Music Theory Midwest

2000 Eleventh Annual Conference
Lawrence University
19-21 May 2000 - Appleton, WI

Paper Abstracts:

Friday morning         Friday afternoon
Saturday morning         Saturday afternoon

Friday Morning


Metric Dissonance

Friday, 19 May, 9:00 - 11:00 a.m.

Disappearing into the Ether: Metric Stability in Ravel's 'Noctuelles' (from Miroirs, 1905)

Gurminder Kaur Bhogal
University of Chicago

        At moments of cadential expectation in 'Noctuelles', Ravel suddenly introduces motifs of short, irregularly grouped rhythmic values that suspend the basic pulse, dissipate the rhythmic energy, fragment the prevailing 3/4 meter, and disrupt hypermetric regularity. In this way, Ravel delays the clear establishment of 3/4 meter in order to manipulate the listener's expectations of metric stability. I characterise these moments as "metrically unmeasured units of (musical) time" because their intrusion suspends the basic pulse which in turn prevents the perception of 3/4 meter and disrupts hypermetric regularity. In studying the effects of these units upon hypermetric patterns, I investigate complex dissonant relationships between hierarchic levels. I refer to the work of Justin London, Jonathan Kramer and Richard Cohn to show how Ravel establishes unstable metric hierarchies by resolving dissonances on one, but not between interrelated levels. The function of these units to create dissonance is enhanced through Ravel's manipulation of form which gives rise to a disorienting musical experience. However, such an experience is not pervasive since two transformations of dissonant motifs hint at the eventual reinstatement of meter. In examining Ravel's manipulation of metric and formal expectations, I show how this neglected perspective provides an insight into many perplexing yet characteristic aspects of his music.

Metrical Dissonance, Energetics and Music-Text Relations in Schoenberg's "Valse de Chopin"

Jonathan Malin
University of Chicago

        Harald Krebs, among others, has mapped the term "dissonance" from the pitch domain to the metrical domain, describing conflicts between metrical layers as "metrical dissonance." The analysis of Schoenberg's "Valse de Chopin" presented here investigates how metrical dissonance can contribute to energetic processes in a manner analogous to pitch dissonance. Musical "energetics" are defined for the purposes of this paper as musical processes and forms that can be described using Ernst Kurth's metaphors of kinetic and potential energy, intensification and de-intensification, and wave dynamics.
        The metaphors of energetic theory also form the basis for some new perspectives on text-music relations. The analysis shows how metrical conflicts dramatize psychological conflicts - conflicts which themselves are of an "energetic" nature. The central conflict in the "Valse de Chopin" is between manic (energetically overcharged) and depressive (energetically deficient) interpretations of the waltz.
        François-Joseph Fétis, Ernst Kurth and others have shown that energetic processes are an important aspect of tonal repertoires. By identifying energetic tendencies (associated with metrical processes) in Schoenberg's atonal music, I demonstrate one of the ways in which his break with the past represents at the same time a continuation of tradition.

Rhythm, Meter, and Notated Meter: Structure in Elliott Carter's Second String Quartet

Tiina Koivisto
Sibelius Academy, Helsinki

        Rhythm and meter in nontonal music propose specific challenges, as the new resources of pitch language are associated with a change of rhythmic language. Elliott Carter's music offers compelling strategies for dealing with the new rhythmic resources. The paper examines ways in which Carter's rhythmic organization is connected to the overall formal layout of the music, specifically in his Second String Quartet. The paper seeks to understand the degree to which the notated meter reflects the heard surface, and the ways in which the notated meter recedes and acts at constantly varying distances from the surface, according to the structure of the work. Of particular interest is how the work's rhythmic organization interacts with its pitch language.
        The paper proposes that although Carter's music defies constant regular meter, the notion of meter offers a fruitful way to understand the rhythmic realm of the quartet. The paper concludes by suggesting ways in which Carter's rhythmic practice may be connected to earlier rhythmic practices, with examples of Brahms's works.

Non-Binary Strategies in the Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean"

Peter A. Martens
University of Chicago

        Binary beat divisions at multiple levels of the metric hierarchy are standard characteristics of popular music since 1950, and especially that of the 1960's and 1970's pop/rock charts. Overriding metric consonance was challenged and even abandoned by various strands of the progressive rock movement during those years, but was never displaced as a pop paradigm. This paper explores ways in which rock songwriters began to create metric dissonance in their music via non-binary groupings, while remaining within the pale of current pop conventions. Within their historical context, Led Zeppelin is not generally considered a progressive band, but one regularly finds in their music (especially after 1972) provocative rhythmic procedures and metric dissonance which act as structuring principles. Drawing on studies by Richard Cohn and Jeff Pressing, I will consider the basic repeated units of rock music as pulse cycles, and investigate common riffs and rhythms as generated subsets of these cycles. In particular, I will examine "The Ocean" (1973) as a case study. In the final portion of the paper I will explore the formal effects of non-binary groupings found in these songs, and suggest a conceptual model which integrates the resolution tendencies of both the rhythmic and harmonic domains.


Music & the Divine

Friday, 19 May, 11:15-12:15 & 1:30-2:30

Symbolic Composition: Messiaen and the Roman Catholic Faith

Scott Schouest
University of Wisconsin-Madison

        Olivier Messiaen's passionate belief in the profound symbology represented by the cryptic mysteries of the Roman Catholic faith inspired him to weave these very symbols into the fabric of his compositions, which is evident in the programmatic titles given to most of his works. Equally apparent is the composer's proliferate use of the word "language" to emphasize the communicable nature of his compositional method. When combined, these two concepts become the foundation for an interpretive framework that transforms Messiaen's works into the aural equivalent of a religious icon.
        Two compositions from different periods in Messiaen's life, "Le Banquet céleste" and "Couleurs de la cité céleste," elegantly illustrate the iconic properties of this repertoire. The former is a reflection of the physical and metaphysical actions that take place during transubstantiation while the latter features tonal constructions steeped in the mystical significance of Revelation's numerology. Messiaen further highlights these tonal constructions by associating them with specific colors drawn from Revelation's text. As with Skryabin and Kandinsky, Messiaen taps into the power of music and color to create a medium for the expression of his profound belief in the supernatural.

Sacred Mirrors: The Palindrome and the Ikon in John Tavener's The Protecting Veil

Marianne Tatom
The University of Texas at Austin

        A theme in John Tavener's compositions is the musicalikon, inspired by Greek Orthodox religious artworks. To produce this reflective state, Tavener turned to the palindrome, creating musical structures by mapping pitches onto a "magic square" of twenty-five letters. Tavener used the palindrome extensively in his 1987 composition for cello and strings,The Protecting Veil
.         The eight movements of theVeil depict scenes in the life and death of the Mother of God, linked by a palindromic statement ("veil theme"). Eachikon expresses different subject matter through a unique "tableau theme." The accompanying strings sound recurring rhythmic gestures ("bell clusters") over which the soloist plays a "paradise palindrome" derived from the magic square, altering pitch, rhythm, and tempo and interpolating extra pitches into the core notes.The Protecting Veil includes palindromes at every structural level -- from the ternary form of several movements, to simultaneous palindromic statements in different rhythmic values in canon. A massive palindrome marks the emotional crux of the piece in movement V ("Lament of the Mother of God at the Cross"). Through his use of palindromes, the composer evokes the stillness of theikon -- rather than propelling the listener toward a goal, Tavener asks him to remain stationary, gazing into the fathomless depth of mirrors.

The Church, The Self, and The Other: The Significance of a Homosexual Narrative in Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos The Significance of a Homosexual Narrative in Poulenc'sConcerto for Two Pianos

Kevin Clifton
The University of Texas at Austin

        Francis Poulenc has received less than a fair share of the sophisticated analytical attention lavished on early twentieth-century composers. Too often his music has fallen prey to analysis where surface details are highlighted, but no attempt is made to uncover deep structural features or question critically what his music might mean. This paper will thus suggest that theConcerto for Two Pianos (1932), his most popular and endearing "self-portrait," ironically contains musical and biographical testaments of his melancholic persona, for the Concerto was composed shortly after a period of personal anguish stemming from his anxiety over his homosexuality (Orledge, 1998). In addition, it will be shown that the Concerto is pivotal in understanding other works by Poulenc: namely,Aubade (1929), a programmatic concerto for piano and solo dancer based on the myth of Diana, andLes Mamelles de Tirésias (1943), an opera based on the surreal text of Apollinaire (1917). This paper will ultimately claim that a homosexual narrative, stemming from the composer's relationship with the dogmatic views of the Church, is imperative to understanding Poulenc and his music.

The Conversion of Ruth Crawford: The "Waters of Non-Existence" and Covert Evangelization in Piano Prelude IX

Steven R. Nuss
Colby College

        Sometime in the late 1920s, Ruth Crawford was "born again." Diary entries from this period betray a new interior life heavily influenced by the Theosophy of the day, and felt with an intensity and fervor to rival that confessed by any of the noted luminaries in the world's pantheon of converts. And as any missionary will tell you, it is precisely this intensity and fervor which drive the person "born again" into a new faith life to directly or indirectly spread the adopted gospel, to proselytize according to their personal gifts.
        While Crawford scholars tend to marginalize the musical significance of Crawford's spiritual/religious transformation (no doubt encouraged by Crawford's tendency to do the same), my presentation places it front and center. I will argue that a knowledge and music-analytical reading of concepts and energies implicit and explicit in Crawford's unique spiritual palette demonstrate that she too acted on the (de-) convert's classic desire to make public statements of faith, to evangelize. I will show how a specific element from Crawford's new pan-Theosophistic world view served as a compositional catalyst, a template even, for her Piano Prelude IX. I argue that musical form, content, and process in the prelude are Crawford's sonic expressions of the concepts of time, space, and cosmic dynamics outlined in the famous Hindu creation myth, "The Waters of Non-Existence."

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