:165–83).

Analysis of the chosen extracts requires an exhaustive knowledge of music, literature about music, dancing, and literature about dance, and furthermore, a well-informed and grounded knowledge of analyses and opinions by literary critics of the work to be subjected to close reading. Being well-versed in literary, music and dance as well as theoretical approaches contributes to insight into these texts (Bernhart and Wolf 2004). In addition, the researcher’s reflection on and understanding of the texts play an important role.

In the political novel Na die geliefde land the prejudices and self-interests of the characters are portrayed in their actions and in society by the dances and music: As the couples interweave in the fast quadrille, the text interweaves; and through the slower movement of the waltz the relationships and tension between the couples are exposed. The question, “What wrong have we done?” is a continuous underlying tone – also in the way of dancing and making music. Schoeman postulates these dances against the broader social context of Europe. The intertexts and intermedialities of parallel discourses and sensorial modalities of interaction contribute to the multiple layers in which this text can be understood.

In research about literature and music, reference is made to the use of real musical compositions in a work of literature (Scher 1982; Allis 2017; Bernhart and Wolf 2004). In ’n Ander land the actual Mozart Duo for violin and viola K. 423 in three movements is interwoven as musical text with the literary text. The characteristics of the music are repeatedly echoed in the performance of the violinists, the listening Scheffler women and the attitude and behaviour of Versluis. Schoeman succeeds in using multiple voices in an extraordinary way to integrate music as an art form with literary text as an art form. In this art, intertextuality plays no small role.

In the novels mentioned above Schoeman is accurate in terms of music, dances and musical instruments; time and again the music and dancing contribute to the multiple layers of meaning in the texts.

A verbal “choir of voices” can be the concluding synthesis of Schoeman’s triptych Verliesfontein, Hierdie lewe and Die uur van die engel; but specifically in Verliesfontein music and dancing are so interwoven with the narrative that a different choir of voices resounds about the conflict between good and evil and the loss that was suffered. What is pertinent, however, is the way in which Schoeman integrates the literary and musical texts by which he takes developments in the field of music at the start of the 20th century into account, as illustrated in the analysis of the two short extracts.

In conclusion: Reading the oeuvre of Schoeman’s novels from the perspective of music and dancing commands the reader’s admiration. The three extracts, studied from different musical, dancing and textual viewpoints, demonstrate his unique virtuosity.

“It is simply music, a marching tune that sounds out darkly, and nothing more,” (Schoeman 1979:132) could be one’s response to Schoeman’s use of music and dancing in his novels. But sound reflection on the relationships, intertexts and implications reveals new depths and levels of meaning in his prose – not only a marching tune sounding out.

Keywords: ’n Ander land; choir of voices, dance; Duo for violin and viola K. 423; intermediality; intertextuality; literary text; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; music; music text; Na die geliefde land; quadrille; Karel Schoeman; Verliesfontein; waltz


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Musiek en dans as teks in drie romans van Karel Schoeman: Na die geliefde land, ’n Ander land en Verliesfontein

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