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“Sobre las olas”: Cultural Synecdoche of the Past


Composed in 1888 by Juventino Rosas, the waltz “Sobre las olas” (“Over the Waves”) soon made its way to North America and beyond, reverberating in the great spaces of the circus, fairground, skating rink, dance hall, and park. Recycled in cartoons and films, in television, and in various cover versions, Rosas's waltz has become a kind of popular liminal music. The complex, circuitous routes it has traveled have led to a present-day musical convention. This essay attempts to lay bare the mechanisms at work in the dissemination of such a widely known piece of music in three ways: 1) by accounting for the multiple themes related to “Sobre las olas”; 2) by considering the range of technologies through which Rosas's waltz has been disseminated; and 3) by theorizing public knowledge of the waltz as a musical “quote,” a snippet recognizable after a few notes.

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Journal of the Society for American Music
  • ISSN: 1752-1963
  • EISSN: 1752-1971
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-society-for-american-music
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