Music Theory


Music Theory Department Colloquium Series (2008–09)
Wednesdays, 3:30PM, M267

This page lists colloquium series events for the year 2008–09. See current colloquium series events here.

29 April.  John Reef, "The Universalism of Marin Mersenne's Harmonie universelle"

The fourth treatise of Marin Mersenne’s Harmonie universelle (1636) contains two curious musical examples in a proposition on the diatonic genus: one is of a Canadian dance song; the other is of songs of the Brazilian Tupinamba Indians (see attached example). Although the first lacks a citation, the second is from Jean de Léry’s History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, Otherwise Called America (1578), one of many travel narratives that flourished in France shortly before Mersenne’s time. These narratives not only reflect popular curiosity for cultures their audiences would have considered “primitive,” but also participate in an epistemological question of human diversity that occupied the French thinkers in the decades preceding Mersenne’s publication: whether certain “universal” moral and aesthetic values underwrite human experience (and, by extension, whether some cultures more genuinely betray those values than others), or, in contrast, whether the moral and aesthetic practices of a culture are products of custom alone.

Harmonie universelle has much of the same Grecizing content as the theoretical treatises of the generations that preceded Mersenne: divisions of the monochord, genera, modes, etc., but Mersenne’s appeals to antiquity are secondary to his claims of universalism. What concerns him about the genera, for example, is proving that the diatonic is more natural (universal) than the chromatic and enharmonic genera–that someone divested since birth of culture and upbringing, and left to create music ex nihilo, would naturally sing in the diatonic genus. It is in this connection that Mersenne cites the aforementioned examples. Nevertheless, Mersenne cannot escape counterclaims that musical preferences are diverse, and do not reflect an assumed universal standard. This antagonism between musical universalism and the diversity of tastes pervades Mersenne’s overtly dialectical prose throughout Harmonie universelle. In this paper, I contextualize Mersenne’s negotiation of universalism and diversity within his intellectual climate, and within the fascination for the exotic and primitive that pervade contemporary thought; specifically, I adduce the essays of Montaigne and the travel writing of Jean de Léry as foils to Mersenne’s universalizing discourse.

Although citations from other cultures are not typical in Harmonie universelle, the dialectic of nature and custom is. In his discourse on the unison, therefore, he cites instances of humankind’s natural inclination toward singing in the unison against the observable reality that most people prefer more complex sonorities. Despite his appeals to nature, however, Mersenne’s universalism in this instance is grounded in the contemplation of heavenly perfection, rather than in contemporary primitivisim.

29 April. Loren Serfass,"Eclecticism and Synthesis in John Adams's Doctor Atomic"

This presentation will propose a framework for understanding stylistic allusion in John Adams's recent opera Doctor Atomic.  On one end of the continuum, Adams pays homage in near-quotation to canonized 20th-century masterworks of Varèse, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Copland, and Debussy, often chosen for their detailed correspondences to the subject matter of the opera.  The most intriguing instances activate irony latent in the libretto.  On the other end of the continuum, Adams to some extent abstracts the techniques and styles of these composers and recombines them, in the process changing their meaning. The presentation will examine to what degree Adams creates a topical language from his source material.

15 AprilJustin Lavacek, “Displaced Metrical Grids: Contrapuntal Dissonance in Bach”

In this paper, I set out a theory for tracing the metrical implications of contrapuntal entries, using examples from the music of J. S. Bach. As a starting point, I review the problem contrapuntal music presents for fixed grid conceptions of meter, such as that proposed by Lerdahl and Jackendoff in A Generative Theory of Tonal Music.  I then adapt that approach so that each entry of a contrapuntal motive establishes its own periodic grid of metric expectation with accents of varying degrees of strength, amounting to a metric as well as melodic counterpoint.

This paper will be concerned with the special case of contrapuntal music wherein subsequent motivic entries conflict with the metrical implications of former ones.  This process of metric-melodic overlap builds upon itself, often occurring many times over and at varying degrees from voice to voice, thereby creating a rich structure of competing layers of metrical pulse.  Consideration of a complete fugue by Bach will show how the composer’s control of contrapuntal dissonance can be closely implicated in formal growth.

15 April.  Andrew McIntyre, Process in Camille Saint-Saëns’ Guitare


This paper applies the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) to Camille Saint-Saëns’ early song, Guitare (1851), poetry by Victor Hugo.  Saint-Saëns’ lifelong fascination with Hugo’s poetry, and the shared interest of Hugo and Whitehead in the natural world, create an intriguing composer-poet-philosopher triangle that deserves further study.  I show that process relations abound in Guitare through Whiteheadian analysis of the text, music, and marriage of the two.  While my primary philosophical focus is Whiteheadian process, I also draw from (process-influenced) philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Christopher Hasty.  My analysis focuses on three aspects of the song, as they relate to process philosophy.  I first trace descending lines that arise from growth and maturity of the opening vocal motive.  Second, I examine relations and interplay (motivic, gestural, structural) between piano and voice.  Finally, I examine the text in process terms. While one reading supports the notion of division into three disparate question-answer stanzas, a process reading shows one continual line leading towards the Romantic sentiment ab imo pectore - love.

8 April. Michael Buchler, Florida State University, "'The Perfect Musical:' Some Thoughts about Drama, Music, and Structure in Guys & Dolls."

Critics and historians have often lauded Guys and Dolls as a “perfect musical,” admiring the quality of the music, the choreography, and the libretto. According to Gerald Boardman, it “offered a tonal and structural cohesion rare in the annals of the American Musical Theatre.” It is easy to make and agree with such broad statements, but difficult to consider how “perfection,” much less tonal and structural cohesion, is achieved in a show that runs over two-and-a-half hours. In my talk, I will take a closer look at the show’s dramatic structure and musical associations in an attempt to foster (if not arrive at) a better understanding the whole and its musical parts.

25 March. Garrett Michaelsen, "Ellington the Improviser: Group Interaction in the Money Jungle Recordings"

This paper will focus on Duke Ellington as a jazz improviser through the investigation of one particularly intriguing recording session.

His 1962 Money Jungle recording date brought together the diverse and individualistic talents of Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach for a session that was at turns brilliant and bewildering. Ellington wrote that recording his composition ³Fleurette Africaine² was ³was one of those mystic moments when our muses were one and the same.² However, other cuts such as the title track ³Money Jungle² display palpable musical friction between the performers. Through detailed transcriptions of these two recorded performances, I will draw into the analytical picture the element of musical interaction that is so compelling in this session. I develop an interactive analytical framework that draws on the work of scholars such as Robert Hodson, Ingrid Monson, Jeff Pressing, Ed Sarath, R. Keith Sawyer, and Paul Steinbeck. Through this analytical framework I characterize interactive connections as either associative or interruptive continuations of preceding improvised utterances. Additionally, I describe a spectrum of interactive convergence and divergence, where both poles function as unstable boundaries between which most improvised interaction occurs. The analyses of ³Fleurette² and ³Money Jungle² will identify convergent and divergent elements of both, painting the total interactive picture not in black or white but in shades of gray.

25 March. Mitch Ohriner, "Temporal Segmentation and Prototypical Phrase Models"

The literature on categorization presents two views of category formation, the classical and the prototypical.  In the classical view, elements belong to categories by virtue of meeting a set of necessary and sufficient conditions.  In the prototypical conception, objects can resemble the prototypical instance of a category, or even multiple categories, and hence the boundaries of categories are fuzzy.

    In the work of Schoenberg and Caplin, musical phrases are categorized using the classical model. Yet many phrases do not fit the conditions of traditional categories.  In a prototypical conception of phrase structure, all phrases could be probabilistically placed in all categories, but in order for such a conception to be adopted the criteria used in category formation must be uniform and measurable.  This paper proposes a method of using expressive timing in performance to determine a ³temporal partitioning² of a piece that can then be fit to a small number of phrase categories.  The goodness of fit between a number of phrases and a single fitting model creates a spectrum of association analogous to a prototypical conception of phrase categorization.

    Often the results of the method match our intuitions of phrase structure, but just as often they do not.  In a demonstration using two of Chopin¹s Mazurkas, associations between phrases dissimilar in many respects are revealed.  In the larger context of musical scholarship, the method has the advantage of prioritizing interpretation in analysis and where possible giving the highest priority to the most widely held interpretations of musical structure.

4 February.  Christy Keele, " Problematizing Analysis: Culture and Fantasy in Process Music "

Process music presents various complications for analysis and interpretation. The repetition inherent in the minimalist aesthetic poses problems, especially when using a formalist approach. The degree of repetition draws the listener's attention to those aspects that do change, suggesting a formalist approach. However, the resulting analysis may not yield significant observations about the piece. Analysis of this music also involves temporal issues that arise from the slow rates at which the music unfolds, for example, the listener's sense of stasis versus goal-directed motion.

These issues are discussed in relation to work done by a variety of music scholars and critics, including Robert Fink, Ian Quinn, and Carolyn Abbate. Quinn problematizes formalist analysis, Fink suggests intimate connections between process music and advertising, and Abbate presents her notion of drastic versus gnostic, all of which can be applied in fruitful ways to the analysis of process music. This paper attempts to consider what role a cultural perspective can play within traditional analysis. These perspectives can be applied to process music as another way of modifying current analytical tools to approach pieces in this style on their own terms.

Finally, I speculate on imaginative methods of analysis in response to Ian Quinn's idea of "analytical fantasy," which he proposes for effective, meaningful analysis of process music. Process music requires creative strategies as opposed to only formalist analysis. One way of bringing fantasy to analysis is to examine one's own listening experience; I explore how music can contain musical and extramusical references and images, giving examples from John Adams' Grand Pianola Music. This idea is inspired by Classical topic theory, but it allows for musical moments to evoke different associations among listeners. By thinking creatively and inventing new ways to interpret process music, I strive to recognize its artistic value, its enigmatic character, and its meaningful contribution to the spectrum of musical styles developed in the twentieth century.

4 February.  Daniel J.Arthurs, "Reconstructing Tonal Idioms: Temporal Plasticity in Brad Mehldau's 'Unrequited'"

Pianist/composer Brad Mehldau has been highly acclaimed since the late 1990s for his intellectual style of composition, which blurs the boundaries of classical and jazz traditions.  The jazz aesthetic is based on manipulations of rhythm and time, and this is especially evident in improvisation.  In Mehldau¹s music, however, the temporal manipulations begin with the composition, leading to improvisations with even more complex performative manipulations.  In addition, and perhaps most remarkable, there is Mehldau¹s use of such techniques specific to a tonal environment.  His music exhibits traits not unlike those found in traditional tonal music of the nineteenth century. The sense of tonal hierarchy that pervades Mehldau¹s music allows him to more fully explore the temporal pacing of harmonic and melodic phenomena.  This paper explores traditional tonal elements and subsequent temporal manipulations in the 1998 composition, ³Unrequited,² adapting concepts from Frank Samarotto¹s theory of temporal plasticity.  The tonal reconstructions revealed in ³Unrequited² are more than plays on norms from preceding centuries, and they are more than just wit.  Viewing this music through the lens of Schenkerian analysis and Samarotto¹s complex Schenkerian approach to rhythm within that analytical context suggests to me that a successful renewal of a tonal language is evident in Mehldau¹s approach to jazz. 

21 January. Andreas Metz, "Melodic Process and Pacing in the Adagio Affettuoso of Brahms's Cello Sonata, Op. 99" (PhD public lecture)

Margaret Notley (1999, 2004, 2007) proposes that the slow movement and more specifically the Adagio attained such special status in the music literature of the nineteenth century that it was soon elevated to a cult and considered as a genre of its own. While this cult, according to Notley, can more broadly be understood as a "later generation's idealization of an earlier time [...] coupled with a perception of its own shortcomings" there are also a number of technical characteristics which Ernst Kurth pinpointed in his book Romantische Harmonik und ihre Krise in Wagner's "Tristan” (1923). These include an increased placement of structural melodic components on the weak parts of the measure, the subordination of individual musical ideas to a larger motion, ongoing polyphony and intense interweaving of voices rather than a single melodic line, as well as blurring of beginnings and endings--essentially many of the features of Beethoven's Cavatina Op. 130 which was regarded as a kind of prototype and ideal of the Adagio genre.

One aspect which has received little attention in this respect but which I believe is crucial for the effectiveness of a slow movement is the role of pacing. Channan Willner's dissertation "Durational Pacing in Handel's Instrumental Works: The Nature of Temporality in the Music of the High Baroque" (2005) is probably the most recent and comprehensive study with respect to pacing. His work is concerned among other things with Handel's frequent borrowings, their associated pace rates, and their implications for rhetorical structure and narrative discourse. In my analysis of Brahms's Adagio Affettuoso Op. 99 I align several reductions to render visible the various factors that contribute to one's perception of pace at any given moment and evaluate them to reach a pace-rate interpretation which is in line with melodic process and formal articulation. My approach attributes a more genuine quality to pacing which is conveyed through large-scale melodic process than to that which is suggested through other means such as foreground prolongation and surface rhythmic activity. I will also comment on strategically placed instances of what Cooper and Meyer (1960) briefly refer to as psychological tempo.

Brahms's correspondence indicates that he was fully aware of the compositional challenges and the artistic expectations this particular genre posed which is why for quite some time he seems to have preferred the tempo indication Andante with various qualifiers. His Adagio to Op. 99, which displays many of the complexities characteristic of Brahms's early slow movements,--it was originally intended for his first Cello Sonata Op. 38--bears all of the genre's features. Brahms's manipulations of pace in the slow movement of Op. 99 show his mastery of the Adagio genre.

December 10. Lewis E. Rowell, Professor Emeritus, “Reflections on Tuning: Remarks, Opinions, and Sound Bites from a Skeptic”

"Remarks are not literature," as Gertrude Stein once reminded Ernest Hemingway, and opinions sound better when described as "conclusions I have reached." My talk will be woven around twenty of these "conclusions" and will be illustrated with brief recorded excerpts from historical tunings and various traditional musics of the non-Western world. There is not, and never has been, a consensus on what we expect from our tuning systems. While I take a deeply skeptical point of view toward the claims made by proponents of different tunings, I will try to extract some principles that influence--or ought to influence--our continuing efforts to achieve what we believe to be perfection, flexibility, intelligibility, and/or beauty in the mutual relations among musical sounds.

Special Event: Tuesday, November 11 (4:30 p.m., Simon Music Center 267), Giorgio Sanguinetti, University of Rome, Tor Vergata, "The Neapolitan Partimento: An Introduction"

For more than two centuries, from the early Seventeenth century up to the early Nineteenth, the four conservatories of Naples have been the most important schools of composition in Europe. However, the generation of masters who taught there -- among them Alessandro Scarlatti, Leonardo Leo, Francesco Durante and Giovanni Paisiello -- did not write treatises like their French or German collegues, so their importance in the theory of composition has generally been overlooked. Instead of the treatises, the Neapolitan masters have left a large body of (mostly) manuscript exercises called partimenti. A partimento can be defined as a sketch, written on a single staff, with frequent changes of clefs and texture, whose main purpose is to provide a guide for the improvisation of a piece on the keyboard. The practice of partimento -- an exercise as well as a form of art in itself -- allowed the transmission of a "wordless theory," and the development of an unreflective, almost automatic response to compositional stimuli.

This lecture will give a short introduction to this complex subject, including the history of the four conservatories in Naples, and the sources, authors, styles and genres of the partimenti.

October 29. Mark Butler (University of Pennsylvania), "Making It Up and Breaking It Down: Sounding the Preexistent and the
Novel within Improvised DJ Performance"

Performance in electronic dance music mixes elements that are ostensibly fixed with highly fluid, contingent properties that emerge only through improvisational actions. Music that can be held in one’s hand, that is not only precomposed but also inscribed onto wax grooves, is made to dissolve, recombine, and sound anew through the creative metallurgy of DJ practice. My paper explores the interplay of these preexistent and newly created dimensions within DJ performance, through analysis of Jeff Mills’ track “The Bells” as composed and performed.

October 15. Prof. Frank Samarotto, " 'Plays of Opposing Motion': Contra-Structural Melodic Impulses in Voice-leading Analysis"

In 1722 Rameau divided the science of music into melody and harmony, but famously asserted that a knowledge of harmony is sufficient for complete understanding. Rameau’s cadence parfaite gathered together the contrapuntal threads of individual melodic lines and made them subordinates of, or at least co-conspirators with the root progression. Almost two centuries later, Ernst Kurth tried to detach melody entirely from harmony, an extreme pendulum swing designed to restore independence to melodic energy. By contrast, in the theories of Heinrich Schenker, harmony and counterpoint were shown to be interdependent, giving weight to the integrity of line, and to a synthesis of this with harmony.

Although Schenker’s theory clearly privileges those melodic motions governed by harmonic motion, Schenker could still place great importance on melodic directionality and impulse as independent elements, even when they run counter to the harmonic setting or to the descending trajectory of the Urlinie. Extrapolating from cues in Schenker’s work, this paper will examine what I call contra-structural melodic impulses, characterized by two aspects: directionality and ambitus. First, a significant ascending melodic motion may conflict with the necessity of the descent of the fundamental line;. Second, the ambitus may fill out an interval dissonant with the prolonged harmony. Selected analyses will reveal situations where the contra-structural melodic impulse is a compositionally significant counter pull to the tonal structure.

October 1. Kofi Agawu (Princeton University), "A Topical Analysis of the First Movement of Mozart's String Quintet in E-flat major, K 614"

September 17. Mitch Ohriner, "Performance Images: Visualizing Expressive Performance Through Altered Notation"

The study of the normative features of musical performance has been of great interest to scholars in psychology, acoustics, and information science. Yet the analysis of individual performance choices in light of their score- and style-specific contexts has received considerably less attention. Although analyzing performance presents methodological and ontological challenges, preceding these is a problem of visualization: expressive information cannot be perused in the same manner as traditional notation.

The visualization presented alters traditional notation to include information about individual performances. The space/time analogy already implicit in notation is made explicit by plotting notes on the page as a function of their timing in recorded performances of a work. Changes in volume are reflected through gray-scaling events such that louder events are darker. Other aspects of expression are also visualized. Recent advances in automated score alignment and audio feature extraction enable images reflecting large sets of recordings to be automatically generated. A demonstration of Performance Images, visualizing sets of performances of the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata in A Major, Op. 101, and Chopin's Prelude in A-minor, Op. 28, No. 4, will be presented and discussed, following a discussion of the methodology involved.

Performance Images takes a significant step towards making performer-determined expressive details as widely available to music scholars as conventional composer-determined notational information. Thus it will be an asset to the ever-burgeoning study of the relation between score and rendition, composer and performer, and analysis and performance.


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