The evolution of a 'memeplex' in late Mozart: Replicated structures in Pamina's 'Ach ich fünl's'

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'Memetics', a concept most elegantly expounded by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, asserts that human culture consists of a multitude of units transmitted between individuals by imitation and subject to evolutionary pressures. Such particles, 'memes', are broadly analogous to the genes of biological transmission. Four late pieces of Mozart's, including Pamina's aria 'Ach ich fühl's' from Die Zauberflöte, are examined in terms of the meme concept and a conglomeration, or 'memeplex', consisting of seven memes is identified within them. The nature of the musical memeplex, in this specific case and also more generally, is considered, particularly from the perspective of its location at different levels of the structural hierarchy. The evolutionary history of some of Mozart's memes is examined with reference to selected passages from works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Finally, relationships between the musical memes under investigation and memes in the verbal-conceptual realm are explored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-70
Number of pages41
JournalJournal of the Royal Musical Association
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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