C, F-sharp and E-flat: The Tragic, the Sublime and the Oppressed (with C-sharp as Nemesis): Reflections on Eine Kleine Trauermusik by Milan Mihajlović

  • Miloš Zatkalik University of Arts, Faculty of Music, Department of Composition
Keywords: Milan Mihajlović, harmonic series, narrativity, psychoanalysis, sublime


In the present paper, I will discuss tonal centers and referential sonorities in the composition Eine kleine Trauermusik (1992) by one of the leading Serbian composers Milan Mihajlović. Even though its pitch structure may appear rather straightforward with its octatonic scale and the primary tonal center in C, and with referential (quasi-tonic) chords derived from the harmonic series, I intend to highlight intricate narrative trajectories and dramatic conflicts between various tonal centers (treated as actors/characters). These narratives can be related to certain archetypal plots, with the conclusion that there exists ambiguity between the tragic and the ironic archetype. On a higher plane, similar conflict/interplay/ambiguity exists between different principles of pitch organization, i.e. the octatonic and functionally tonal. The unresolved ambiguities and simultaneity of conflicting interpretations are examined from the psychoanalytic perspective, which postulates isomorphism between musical structures and processes and the processes unfolding in the unconscious mind. Finally, the effect of these narratives, especially the overwhelming impact induced by the excerpt from Mozart’s piano concerto is linked with the idea of sublime as conceived by Kant, but also including other approaches (Burke, Lyotard etc.).

Author Biography

Miloš Zatkalik, University of Arts, Faculty of Music, Department of Composition

Miloš Zatkalik, composer and music theorist, is a Full-time Professor at the Faculty of Music, University of Arts in Belgrade.