9 January – Paula Perez Sobrino

Metaphors music live by:
Metaphors to talk about music, metaphors to reason about music

How do we make sense of such an abstract idea as musical motion? Even though it seems pretty natural to talk about “ascending notes” or “progressing harmonies, it still remains largely unresolved how do we infer motion from a musical work. In this presentation I take up Johnson and Larson’s (2003) point that the way we talk about music is essentially metaphorical as it is virtually impossible to structure musical motion without evoking the notion of physical motion (e.g. “The violins enter in measure 5”).

I will first discuss the way we talk about music. Based on an analysis of texts taken from newspaper concert reviews and academic music analyses, it will be shown that metaphors for music operate on at least two levels. Then I will shift the focus to the analysis of musical case studies. Metonymy, metaphor, hyperbole, paradox, and irony, are put in comparison and contrast in order to highlight the dynamicity and flexibility of conceptual mechanisms to account for meaning construction in multimodal contexts. While all these operations consist in putting in correspondence two entities, there are observable differences that allow us to draw distinct boundaries among them.


Guck, M. (1991). Two types of metaphoric transfer. In J. Kassler (Ed.), Metaphor. A musical dimension (pp. 1–12). Sydney, Australia: Currency Press.

Johnson, M., & Larson, S. (2003). “Something in the way she moves”—Metaphors of musical motion. Metaphor and Symbol, 18(2), 63–84.

For more information about Paula’s project, see the EMMA website!

Potgieterszaal, University Library
Singel 421-427
1012 WP Amsterdam