Applied Musical Semiotics: Traces of European Musical Postmodernism in Serbian Postmodern Music

Marija Masnikosa

Typology: Lecture, Seminar

This course addresses to MA and PhD students.


The academic goal of the course is to relate European musical heritage and focus European elements in Serbian postmodern music using musical semiotics as an interpretative tool.

Significantly influenced by general semiotics concepts based on de Sosire’s and Pierce’s works, musical semiotics began to grow in the second half of the 20th Century. From its first steps it was a structuralist discipline, focusing European musical heritage in interdisciplinary, intercultural and even transcultural manner. It developed in different ramifications due to various theoretical influences (Chomsky’s generative grammatics, Schenker’s theory of in-depth structure, generative analytical theory of Lerdahl and Jackendoff, Asafyev’s intonation theory, and Gremas’ narrative grammar and theory of semeanalysis, etc.). Among various theoretical orientations in contemporary musical semiotic – musical narratology, musical discourse theory and the semiotics of musical space have been largely the province of European researchers.

The academic aim of this course is awareness-raising of the presence of European elements and principles in Serbian postmodern music. Furthermore, focusing and analyzing European elements and cultural values in postmodernist Serbian music, the course will encourage specifically musicological approach to intercultural communication in the process of European integration and will increase the awareness of the role of each musical culture and intercultural dialogue in building the European identity.

The learning objectives are:

  • to enhance students’ understanding of the crucial issues in musical semiotics as a discipline of contemporary systemic musicology;
  • to encourage the students’ interdisciplinary problem-oriented research in musicology, using musical semiotics
  • to stress the influence of European musical and cultural values on Serbian postmodern music, and,
  • to increase students’ awareness of the role of dialogue and cultural diversity in integration processes of European culture.

Structure of the course :

  1.  Music and meaning – history of musical semiotics
  2. Linguistics and structuralist theories of musical signification
  3. Theory of intonation
  4. Pierces theory of signs applied to music
  5. Musical discourse theory
  6. Musical narrativity and intertextuality
  7. Theories of musical topoi
  8. Tarasti’s theory of musical semiotics
  9. Theory of musical gestures
  10. Expressive genres in music
  11. Musical signs in European and Serbian postmodern music
  12. Musical narrativity of European and Serbian postmodern music
  13. Gesture analysis of European and Serbian postmodern music
  14. Expressive genres in European and Serbian postmodern music
  15. Intertextuality in European and Serbian postmodern music

Bibliography (selected):

  •  Agawu, Kofi: Playing with signs. Semiotic interpretation of classic music, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1991.
  • Chandler, Daniel: Semiotics for Beginners, electronic publication.
  • Coker, Wilson. Music & Meaning. New York: The Free Press, 1972.
  • Cook, N. “A Theory of Musical Semiotics (Review)”, Music Theory Spectrum, XVIII/1, (Spring) 1996.
  • Eco, Umberto: A Theory of Semiotics, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979.
  • Hatten, Robert S.: Markedness, Correlation and Interpretation, Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 1994.
  • Hatten, Robert S.: Interpreting musical Gestures, Topics and Tropes (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert), Indiana University Press, 1999.
  • Hatten, Robert. “Musical Meaning in Beethoven: Markedness, Correlation, and Interpretation”, Advances in Semiotics, Indiana: 1994.
  • Hatten, Robert. “Semiotic Perspectives on Issues in Music Cognition”, In Theory Only, XI/3, (July) 1989.
  • Milijić, Branislava: Semiotička estetika, Institut za književnost i umetnost, Beograd, 1993.
  • Monelle, Raymond: Linguistics and Semiotics in Music, Harwood Academic Publishers, Chur, Switzerland, 1992.
  • Monelle, Raymond: The Sense of Music. Semiotic essays, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2000.
  • Ratner, Leonard G. 1980. Classic Music: Expression, Form and Style, New York, Schirmer Books, 1980.
  • Stopford, J. “Structuralism, Semiotics and Musicology”, British Journal of Aesthetics, (Spring) 1984.
  • Tarasti, E. “Music Models through Ages: A Semiotic Interpretation”, International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, XXV/1-2, 1994.
  • Tarasti, Eero: A Theory of Musical Semiotics, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1994.
  • Tarasti, Eero: Music History revisited (by a semiotician), in: Musical Semiotics in Growth, ed. by E.Tarasti, Indiana University Press, International Semiotics Institute, Imatra, Bloomington, 1996.
  • Tarasti, E. (ed). Musical Signification : Essays in the Semiotic Theory and Analysis of Music.Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter 1995.
  • —.   “The Challenge of Semiotics”. In Rethinking Music, ed. Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Caplin, William E. 2005. “On the Relation of Musical Topoi to Formal Function”, Eighteen-Century Music, 2/1: 113-124.
  • Masnikosa, Marija. 2010. Orfej u repetitivnom društvu. Postminimalizam u srpskoj muzici za gudački orkestar u poslednje dve decenije XX veka, Beograd: Fakultet muzičke umetnosti u Beogradu.
  • Masnikosa, Marija. 2013. „A Theoretical Model of Postminimalism and Two Brief ‘Case studies’”; in: The Ashgate Research Companion to Minimalist and Postminimalist Music. Edited by Keith Potter, Kyle Gann and Pwyll ap Sion, United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing Limited, p. 297-314.
  • Masnikosa, Marija. 2010. “Specific Typology of “Appropriated” Musical Signs in Serbian Postminimalist Compositions”, in: Lina Navickaite-Martinelli (Ed.), Before and After Music, Acta Semiotica Fennica XXXVII, Helsinki, Vilnius & Imatra, International Semiotics Institute & Umweb Publications, 555-564.
  • Masnikosa, Marija. 2008. „Application of musical semiotics in the analysis and interpretation of postminimalist work“, Zbornik Katedre za muzičku teoriju. Muzička teorija i analiza (Musical Theory and Analysis. Collection of papers – Department of Musical Theory), FMU i Signature, Beograd, 130-137.


The direct and indirect impact of the course consists of: 1) Acquiring relevant knowledge of the issues of current European musical semiotics; 2) Introducing the European-level in teaching and studying of musical semiotics; 3) Increasing the awareness of the unifying process of European culture, very intensively unfolding through music 4) Intensifying the need for introducing specific European studies in the field of musicology.

  1st acad. year: 2nd acad. year: 3rd acad. year: Total over 3 years:
N° of hours 15 15 15 45
N° of students 40 40 40 120
Discipline of


Musicology, Music Performance
Year/type of study 2nd cycle (Masters) Doctoral studies
Nature Compulsory New