Music Theory


Music Theory Department Colloquium Series (2007–08)
Wednesdays, 3:30PM, M267

This page lists colloquium series events for the year 2007–08. See current colloquium series events here.

16 April 2008. Sara Bakker, “Text-Setting Principles in the Choral Music of Bartók and Kodály”

As friends, composers and fellow folksong collectors, Béla Bartók and Zoltan Kodály dominated the New Music scene in Hungary in the first half of the twentieth century, together leaving a legacy of notable orchestral, chamber, and solo pieces. Whereas Bartók’s contribution is primarily instrumental, Kodály is known for his extensive collection of choral music, a body of literature so influential as to eventually inspire an attempt from Bartók. Integral to this repertoire is the use of Hungarian as the sung language. Peculiarities of this language, however, present the composers with special challenges for its proper musical setting. How does the beginning-accented character of all Hungarian words affect text setting? How should the extended duration of certain vowels and consonant combinations be set to music? Are the special intonational patterns for long words and questions mimicked in melodic writing?

This paper compares instances of syntactic text setting — settings that draw on technical elements like form, phrases, and word accent — in a multimovement-choral work for children by each composer, concentrating on the relationship between Hungarian speech patterns and the composers’ use of rhythm and melody to approximate it. Following a brief foray into the idiosyncrasies of Hungarian prosody, I will examine Lánycsúfoló (Girls’ Teasing Song) and Levél az otthoniakhoz (Letter to the ones back Home) from Bartók’s Twenty-seven Two- and Three-Part Choruses (1937) and Kecskejáték (Goat Game), Tyúkozás (Hen Game), Gyertya-játék (Candle Game), Bent a bárány, kint a farkas (Outside the Lamb, Inside the Wolf), and Vásárosdi (Market) from Kodály’s Angyalkert (1937) (Angel Garden).

Each is a two-part song written with a folk text as its basis. The settings are original, however, and include many opportunities for melodic settings of durational accents, long words, and questions to imitate Hungarian speech patterns. For each of these areas of comparison, I propose a Most Natural Setting (MNS) — a musical approximation of a word or phrase’s spoken counterpart — and compare this to the way in which the text is actually set, noting the Degree of Compliance (DC). After summarizing the relative influences of spoken inflection on each composer, I conclude by investigating the aesthetic underpinnings of melody imitating vocal intonation and discuss some of the documented goals the composers had in setting texts.

9 April 2008. Michelle Clater,
"Identifying and Defining Agency in Berlioz's Grande messe des morts"

Settings of the Latin Requiem often exhibit general similarities in their treatment of the dramatic oppositions in the liturgical text. Yet significant differences in their emotive states and their interpretation of the human-divine duality also exist. I believe these differences may be explained in part by the composer’s personification of agencies.

In this paper, I will introduce two new models designed to define agential types, evaluate degrees of agential identification, and
decipher agential shifts and interactions. I will then apply these models to two movements Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts, demonstrating how the models clarify relationships between seemingly dissimilar sections and thus create coherent agential trajectories amid change.

26 March 2008. Tim Best, "Schubert's Expansive Sonata Forms: The Trio in Eb, Op. 100 as Case Study"

Schubert's three-key expositions are enormous regions of tonal and thematic tension. In Elements of Sonata Theory, Hepokoski and Darcy propose the Trimodular Block (TMB), a type of S area complication and "strategy for enriching and extending mid-expositional space," as a precedent for such expositions (2006:170-177). This model provides a useful tool for discussing issues of organizational coherence in Schubert's sonata form works, yet creates problems in determining the scope and boundaries of the S zone. How does such a strategy affect the overall trajectory of an exposition and attainment of Essential Expositional Closure (EEC)? What are the ramifications of such an exposition in the development and recapitulation?

In this paper I will examine the first movement of Schubert's Trio in E-flat major, Op. 100, a work of Eroica-like proportions with a sprawling secondary zone of 141 bars. Using the general principles of the TMB to examine the harmonic and cadential structure of the movement, my analysis will problematize central issues of the model, and propose some  extensions to its principles which can account for repeated and pronounced points of non-tonic articulation involving both deferment and arrival. At the crux of the TMB concept is the occurrence of two medial caesuras (MC), implying two separate launches of pre-EEC themes. In Op. 100, this results in an enormous expansion of the S area. The story of this expansion is one of attempting to find a satisfactory sense of balance and closure on the dominant after a shocking harmonic digression which follows the denial of MC1. My multi-modular analysis will attempt to explain the organization of the exposition's subsequent closural efforts, and interpret their effect on the movement as a whole. This will illuminate strategies of continuity and closure common to the expanded sonata-form works of Schubert and other nineteenth-century composers, offering new possibilities for interpreting the various trajectories which contribute to the dramatic tension of these works.

19 March 2008. Lewis E. Rowell, Professor Emeritus, “DeVitry and Venkatamakhin: How to Construct a Metric System”

The idea of meter is relatively simple; building a system of meters is more complex and requires one to apply a conceptual scheme of patterning to an entire repertoire—whether measured by stresses, durations, or something else. (It also requires a bit of creative fudging now and then.) The talk will first consider the objectives of two successful "meter-makers"—a fourteenth-century Frenchman and a seventeenth-century Indian author. The main part of the talk will outline the contrast between two phases of the Carnatic tala system as practiced in the four southern states of India: the system as it exists today and the primitive version of this system as set forth by Venkatamakhin in his influential Caturdandiprakasika (ca. 1660) in the form of seven vocal exercises, which seem to have sprung from nowhere. The talas will be demonstrated on the speaker's talometer (a device which is an interesting piece of engineering in itself) and with short recorded excerpts. From these, we can learn something about Indian music, Indian music theory, and Indian thinking, which in turn may shed some light on metric theory and practice in the West.

27 February 2008. Post-War Music Politics and Musics

Part of Bloomington ArtsWeek 2008, “Politics and the Arts”

  • Eric Drott (University of Texas at Austin), “Music and May ‘68 in France”
  • Bruce Durazzi (Washington University in St. Louis), “Two ‘Committed’ Cantatas: Luigi Nono and the Idea of Political Composition”
  • Peter Schmelz (Washington University in St. Louis), “Alfred Schnittke’s Nagasaki and Soviet Cold War Cultural Politics”
  • Phil Ford (Indiana University)

23 February 2008 (2:30-5:00 p.m., Simon 015), Silence and Explosion: A Salon Event on Politics and the Arts.

Part of Bloomington ArtsWeek 2008, “Politics and the Arts”

An afternoon of workshop readings of segments of several contemporary artistic works with an accompanying panel discussion highlighting expressive interactions of politics and the arts. [details]

20 February 2008. Wayne Petty (University of Michigan), "Bach and the Subdominant"

No composer’s harmonic practice has been more closely studied than J. S. Bach’s, yet techniques remain in Bach’s music that demand further attention, one of which is the composer’s use of the subdominant. As in the music of other composers, a subdominant in Bach could appear locally, especially near the beginnings and endings of compositions, or in extended form, as in the concertos and concerto-style sonata movements that state the ritornello in the key of the subdominant. This paper describes a particular way in which Bach will sometimes coordinate small- and large-scale uses of IV within a single composition. In some works, especially those in the minor mode, one hears a process whereby an early gesture toward IV is recomposed more than once, gaining intensity until it becomes the harmonic goal of a section. Working together with other factors, such as voice leading and thematic repetition, the gradual realization of the tendency toward the subdominant may form one of the guiding ideas for an entire composition.

Works by Bach organized to a greater or lesser degree around such tendencies include the sarabandes from the D-minor French Suite and from the D-minor Partita for Solo Violin. An extraordinary case is the Fugue in F-sharp minor from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, where the subdominant tendency, hinted at in the subject and countersubject, is realized at the moment when Bach reveals a crucial relationship between the two themes.

15-16 February 2008. Graduate Theory Association Bienniel Symposium on Research in Music Theory

6 February 2008. Thomas Christensen (University of Chicago), “The Sound World of Mersenne”

30 January 2008. Kyle Fyr, “Symmetry and Transformation in George Crumb’s ‘A Prophecy of Nostradamus – Aries’ from Makrokosmos, Vol. II” (PhD public lecture)

The “symbol” pieces from George Crumb’s Makrokosmos are an interesting case study in symmetry.  “A Prophecy of Nostradamus – Aries” from Makrokosmos, Volume II is presented as a rainbow-like shape with two concentric arcs whose image is rotated through a thematic kernel. Once the performer completes the first iteration of this central kernel, labeled “Tema enigmatico” (a harmonized version of the Dies irae chant), the score is to be flipped over for the remaining sections of the piece.    

Crumb has found a unique way to combine visual symmetry with musical symmetry in the Tema enigmatico – symmetry not just in spatial and intervallic terms, but with accidentals as well.  Such multi-faceted symmetry is maintained when the score is flipped due to contrapuntal lines that are diatonic and chromatic retrograde inversions of one another, judicious choice of key signatures, what I call “clef transformations”, and inversion in what I call “staff space”.

The symmetries that arise in this piece (especially in the opening and closing sections) are amenable to analysis that accounts for pitch-class set interaction with interval cycles and the transpositional combination thereof.  The piece is very spatially oriented however, so it is often useful to conceive of the piece in pitch space rather than pitch-class space.  Further, the central kernel exhibits interesting visual and musical symmetry that I describe using transformations.  These different approaches complement each other in forming an analytical picture of a piece that is saturated with symmetry.

16 January 2008. Prof. Gretchen Horlacher, "Stravinsky's Stutter:  Modeling Melodic Development and Repetition"

Using an intriguing sketch (from the 1945 Symphony in Three Movements) as its point of departure, this paper considers the unique nature of melody in Stravinsky's music.  The prototypically Stravinskian melody under consideration is characterized both by direction and by repetition, encouraging listeners to hear it both as whole and as part, as static and yet filled with activity.  The richness of such an experience is a hallmark of Stravinsky’s music.  

I introduce an analytical perspective (called "ordered succession") to measure this kind of melody, one where undeniable references toward continuity are dynamically coordinated with the stasis and discontinuity.  Ordered succession welcomes the tension between music that exists in the moment and music that is directed, between music that is repetitive and music that evolves.  More broadly, this perspective accommodates the tension between time as it is punctuated by fixed reference and as it flows from one event to another, and in its emphasis on multiple vantage points, one that is quintessentially modern.

5 December 2007. Pedagogy II: Seminar Presentations by students in Prof. Mary Wennerstrom's "Advanced Music Theory Pedagogy" course.

7 November 2007. Prof. Eric Isaacson and others discuss the Doctoral Qualfying Exam process.

26 October 2007 (Ford Hall, 2:30-4:00), Elaine Sisman (Columbia University), “Under Construction: Process, Product, and the Opus Concept" (Jacobs School of Music Lecture Series)

24 October 2007. Prof. Marianne Kielian-Gilbert, "Tonal potential and compositional-analytical responses to Bach’s ‘Das alte Jahr vergangen ist’ BWV 614"

How might alternate or multiple analytical (compositional, listening) interpretations relate to changing historical receptions (or vice-versa)?

Intensely chromatic and tonally open, J.S. Bach's organ chorale prelude "Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV 614" offers a case study of tonal potential as interactions of varying responses ("reception-as-analysis") and alternate angles and refractions of tonal perception and analysis. Tonal potential emerges in receptions of Bach by Schoenberg, "harmonizing a melody with harmony"; by Berg, rewriting and stretching out the opening section of Schoenberg's first String Quartet; or by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, combining intertextual references to Bach in the postlude of her piano song cycle Das Jahr. It also originates in the interactions of contrasting analytical orientations of harmonic (prolongational/vertical), motivic (translational/horizontal), or overlapping (stretto-like) patterns. Tonal potential becomes expressive when an orientation normally or conventionally 'outside' activates or releases differences 'within' another orientation.

Movement to the 'inside' dislodges what closes off the outside, changing the mix. Mutually exclusive (or particular) aspects of one orientation energize differences in another, creating radically new situations and meanings. The outsider--a beggar, a spy, a listener--can act on the inside, gathering information or working from angles not available to someone restricted to a prevailing context. The outsiders' invisibility and virtuality renders them ever-present. Where inside and outside become indistinguishable, the resulting receptive or analytical 'twist' opens up new modes of interaction and actualizations of tonal potential. The inside responds to the outside within.

17 October 2007. Music and Biography Symposium, with guest lecturer Lewis Lockwood. (This symposium is not part of the Music Theory Colloquium Series)

10 October 2007. Prof. Mary Wennerstrom, "The Liability of Labels, or Do Music Theorists Ask the Right Questions?"

26 September 2007. More previews of papers to be presented at the Semiotic Society of America.

Aisha Ahmad-Post, “Overcoming ‘The Most Detrimental Element:’ Rhyme and Marked Oppositional Settings in Così Fan Tutte

Abigail Shupe, “A Study of the Relationship between Music and Text in William Walton's ‘Anon in Love’ ”

Andrew Wilson, “Building a Musical Narrative Across Two Disparate Poems: Musical Coherence in Elliott Carter’s 'View of the Capitol' and 'O Breath,' from A Mirror on Which to Dwell

19 September 2007. Previews of papers to be presented at the Semiotic Society of America.

Timothy Best, “Signifying the Heroic: Thematic Transvaluation in Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Variations, Op. 35”

Justin Lavacek, “The Dual Nature of Musical Signification in Handel's Alexander's Feast."

5 September 2007. Prof. Robert Hatten, “On Metaphor and Music”


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