Transference: what does it mean, and what does it offer to music?

A piece of music may be deeply transformed by transferences, and by this reason transference is a powerful tool for music composition and performance!

Transference is a phenomenon in which qualities, values and/or concepts related to something become associated with (or are redirected to) a music composition, altering the way we listen to it.

For instance, when a Japanese Shakuhachi flute, a toy piano or a heavy metal guitar play a melody of Vivaldi, we get more than a timbre change only. Several qualities, values and concepts associated with these instruments are transferred to our listening experience.

However, transferences can also be carried out by other means. It can also be accomplished by particular performance procedures, specific timbres and special references to music itself. 

I have written a paper on this matter showing many examples of transference, and you can freely access this paper at the Musica Hodie Review (in Portuguese):

ZAMPRONHA, Edson (2013). “Transferência: o que é, e o que oferece à música?”. In: Música Hodie, vol. 13, nº 1, p.8-18.

Listen to an example: 
Lamento, composed by Edson Zampronha, wonderfully performed by the great pianist Karin Fernandes!


In Lamento transferences result from references to music itself, including the music of Stravinsky (particularly in the middle of the work), the European romantic music and some figures of lament from renascence (a falling sequence of notes that becomes simply a long appoggiatura in Lamento).

Pay attention to the long trill in the middle of the work:
  • At 2'50" it is an accompaniment to a melody plenty of figures of lament. 
  • At 5'00", after a sequence of powerful chords, it occupies all our attention changing our perception (as well as we listen to the sound of a word - instead of its meaning - when repeating it many times in high voice). 
  • At 5'50" the trill slows down and it is transformed into a figure of lament. 
These trills transfer outstanding qualities to the work. Besides, the long trill at 5’00” is clearly a transition through transference (it is a kind of modulation): we go from a sound meaning to the sound matter, and go back from the sound matter to a new sound meaning.

We do not have to be conscious of that, as we do not have to be conscious of harmonic progressions to listen to a traditional piece of music. In stating that, I am not saying that music is a universal language. No, it is not. However, there are music designs that are so common to some audiences that listeners associate them to specific music repertoires, and qualities from these repertoires are transferred to new music experiences. That is what makes transferences possible.

Lamento is one of the pieces included in the CD S'io Esca Vivo, which will be released in September. Other pieces in this CD are Ciaccona and Fantasia. Listen to these works and enjoy many kinds of transferences! 

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