The critical analysis of musical discourse

Theo van Leeuwen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


Music is, and always has been, an integral part of public communication. It can create emotive allegiance to powerful nation states, religions, and today also brands, express the values these institutions stand for and rally people behind them. “Without music no State could survive”, says the music master in Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and after the French revolution a National Institute of Music was created to “support and bestir, by its accents, the energy of the defenders of equality, and to prohibit the music which softens the soul of the French with effeminate sounds, in salons or temples given over to imposture” (quoted in Attali 1985: 55). Nestyev (961: 458) has described how Shostakovich was urged by the Soviet culture controllers to make his music “give enduring expression to the heroism of the people’s lives in the period of the victory of socialism”. Machin and Richardson (2012) have documented the “bestirring” role of music in Nazi Germany through a detailed analysis of the Horst Wessel song and the closely related Marching Song of the British Union of Fascists. In the workplace, Muzak is thought to increase productivity (van Leeuwen 1999: 38), in shops to enhance people’s engagement with the “shopping experience” (Graakjær 2012). Everywhere, music plays a pivotal role in social, political and economic life. But music can also be subversive and challenge power. Massimo Leone (2012) has described how, in 1979, Khomeini tried to ban music altogether in Iran, declaring that it is “like a drug”, and that “we must eliminate music because it means betraying our country and our youth”. But he did not succeed: music instead strengthened and unified protest in Iran. In the West, popular music has often provided counter-hegemonic social commentaries (cf. e.g., Power, Dillane and Devereux 2012).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Critical Discourse Studies
EditorsJohn Flowerdew, John E. Richardson
Place of PublicationLondon
Publication date2018
ISBN (Print)9781138826403
ISBN (Electronic)9781315739342
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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