What’s in a name?

This piece by Juan Ortega Aragón really got me thinking about titles. The music is very beautiful, but the title, in a medical setting, refers to something not beautiful at all! But this doesn’t, at least for me, detract in the least from the beauty of the music. So what really is in a name? How much influence can or does a title have over the experience of a piece of music?

In a somewhat related note (no pun intended!), I’m a big fan of Richard Wagner’s music. Some folks tell me he wasn’t a particularly nice person… never met him, haven’t studied the bio, can’t say! But what I do question is the influence biographical information has or can have on the experience of a piece of music. Should it have any if the music itself is not directly aligned one way or another with any thought or belief system? And can a composer completely separate his or her music from his or her deepest feelings and beliefs?

But back to Juan’s stunning little piece for violin and piano, would it be as beautiful by any other name? I think it would be regardless of the title!

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4 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. Juan says:

    Thanks for the link and your enthusiastic words (may I add I am a bit embarrased?).

    I have often wondered what is in a title myself. Maybe someday I will try to organize my thoughts on this matter and share them here or there. I don’t write descriptive music, therefore my ‘descriptive’ titles are random afterthoughts. For what is worth, the violin miniature advertised here was formerly called “Stress in a stepped splined shaft”…

    • Juan says:

      I remembered I used to use this creative random name generator to give titles to my compositions:


      I usually selected the Venus mode, because my music is perhaps not very “manly”. I came up with titles as “Paisley introspections” (not available), “Underlined shades” (republished as “Bibelots”), “Daydream afterthoughts” (not available), “Snowflake realms” (not available)… Not directly given by the generator, but rather combining names or modifying them.

      The former title of the violin piece discussed here (“Stress…”) was not from the random generator. I remember I was surfing the web and I stumbled upon an engeering page dealing with “stress in stepped splined shafts”, which of course I have no clue about what they are, but back then it seemed like the perfect match for the music – and such a nice quadruple alliteration…

      Other title, “Lemon rind and sundry herbs” (not available), I think I got it from a random recipe – I could not have come up with that on my own. And of course, the sonatina “Lorem ipsum” (republished as simply “Sonatina” for flute and piano), named “Lorem ipsum” as a generic, all-encompassing manifestation of the multiple random titles I could have chosen for that music…

      So yes, what is in a name? I guess it boils down to whether we think outlandish titles are a good marketing strategy (i.e. they would catch people’s attention and imagination – useful when our scores are tiny drops in a sea of sheet music – the scores with appealing titles would have a head start – who cares if the title is misleading?), or we think outlandish titles are not serious and would create prejudices on the potential listener, who will be put off, or we just don’t care anymore…

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