Music Theory


Music Theory Department Colloquium Series (2009–10)
Wednesdays, 3:30PM, M267

This page lists colloquium series events for the year 2009–10. See current colloquium series events here.

28 April 2010,

Kyle Fyr, "Perotin's Enduring Influence"

The four-voice organum works of Perotin are considered landmark achievements in the history of Western music.  Although the Magnus liber organi contains only two of these works, Viderunt Omnes and Sederunt Principes, their influence is wide-ranging.  In order to explicate the breadth of Perotin’s influence, I examine Sederunt Principes with respect to two highly temporally distinct contexts:  the thirteenth-century treatises of Johannes de Garlandia and Anonymous IV, and the much more recent case of Steve Reich’s music and writings.  The application of rhythmic modal theory found in the treatises of Johannes and Anonymous IV helps indicate transcription inaccuracies in the l’Oiseau Lyre edition of the Magnus liber organi.  My analyses of Sederunt Principes also pursue an approach never explicated in the aforementioned treatises:  an exploration of how rhythmic modes may be combined and juxtaposed to create direction, to create textural shifts, and to exploit the ambiguities of metric perception. 

Steve Reich’s writings openly acknowledge the influence of Perotin’s organa on the structure of his Music for 18 Musicians.  Interestingly, there are additional parallels (including exploiting metric ambiguities) between Perotin and himself that Reich does not draw.  Like Reich, Perotin’s innovation lies not just in the fact that he used repetition, but also in the ways in which he was able to integrate subtle variation into repetitive figures.  Viewing Perotin’s music from these perspectives helps provide significant analytical insights into his unique sound world (a sound world that paradoxically sounds at once ancient and modern).


Mark Chilla, " 'And These Memories [Gain] Their Meaning': Interpreting the Classical Music Topic in Pop/Rock Songs from the 1960s"

Abstract: Topic theory, as first defined by Leonard Ratner, has become a useful tool for analyzing and interpreting meaning in music of the Classical style. This paper expands topic theory to the interpretation of popular music by defining a common topic from 1960s pop/rock music: the classical music topic, or the importation of classical music elements into a pop/rock song. I first define some of the topic’s distinctive features and their potential inspiration, and then demonstrate how the expressive content of the topic usually falls into four distinct categories: serious, nostalgic, ironic, or fantastic. These forms of expression were relatively new to pop/rock music at the time, and often were brought about by the expressive correlations of the classical elements themselves, such as the evocation of the past or the serious nature of this higher style. Additionally, the topic was often juxtaposed against the established pop/rock style to create the new emergent meanings of irony or fantasy. I will examine several songs by the Beatles from 1965–69 as exemplars of these four expressive categories: “Eleanor Rigby,” “In My Life,” “Piggies,” and “Because.” Songs by mostly British rock groups from the same era (e.g., the Rolling Stones and the Zombies) will also be mentioned as further examples of the topic’s use. Finally, I demonstrate, using Aretha Franklin's 1969 cover of "Eleanor Rigby," how manipulating, diluting, or eliminating the classical music topic can alter the meaning of the song.

14 April 2010, Prof. Kyle Adams, "Who Composed 'The Grey Album,' or, What Did Dangermouse Do?"

This colloquium will address the musicological and theoretical problems posed by the creation of The Grey Album, DJ Dangermouse’s groundbreaking 2004 mash-up of Jay-Z’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album. After giving a brief overview of the genre, I will discuss its intersections with racial attitudes towards music and with modern conceptions of intellectual property. These issues will form a backdrop for some fundamental questions about what it means to ‘compose’ a piece of music in the age of mash-ups. Who, exactly, gets credit for the creation of The Grey Album? Can it legitimately be called a composition at all? Who ‘owns’ the various textures that comprise the work? And finally, if The Grey Album is not a musical composition in the strict sense, what kind of creative work is it? What did Dangermouse do?

7 April 2010, Prof. Eric Isaacson, "Seeing Clearly: Some Principles for Music Visualization"

Drawing primarily on the work of Edward Tufte, the paper presents a number of principles for music scholars to consider when creating graphical representations of musical information.  These include the elimination of unnecessary graphical elements, improving the ratio of data to ink, strategies for the tabular presentations of data, the use of small multiples, the importance of graphical integrity, uses for color and for animation, when to provide instructions at the point of needs, and the value of data-rich graphics. The principles are demonstrated by presenting exemplary illustrations of a principle, comparing multiple visualizations of the same phenomenon, taking existing visualizations and rendering them anew to show how even minor tweaks can improve information design, and presenting freshly crafted examples.

31 March 2010, Colloquium workshop in Music Theory, Vasili Byros, "Science and Culture in Music Theory"

24 March 2010, Please note time:  4:00p.m., Alan Theisen,"Elliott Carter's Readings of Ungaretti Poems in Tempo e Tempi."

3 March 2010, Tim Chenette, "Confounding the Medieval Listener: The Role of Complexity in Medieval Rhythm"

Framed negatively or positively, the most outstanding element of ca. 1400 French and Italian polyphonic music is rhythm.  Scholars have suggested that each line’s syncopations and disruptions should be performed as metric displacement, rather than accents against an underlying meter; but for the complete polyphonic fabric, most generally stop at the observation that the rhythmic edifice is “simply stupendous” (Apel 1946-1947).  Were all complex rhythms “beyond” musical necessity (Apel 1946-1947), “metrically unintelligible” to the listener (London 2004)?  On the contrary, this paper will argue that complex polyphonic rhythm served two contrasting musical purposes. These purposes, (1) preparing metrically stable cadences and (2) creating states of metric complexity, will be established through musical examples and the testimony of contemporary treatises, and their expressive and formal uses will be considered in chansons by Ciconia, Antonello da Caserta, and Philipoctus da Caserta.

17 February 2010, Garrett Michaelsen, "Groove Topics in Improvised Jazz"

In this paper, I extend topic theory to a new musical style, modern jazz. Analogously to the dance topic in Classical music, modern jazz is based on many of the rhythmic patterns of the dance bands of the 1920s and ‘30s. In modern jazz, however, these dance patterns are distilled into less restrictive rhythmic patterns I will refer to as grooves. The term groove encompasses not only the archetypal rhythmic patterns corresponding to various ensemble roles, but also performative inflection of these patterns. I argue that conceptualizing grooves as topics allows us to discuss the expressive content each groove imports into an improvised performance and begins to flesh out a hermeneutics of modern jazz improvisation.

The five grooves I outline in this paper, swing, shuffle, waltz, Latin, and ballad, may be categorized on a spectrum of eighth-note inequality, also known as “swing feel.” This spectrum correlates with expressive values of excitement to relaxation, with greater eighth-note inequality (“heavy swing”) correlating with more excited expressive states and eighth-note equality (“straight eighths”) correlating with more relaxed expressive states. While each groove tends to be associated with particular expressive qualities, they may be inflected through performative variation of these background states. I conclude the paper with an analysis of Miles Davis’s 1964 solo on “My Funny Valentine,” focusing on the interactive ways in which these groove topics are collectively expressed and dynamically cued in performance.

13 January 2010, Prof. Frank Samarotto, "What's the Use of Outmoded Theories? Rehearing Brahms's Third Symphony."

Do music theories really become outmoded? If not, what use is to be made of them? This talk will begin by briefly considering the “outmodedness” of scientific theories—sometimes paradoxical—and then contrast that with the situation of music theory.  Keeping some salutary cautions in mind, I will recount some past uses of older music theories, good and bad, in order to consider which uses are foundationally legitimate. With this as preface I will then turn to a perspective that permeated theoretical language of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that known as energetics. In current thinking, energetics is downplayed as vague and ungrounded, but I will argue that concepts we associate with Kurth are indispensable to Schenkerian analysis and even to Riemann’s metric analysis. This will be extensively demonstrated in a close reading of that most energetic work, the first movement of Brahms’s Third Symphony

18 November 2009. John Turci-Escobar, (Washington University in St. Louis).  “El Tango, or how Piazzolla read Borges”

Piazzolla’s music was neither conceived nor received as a felicitous intersection of musical cultures but as a violent effort to overturn tradition. It was a music born of tensions, disruptions, and contradictions, rough at the edges, and explosive. It was and is, wrote philosopher Carlos Kuri, a “music at the limits.”  The tensions and anxieties of Piazzolla’s music at the limits rise to the surface in Piazzolla’s setting of a poem by Jorge Luis Borges, El Tango. Identified as a “musical poem,” this composition is the first track of the eponymous 1965 album that documented the intersection between Piazzolla and Borges. For Piazzolla, this association with Argentina’s foremost cultural figure provided an opportunity to legitimize his music, not only as tango, but as the music of contemporary Buenos Aires. Thus, El Tango has an explicit program, Borges’s poem, and an implicit one, Piazzolla’s case for the new tango.

Composing a programmatic tango work is challenging enough. Composing one based on a Borges poem, and that also doubles as a music-historical essay, borders on the impossible. The stock idioms of the tango had limited referential potential. Piazzolla expanded this potential by (1) appropriating idioms from other traditions, (2) juxtaposing foreign and tango idioms, (3) projecting his persona through emblematic usages, and (4) distorting earlier tango styles.

Despite its popularity and influence, Piazzolla’s music has received scant analytical attention. Moreover, scholars have focused on showing how Piazzolla’s music is, indeed, tango. This search for Astor’s “tango roots” emphasizes continuities with preceding practices, and thus, obscures the idiosyncratic in his music, sidelines its “foreign elements,” and most significantly, downplays its tensions, anxieties, and ruptures with tradition. It is these aspects that are the focus of my interpretive approach. It endeavors to make tangible Kuri’s insight that Piazzolla was a composer at the limits.

4 November 2009.  Vasili Byros, "Revisiting Schema Theory: In Memoriam Leonard Meyer"

This paper aims to (re-)consider and (re-)contextualize the place, significance, and potential of schema theory as applied to music of the long eighteenth century, in light of two recent substantial contributions to this area of research: Robert Gjerdingen’s Music in the Galant Style (2007) and my own dissertation (Foundations of Tonality as Situated Cognition, 1730–1830, Yale, 2009). Furthermore, it is my intention to clarify a great deal of misunderstanding that still surrounds the concept of a schema and its theoretical foundations, as displayed by the question and answer session at last year’s “Partimento” panel in Nashville, which perpetuated initial misconceptions first evidenced by reviews of Gjerdingen’s A Classic Turn of Phrase (e.g. Cavett-Dunsby 1990; Lester 1990; Agawu 1991). By introducing and contextualizing a large body of empirical evidence — surrounding Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and a particular schema I call the
le–sol–fi–sol — in a broad and interdisciplinary cognitive-philosophical framework, my paper will (re-)define what precisely constitutes a schema in musical and more general psychological terms, as well as the motivations, objectives, and, more importantly, the applications of schema theory in music and other disciplines. By that means, I shall consider its close association to the recently-developing discipline of empirical musicology (Clarke and Cook 2004), as well as the newly-constructed “interface” of historically-informed theory and cognition (Gjerdingen 2007; Byros 2009).

21 October 2009.  Mitch Ohriner, "Temporal Segmentation and Prototypical Phrase Categories "

In current cognitive studies of categorization, two models prevail, the classical and the prototypical.  In the classical model, objects enter into categories by meeting necessary and sufficient conditions.  In the prototypical model, category boundaries are not demarcated; rather, categories are differentiated by their prototypical instances and objects are probabilistically assigned to categories according to shared features. A classical model of phrase structure has prevailed, although many phrases do not fit classical categories.

In a prototypical model of phrase structure, the boundaries of phrase category membership would be undefined and individual phrases would be probabilistically assigned to all categories. The proposed method uses variation in tempo in performance to create a temporal segmentation of a piece, and then probabilistically classifies the piece’s phrases in a number of categories according to the variance between an average performance of a phrase and a quadratic interpolation of the timing profile.  Examples are drawn from Chopin’s Mazurkas

 This presentation demonstrates a novel method of describing phrase structure prototypically by prioritizing highly correlative average performances as indicative of a collective understanding of a piece.  It is not my intention to minimize the form-generating capabilities of other musical features evident in the score, but rather to emphasize that performers’ temporal segmentation constitutes a kind of analysis of those features.  By lending credence to those analyses in a categorization of phrase structures, this presentation furthers the shift towards performance as both a wellspring of interpretive knowledge and an avenue of empirical inquiry.

14 October 2009.  Prof. Robert Hatten, “Musical Agency as Implied by Gesture and Emotion: Its Consequences for Listeners’ Experiencing of Musical Emotion” 

Agency may be inferred from musical gestures and their expressive meaning; indeed, gesture, emotion, and agency may be understood as mutually implicative. Expressive gestures imply agential embodiment as motivated energetic shaping through time (Hatten 2004). In this paper I explore the emergent identity of an agent in music, from the interlinked perspectives of its inferred actions (as motivating force) and reactions to, or engagement with, other forces or events. This view of agency has consequences for our understanding of musical meaning as experienced by an empathetic (and competent) listener. Emotion can emerge from (1) empathy for the agent with whom/which one identifies, (2) co-experiencing the agents’ implied actions and reactions, and (3) reacting to the agent’s implied actions and reactions. Examples will be drawn from Beethoven.

Tim Best, "A Semiotic Reification of Early Seventeenth-Century Musical Rhetoric"

Joachim Burmeister’s Musica Poetica (1606) is possibly the first systematic attempt to account for musical expression in purely humanistic terms. Reflective of the growing emphasis on objective rationalism in Lutheran Germany, the treatise adapts ancient rhetorical categories to musical form and expression. While many of Burmeister’s definitions are problematic, giving vague descriptions of the musical content exemplifying a given figure, his musical examples are often illuminating. Indeed, the musical examples, mainly taken from Orlando di Lasso’s, Nurenburger Motet Buch (1562-64), seem to provide a more concrete “definition” than the verbal descriptions.

This paper attempts to reify Burmeister’s system of musical rhetoric through the application of Peircian sign typology, ultimately suggesting that the figures be viewed as rhematic-iconic-qualisigns. After providing a general background of Burmeister’s treatise, three rhetorical figures, auxesis, hypotyposis, and aposiopesis, will be examined in detail. The effectiveness of these figures in discussing musical signification will be tested by applying them to examples from the modern repertoire.

23 September 2009. Blair Johnston, The Structure(s) and the Expressive Trajectory of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini

The harmonic vocabulary of Rachmaninoff's late Russian and exile compositions (1909–1940) may be understood as an amalgam of well-defined components drawn from the Western common practice and Russian traditions: expanded functional tonal syntax, "fantastic" equal-interval chromatic structures, and modal structures both familiar (diatonic modes) and unfamiliar (peremennost, nega, "gypsy Phrygian").

I argue that the components have clear rhetorical associations; that components are consistently associated with certain locations in form; and that acknowledging the interactions of components contributes to an understanding of expressive trajectory and large-scale organization, and—especially—to exegesis of climax events in the late Russian and exile works.

Drawing on chromatic and modal theory, theories of tonal tension and climax, and Hepokoski’s deformation-oriented approach to the interpretation of Postromantic form, I present the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 43 as a case study. The result: steps toward a more general theory of hyperdissonance in Postromantic music that may aid the interpretation of crunchy harmonic events and formal problems that resist explanation in conventional tonal and Formenlehre terms.

9 September 2009. Julian Hook, "Formal Diatonic Interval Notation"

Two fundamentally different means of describing musical intervals are in common use: diatonic (“major 3rd”) and chromatic (“4 semitones”). The mathematical properties of chromatic interval measurements are straightforward and well-known. The diatonic measurements, despite their familiarity, are more difficult to formalize mathematically, particularly the “quality” descriptors (perfect, major, minor, augmented, diminished). This paper (the product of work carried out jointly with Jack Douthett) will present an elementary formalization of diatonic interval notation. Connections with diatonic set theory will be considered, as will implications for alternative scale systems and tunings.


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