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

Saturday Morning


Opera and Film

Saturday, 20 May, 9:00-10:30

Harmonic Deception, Nested Bass Descent, and the Apparent Dominant: The Hymns to Venus from Tannhauser

Evan Jones
Eastman School of Music

       The paper examines the recitative portions of each of the three Hymns to Venus from Wagner's opera Tannhauser (Act I, scene 2), in which expressionistic, apparently anomalous chord progressions are featured. In each case, the questionable voice leading involves an apparent prolongation of the dominant function at the end of each recitative via a startling variety of diminished- seventh and dominant-seventh chords, whose resolutions seem arbitrary at best. A better explanation of these passages requires the subjugation of the more obvious dominant arrivals to their subsequent deceptive resolutions. A sub- surface tetrachordal bass descent is thus revealed at the heart of each Hymn; in each case, a predominant expansion engulfs incidental dominant harmonies that are initially heard as structural.
       The analyses raise a larger issue: even if an initial dominant arrival is accented prominently, it may not be appropriate to connect it analytically to a subsequent dominant function. A detailed Schenkerian analysis of the Introduction to the first movement of Schubert's Fourth Symphony uncovers a deep-level structure exactly parallel to the structure observed in the Hymns. In the context of these examples, the deceptive resolution of any dominant is considered to be its functional negation. Concluding observations on the first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata and the Prelude to Bach's Fourth Suite for Solo Cello in Eb Major, however, suggest that other readings may sometimes be more appropriate.

Wozzeck and the Geometry of Ambivalence

Wayne Alpern
Mannes College of Music and City University of New York

       When Wozzeck describes his hallucinations to the Doctor in Berg's opera, he conjures up mysterious images of some secret geometric code. "Lines and circles," he mutters, "strange figures . . . if only one could read them!" Analytic interpretations have focused upon the circle as a symbol of Wozzeck's state of mind and Berg's own view of life, but with ambiguous results. Some see it as a pessimistic image of fatalistic doom, others as an optimistic metaphor for hopeful rejuvenation. A dialectical conception of the opera, however, suggests their unresolved juxtaposition-simultaneously asserting affirmative and negative conceptions of life.
       But it is Wozzeck's "lines" rather than his "circles" that unlock the geometry of ambivalence encoded in the "strange figures" of the open field. A "dialectical ramp" of two intersecting lines in oblique motion embodies this vacillation between dynamic affirmation and static negation. Tracking this "strange figure" as a musical metaphor reveals a profound ambivalence at the heart of Berg's masterpiece. Half soldier, half seer, wandering across the open field of life, Wozzeck catches a fleeting glimpse of this ambiguous geometry, of hope and despair tugging against one other, juxtaposed without victor, each sharing Berg's stage to weave a delicate synthesis of unresolved antinomies.

"Laura" and the Essential Ninth: Were They Only a Dream?

Michael Buchler
University of Iowa

       David Raksin's score to the 1944 film Laura generated one of the most popular ballads of its time. Most of the primary melodic tones in the well-known melody (of the chorus) are undermined rather curiously by Raksin's strikingly unusual accompaniment, which harmonizes them with a fundamental bass a ninth lower. This talk will attempt to grapple with the perplexing question: are these ninth chords stable, in the sense of Kirnberger's essential dissonances, or are these seemingly strong melodic tones actually unresolved dissonances, displacing the "true" melodic tones that never appear?
       After outlining a brief history of the ninth chord as both real (essential) and supposed (non-essential), I will propose two very different Schenkerian readings: one that (somewhat liberally) recognizes such dissonant Stufen, and one that does not. Both of these readings will be explained in some detail and the second, in particular, will inform a hermeneutic interpretation of the work both as a popular song (with Johnny Mercer's lyrics) and in its cinematic context.


Ligeti & Messiaen

Saturday, 20 May, 9:00-10:30

"Tone-color, movement, changing harmonic planes;" Cognitive Constraints and Listening to Modernism

Amy Bauer
West Chester University

       György Ligeti discussed his "micropolyphonic" music of the mid-1960s at length, in an attempt to explain why its composed structure seems to bear no relation to its actual sound. On the surface his comments support those of the philosopher Roger Scruton and the theorist Fred Lehrdahl, both of who maintain that effective listening strategies rely on the perception of hierarchy in musical structure.
       The real question posed by Scruton and Lehrdahl is whether a modernist music of consequence is possible. Without discounting cognitive research, I question that an "order that can be heard" must serve as a paradigm for listening to music. Using the example of Ligeti's micropolyphonic music and recent research on cognitive metaphor, I will argue that to "hear the sounds as music" is never restricted to parsing a work's concrete, self-referential details, but relies on the necessary mediation of metaphor. Ligeti's music and its accompanying commentary suggest that modernist music itself might serve as a metaphoric solution to the problem of "listening to modernism." To quote Jean-Claude Risset, his music is "about composing the sound itself, not merely composing with sounds," a sophisticated critique of modernism, and of the presumptions-both cognitive and historical-that would limit our musical perception.

Mental Models of Gradual Transformations in Music

Clifton Callendar
The Unversity of Chicago

       One of the most important developments in compositional technique in the last forty years is the use of formal designs based on gradual musical transformations operating over long passages of time, a technique employed in works by György Ligeti, Tristan Murail, Kaija Saariaho, John Adams, and Arvo Pärt among others. An attempt to provide a perceptual account of repertoires in which gradual transformations feature prominently poses two basic questions. First, since the ability to parse music into small perceptual units, or groups, is central to most work in the perception of form, how does one establish groups without clear boundaries for segmentation? Second, how might one represent groups of a duration which exceed that of working memory? Drawing on Irène Deliège's work in cue abstraction, as well as recent work in categorization and dynamic mental models, this paper proposes that mental representations of gradual transformations consist of one or more basic musical categories referring to regions of music, which may or may not exhibit clear demarcations, and procedural knowledge concerning the manipulation of these categories over time. Analytical insights informed by this approach are drawn from the opening section of John Adams' Shaker Loops, as well as excerpts from other contemporary repertoires.

Order, Duration, and Time in the Music of Messiaen

Eleanor Trawick
Ball State University

       Order, duration, and time are important elements in Olivier Messiaen's music, particularly in his highly organized works from the 1950s. During this period, Messiaen experimented with constructing rhythms by means of a systematized permutation of a small number of note values, with recursive rhythmic ostinati, with formal designs involving repetition and reordering of segments and--by means of these techniques--with different conceptions of musical time.
       Even in serial works such as the Livre d'orgue (1951), Messiaen rarely employs inversion, and still less transposition. Instead, in the domains of both pitch-class and duration, he is more concerned with permutational techniques that are independent of interval content, favoring retrograde and various forms of interversion. This paper focuses in particular on Messiaen's concept of interversion: the composer often uses the term for a type of chiasmic retrograde, in which a series of, say, twelve elements would be reordered to 11, 0, 10, 1, 9 . . . But he uses the same term more generally for any sort of systematic permutation, such as when he systematically cycles through the n! possible orderings of a set of cardinality n. In all of his uses of interversion, Messiaen can be seen to be concerned about maintaining invariant relations and, more generally, with maintaining the identity of his collections even under different sorts of permutation.        Many of the same processes that govern the reordering of notes or durations at the local level also operate over the span of entire sections or entire Messiaen compositions. Here, too, a systematic interversion of repeated elements can be shown to generate the forms of pieces during this period.
       Messiaen's preoccupation with time operates on two levels within his music. On the one hand, his emphasis on manipulating durations, permuting their order, and creating rhythmic ostinati out of them shows a composer's traditional concern with developing material and building a musical structure forward in time from an initial motive. On the other hand, from a listener's perspective the music often seems more static and meditative than forward-moving and developmental. Messiaen's music challenges the listener and the analyst to think of rhythm and musical time in a new way, as a dimension that can be cyclical and recursive rather than merely unidirectional.


Rhythm & Romanticism

Saturday, 20 May, 10:45-11:45

Pegasus Unbridled: Riemann Theory of Rests: Beethoven's Op. 7

Brad Hunnicut
University of Wisconsin

        Hugo Riemann's theory of rests, though not widely known, offers provocative insights for theorists and performers. This theory essentially states that notated rests within musical motives do not represent zero values but rather negative values. As a theoretical result, dynamic energy may continue to intensify during such rests (contrary, perhaps, to the acoustic facts).
        Riemann's analysis of the opening theme of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 7 indicates motivic groupings that encompass long rests. To realize this theme's full expressive potential, says Riemann, "we must not allow the Pegasus of our imagination to shrink back from every rest." (Within German Romanticism, the winged-horse Pegasus symbolizes the spirit of poetry.) Riemann underscores these rests with crescendo wedges. Calling for an interpretation outside the realm of physical possibility, these wedges summon performer and listener to a transcendent, ideal musical world.
        This paper will examine Riemann's analysis of Beethoven's Op. 7 against the backdrop of Hegelian phenomenology that informs his analytical perspective. Its potential musical rewards will be weighed against the feats of imagination we as listeners are asked to perform.

Prestidigitation: Nietzsche's Tempo in Wagnerian Opera

Jill T. Brasky
University of Wisconsin

       Friedrich Nietzsche's carefully worded Beyond Good and Evil is renowned for its artistic and aesthetic vision. That this vision often appeals to specific musical terminology at the crux of its arguments as a way of accentuating its thesis has been somewhat overlooked within music scholarship. Perhaps most striking is this essay's consistent employment of tempo as a method of differentiating the German artistic venture from that of the rest of contemporary Europe. The first half of my paper examines this development through close (and critical) readings of excerpts from Nietzsche's 1882 essay, and takes into account that such allegations are intimately connected with nationalistic or ideological claims-claims which are often distasteful to modern sensibilities, despite their necessary recognition by today's most prominent Nietzsche scholars. The second half of the paper explores the possible resonance of these claims within the music of Nietzsche's sometime friend, Richard Wagner. Act two scene two of Tristan und Isolde serves as a model for the tracing of these philosophical constellations, and aims to provide an alternative method of approaching Wagnerian opera.


Early Music

Saturday, 20 May, 10:45-11:45

Structure in Renaissance Melody: Applications from Contour Theory

Ralph Lorenz
Kent State University

       Melody in sacred vocal music of the Renaissance has long been noted for its arch-like contours and overall beauty of shape. Reese characterizes the "Palestrina curve" as "a gradual rise in the melodic line followed by a fall that balances it with almost mathematical exactness." This description and others have been of a very general nature; in this paper I use modern analytical tools based on recent developments in contour theory, especially as presented by Morris, Laprade, and Marvin, in order to explore deeper structural aspects that can further explain the essence of Renaissance melody. Tools include Marvin and Laprade's CSIM function, to measure contour similarity, and Morris's contour-reduction algorithm, to facilitate structural reduction of melodies. Morris' algorithm usually requires several stages before the prime contour is attained. Like a Schenkerian middleground reduction, these middle stages can illuminate much about the music. In the cases under study, an overall tonal structure comes to light that emphasizes tonic and dominant functions as our modern view would term these relationships, even superseding the Renaissance system of final and reciting tone. Examples by Palestrina, Josquin, and Lassus are examined with these approaches to reveal other structural aspects of Renaissance melody.

Meter and Dissonance Control in Music Theory Treatises of the Spanish Baroque: 1672-1736

Paul Murphy
University of Texas-El Paso

       There is much to learn about meter and dissonance control in the Spanish Baroque from Reglas generales, the thoroughbass treatise of José de Torres (1670-1738), and from the two previous Spanish treatises from which he draws most extensively: Fragmentos músicos, by Pablo Nassarre (1664-1724) and El porqué de la música, by Andrés Lorente (1624-1703). Music of this transitional period shows, on one hand, certain features of Spain's prima-prattica tradition, such as identification by modal rubrics, cadential organization according to psalm-tone differentiae, and limited use of paraphrased plainchant canti firmi, and on the other, a more cosmopolitan, Baroque conception of harmony and dissonance control, an exploitation of homophonic textures, and a preference for characteristically Baroque accompanimental idioms, most importantly, thoroughbass.
       Although Lorente and Nassarre do not specifically deal with the concept of thoroughbass in their treatises, their discussions of meter and dissonance control are used to great advantage by Torres in Reglas generales (Madrid, 1702, 1736) the first Spanish treatise to present thoroughbass accompaniment at the keyboard according cosmopolitan European practice. For this reason Torres can be viewed as the beneficiary of much of the information presented in Lorente's El porqué de la música (Alcalá de Henares, 1672, 1699) and Nassarre's Fragmentos músicos (Zaragoza, 1683; Madrid, 1700).

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