Reconceiving Structure in Contemporary Music
eBook - ePub

Reconceiving Structure in Contemporary Music

New Tools in Music Theory and Analysis

Judy Lochhead

  1. 180 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Reconceiving Structure in Contemporary Music

New Tools in Music Theory and Analysis

Judy Lochhead

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About This Book

This book studies recent music in the western classical tradition, offering a critique of current analytical/theoretical approaches and proposing alternatives. The critique addresses the present fringe status of recent music sometimes described as crossover, postmodern, post-classical, post-minimalist, etc. and demonstrates that existing descriptive languages and analytical approaches do not provide adequate tools to address this music in positive and productive terms. Existing tools and concepts were developed primarily in the mid-20th century in tandem with the high modernist compositional aesthetic, and they have changed little since then. The aesthetics of music composition, on the other hand, have been in constant transformation. Lochhead proposes new ways to conceive musical works, their structurings of musical experience and time, and the procedures and goals of analytic close reading. These tools define investigative procedures that engage the multiple perspectives of composers, performers, and listeners, and that generate conceptual modes unique to each work. In action, they rebuild a conceptual, methodological, and experiential place for recent music. These new approaches are demonstrated in analyses of four pieces: Kaija Saariaho's Lonh (1996), Sofia Gubaidulina's Second String Quartet (1987), Stacy Garrop's String Quartet no.2, Demons and Angels (2004-05), and Anna Clyne's "Choke" (2004). This book defies the prediction of classical music's death, and will be of interest to scholars and musicians of classical music, and those interested in music theory, musicology, and aural culture.

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Part I

1 “Modern” Music Analysis

The practice of music analysis within professional music studies in North America and Western Europe has become more defined and prominent over the last 60 years, and as a consequence of this changing status, its purposes and goals have been the subject of debate from a variety of perspectives. The expansion of music analysis after 1950 was directly correlated with the move to define it as a self-standing mode of musical inquiry, but all along it proved difficult to separate analysis from considerations of history, epistemology, aesthetics, ideology, and most significantly, its doppelgänger music theory. Typically, analysis is understood as the “empirical” engagement with musical works and theory the underlying conceptual framework for analysis. Their relation is as “chicken-to-egg”: dependent on musical concepts, analysis builds upon theory, but in order to develop concepts, theory needs some sort of empirical engagement with music. And woven into these entanglements of circular causality are issues of historical change, epistemic foundations, aesthetic goals, and ideological alignments that inhabit both music analytical and theoretical endeavors.
Precisely because of these richly textured entanglements, analysis emerged as a self-standing mode of inquiry in Western Europe and North America in the years following the conclusion of World War II. Its definition as self-standing was enacted by a wide variety of interested people—composers, musicologists, performers—and through the publication of several books demarcating its goals, practices, and history, the addition of self-standing analysis classes as part of college curricula, and eventually the founding of a journal and society.1 And like any maturing practice, analysis had its proponents and its detractors who have often engaged in spirited scholarly debate.2
This chapter focuses on how and why analysis emerged as a self-standing practice in the years following the end of World War II until approximately 1970. Within Western Europe and North America, this time period was witness to an intense outpouring of “new” music and writings about it. My primary task here is to demonstrate not only the historical, epistemological, aesthetic, and ideological entanglements that underlay the move toward establishing analysis as an independent mode of musical inquiry but further how these entanglements are woven into the methods and concepts that have been defined as prototypical for such analytical inquiry. This demonstration provides the basis for my larger claim: born of high modernist aesthetic and intellectual norms of mid-twentieth century Europe and North America, music analysis has itself been a “modernist” practice—its intellectual and aesthetics orientations largely unmarked in disciplinary terms. My goal in this chapter is to de-universalize analytical concepts and methods and to demonstrate their implication in an aesthetic project of the past.
My discussion traces a history of writings about analysis, especially in relation to music theory and compositional technique, that helps to establish it as a self-standing practice. In the initial stages of this history, the writings were mostly authored by composers who defined the primary goal of analysis as the elucidation of musical structure. This history demonstrates that the notion of musical structure in these writings carries the marks of on one hand the technical interests of composers and on the other hand the epistemic authority of science.3 In other words, operative notions of musical structure that came to define analytical practice conflate the practical concerns of creation with the speculative concerns of a science-defined notion of theory.


In the aftermath of World War II, a new generation of composers emerged with the goals of creating a “new” music that would extend the general musical trajectories established by composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Olivier Messiaen, Edgard Varèse, and members of the Second Viennese School.4 This generation of post–World War II composers—such as Boulez and Stockhausen in Europe and Babbitt in the United States—was interested in creating a new sound world that transcended the last vestiges of late-nineteenth century Romanticism by conceiving compositional method as a wholly rational and systematic process.5 So, not only did Boulez nail Schoenberg’s coffin shut with a critique of his phrase and formal designs but also Ernst Krenek, distrustful of compositional intuition, observes that composers have preferred “to set up an impersonal mechanism” in order to transcend the ghosts of inspiration (Krenek 1962, 90). And while the impetus toward a new and rational approach to music was primarily compositional, it had ramifications for music analysis and its twin, music theory. In Western Europe and the United States, two similar and simultaneous developments helped to propel an interest in and need for music analysis within the new paradigm for musical composition.
The “Darmstadt Summer Courses”—the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik—were started in 1946 by Wolfgang Steinecke following the conclusion of World War II. Part of the effort to rebuild German culture, the Darmstadt courses brought together composers, performers, and musicologists as both teachers and students.6 The courses paired concerts and seminars, the latter including lectures ranging from more general aesthetic discussions to detailed analyses of particular works that focused on compositional craft or more general music theoretical formulations. Significantly, Theodor Adorno, a strong advocate of the value of music analysis, participated as a critic and composer.7 Several established and emerging composers delivered lectures analyzing particular works or on music theory generally.8 Several of these lectures became legendary for their analytical prowess, theoretical formulations, and aesthetic pronouncements, including those by Boulez, Stockhausen, Ligeti, and Nono.
These analyses not only set standards for a particular type of analytic content and presentation but further sent a strong message that avant-garde composers needed the conceptual and methodological skills both to develop logical systems of structure for their own use and to explain those structuring systems manifest in the music of other composers. The analyses set up a strong correlation between analytic skill and compositional acumen, a correlation Boulez confirms in the conclusion of one of his published Darmstadt lectures on musical technique.
Therefore, let us not underestimate the implications of the studies [of contemporary techniques] we have undertaken; these should not be regarded as a set of recipes, a basis for “manufacture”. I proceeded from the elementary to the most general level in order to stress that this was not a catalogue of more or less useful procedures, but an attempt to construct a coherent system by means of a methodical investigation of the musical world, deducing multiple consequences from a certain number of rational points of departure. I consider that methodical investigation and the search for a coherent system are an indispensable basis for all creation, more so than the actual attainments which are the source or the consequence of this investigation.
(Boulez 1971,142–3; my emphasis)
For Boulez, compositional inspiration must properly spring from both rational study of the “musical world” and the construction of a “coherent system” for structuring that world. In other words, the research paradigm of science serves as the foundation of compositional craft.
While some of the analytical essays delivered at Darmstadt were printed elsewhere, many appeared in Die Reihe, a serial that was published in Germany between 1955 and 1962 and edited by the composers Herbert Eimert and Karlheinz Stockhausen (Eimert and Stockhausen 1955–62).9 With the eventual publication of eight volumes, the journal extended the reach of the Darmstadt Courses, serving as a loudspeaker for the articulation of a new aesthetic. Its articles both addressed broad philosophical issues about the definition and role of music in contemporary society and presented specific analytical and theoretical accounts of work composed yesterday or from the recent past. The list below shows the English subtitles of the volumes and indicates the range of topics addressed: from the music of Anton Webern, to the new compositional medium of electronic music, to issues of compositional craft, and to analyses.10 The articles of Die Reihe were authored mainly by European composers and critics but a few were by Americans.11


Vol. 1 Electronic Music
Vol. 2 Anton Webern
Vol. 3 Musical Craftsmanship
Vol. 4 Young Composers
Vol. 5 Reports—Analyses
Vol. 6 Speech and Music
Vol. 7 Form—Space
Vol. 8 Retrospective
Some of the more well-known essays published in Die Reihe include György Ligeti’s analysis of Pierre Boulez’s Structures 1a in Volume 4 and his “Metamorphoses of Musical Form” in Volume 7; and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s analytical and theoretical discussion of temporal organization in “… how time passes. …” in Volume 3 and his “Music in Space” in Volume 5. And while such analytical studies implied that speculation about the structuring of composed works would positively influence creation of new works in the future, the causal arrow was sometimes reversed. For instance, at the end of his analysis of Debussy’s Jeux, Herbert Eimert writes: “to appreciate Jeux one must be familiar with the resources of present-day compositions” (Eimert 1961, 20). In other words, not only is Debussy’s compositional legacy played out in music of mid-century but further it is the compositional speculations of contemporary composers that allow comprehension of Debussy’s later music.
In the United States the rise of analytic practice had a similar impetus in compositional concerns but the specific political and cultural context in North America effected a somewhat different trajectory for that practice. Two factors are significant to this trajectory. First, because of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (commonly known as the G.I. Bill), which funded college education for returning war veterans, higher education expanded significantly, including the increasing growth and often adoption of musical education in colleges and universities. Second, musicians fleeing the Nazis brought along a whole host of musical traditions and included those who promoted the theories and analytical methods of Heinrich Schenker. While the trajectory unfolded at various places in the United States, events during and immediately after World War II at Princeton University provide a clear and succinct demonstration of the intertwining of analytical and compositional practices.12
The composer Roger Sessions started teaching at Princeton University in 1936 before a music department had been formed.13 Sessions was a noted composition teacher whose pedagogical method included close study of music by important historical and contemporary composers. Over nearly five decades he published numerous articles and four books. Sessions encouraged composers to analyze past and present music because it allowed them “to observe how music is put together by a master craftsman …” (Sessions 1979c, 220). In a 1949 article on the issue of whether composition should be taught at the university, Sessions writes:
On a more specifically scholarly level, also, I believe the composer has [a] contribution to make. For musical theory is, I believe, in a transitional stage: that of catching up with developments in music which in their origins date back for more than a century … and of systematizing the musical syntax, or musical syntaxes, of the present day. The composer, if he is mature and articulate, can make valuable and even decisive contributions in this respect, by his first-hand experience—by the type of understanding that can come only from first-hand experience—of creative musical thought. He knows from constant practice what the experience of composing is like; he knows as well as can be known what processes go into that experience, and in fortunate cases, on the basis of that knowledge is in a position to make illuminating contributions to musical theory and even in some cases to music history. I believe, therefore, that the teaching of composition on the most serious level is one of the vital functions of the university music department. (“The Composer in the University,” Sessions 1979b, 198, my emphasis)
Three of Sessions’s points are central to my argument. First, the “mature and articulate” composer does not simply use a compositional technique but further should be able to systematize musical syntax. Second, the composer’s practical creative knowledge provides invaluable insight into the structuring of musical time. And third, the potential contributions of composers to music theoretical understanding justified compositional instruction at the university.
At Princeton, Sessions played an influential role for two students who in 1942 were among the first to receive the M.F.A. degrees in music at Princeton: Milton Babbitt and Edward T. Cone. The Department of Music was formally established in 1946 and soon thereafter both Milton Babbitt (1948) and Edward Cone (1947) joined its faculty. Following ...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Dedication
  6. Table of Contents
  7. List of Examples, Figures, and Tables
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Introduction
  10. PART I
  11. PART II
  12. Index