The Art of Paraphrases on Well-Known Tunes: a Comparative Study of Artistic and Social Aspects in the 19th and 21st Centuries

Paper Presentation
25 August 2020
09:00 - 12:00 hrs (GMT+7)

Chanyapong Thongsawang, Speaker

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Paraphrase, a work based on the compositional technique of “rewriting or varying a theme”, as defined by Oscar Paul in his “Handlexikon der Tonkunst” in 1877, was one of the most beloved genres of instrumental music, especially for piano, in the first half of the 19th century. With the development of instruments in the first quarter of the 19th century, virtuoso musicians arranged famous themes or exotic tunes with florid ornamentation and brilliant technique under various titles. Such arrangements were divided into six categories by Carl Czerny in his treatise “Systematische Anleitung zum Fantasieren auf dem Pianoforte”, op. 200. These are “Fantasy on a single theme,” “Free fantasy on many themes,” “Potpourri,” “Variations,” “Fantasy in bound and fugal style” and “Capriccio”.


Paraphrases, or fantasies on favorite melodies such as opera arias, songs and folk tunes, would easily entertain 19th-century audiences with their brilliant character in salons and public concerts. They were also highly in demand from music publishers. In contrasts to “fashionable pianists,” such as Carl Czerny, Franz Hünten and Henri Herz among others, Franz Liszt composed operatic paraphrases or réminiscences as he called them, with greater regard for the conceptual context of the operas or selected scenes from which themes was drawn.


The art of paraphrases has been constantly developed, spurred on in part by the development of new technologies, and adapted to the social contexts and situations of the times. In the 21st century, new styles of paraphrase that re-contextualize well-known melodies or cultural idioms, can be found in the artistic research and creative work of many artists. These projects bridge boundaries between genres, nations and different cultures, thereby broadening musical communities and connecting people around the world.


This comparative study examines paraphrases and their performances within classical music in the 19th and 21st centuries, with examples drawn from compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Czerny, Franz Liszt, and creative works by faculty members of Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music.