Method for the analysis of a musical detournement: Reinterpretation, authenticity and intertextuality of the baroque music in Yngwie Malmsteen’s work

Emma Spinelli

Aix-Marseille University, France


The role of the performer as a creator is very clear when it comes to early music, and it has reclaimed its importance in art music at the end of the 20th century. Between these two periods, and particularly in the romantic period, the performer has been considered as a medium between the composer and the listener. He was seen as the keeper of the work’s authenticity, which he had to perform without altering the composer’s desires. However, in popular music, that distinction between the composer and the performer is not so clear, and the idea of the original work’s authenticity seems to be less important. Indeed, rock, pop and metal musicians often perform other musicians’ songs, and don’t hesitate to transform them in the process. Some musicians or bands even perform classical works, and transpose them into their own style. It is then interesting to note that popular music, such as rock, pop and metal, appeared at the same time postmodern gestures were developed by contemporary composers, including musical quotation, re-appropriation and reuse. Thus, though the criteria of authenticity was fundamental in music performing until the end of the 20th century, it has been questioned by postmodern practices and popular music, which created a shift from authenticity to intertextuality by promoting musical reuse and reinterpretation.

At the same time, in the 1960’s, a group of French Situationnists (including Guy Debord) theorized an artistic and political practice: the detournement. This notion is almost never applied to musical practices and seems to be of little use in the musical and musicological vocabulary. Yet, the detournement could enable us to question the notions of authenticity and intertextuality in the musical field. Thus, we would like to use this notion of detournement to characterize musical reinterpretation, and particularly to qualify the references to baroque music in Yngwie Malmsteen’s work. Indeed, theses references to the baroque in a neoclassical metal style seems to meet the three criteria of the detournement, that is to say the reuse of a preexisting material, the transformation of this material, and the break with past traditions. We can then wonder how to define a musical detournement, in its connection with authenticity and intertextuality. As it has not been theorized yet in the musical field, we propose a trichotomous method to characterize a musical detournement, that will allow us to analyze the three criteria of this practice: reuse, transformation, and break with past traditions. We will then start by analyzing how neoclassical metal is influenced by classical and baroque music, and how these two styles (art music and metal music) are related. Then, we shall observe how the baroque music is detourned by Yngwie Malmsteen with the musical quotations of baroque composers, but also with the references to the baroque style of composition. Finally, we will see how this reinterpretation of the baroque music breaks with the past representations of art music, and distances itself from the authenticity criteria that was attached to the notion of musical performance

Keywords: detournement, reinterpretation, musical reuse


Emma Spinelli is a student in the Master degree “Acoustique et Musicologie” at Aix-Marseille Université. Her Master’s thesis studies how the practice of the detournement, originally used in the plastic arts field, can be analyzed as a musical gesture in the reinterpretation of classical music my modern popular artists. The research topics she studies are mostly centered on the interpretation of past music in a contemporary context, and on the hybridization between popular and classical music. She is thus interested in questions such as authenticity, interpretation, and the musical reuse. She also has been practicing the electric guitar for 10 years, and studies the lute at the Conservatoire Darius Milhaud, which allows her to base her researches on her musical experience.