Theory Thursday

For the restarting of Theory Thursday, I thought I’d post my dissertation abstract and one chart from the text. So, here goes:

The problem of analysis of postmodern works has generated many different analytical techniques, most of which concentrate on either structure or meaning. This project is an attempt to create an analytical technique that will examine both structure and meaning. Thus, it attempts to answer the following questions: How does quoting a piece of music change its meaning? How can an analyst compare the same or similar material in disparate contexts? What are the technical, musical and extra-musical markers of certain tropes or ideas? Finally, what methodologies or tools can be used or created to effectively carry out these analyses? This study will culminate with an analysis of quoted materials in the third movement of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia for 8 voices and orchestra (1968 – 69).

Postmodernism is historically viewed through the lens of deconstruction, as explicated by Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and others; this approach promotes the idea of “incredulity toward metanarrative” and usually concentrates instead on technical aspects rather than meaning. This study instead concentrates on Frederic Ferré’s reconstructive model of postmodernism, which has its roots in ecology. In this model, disparate elements of a piece of music – including quotations from other musical works – are examined as if they were life forms and landscapes interacting with each other. This approach allows the analyst to create graphs showing how the life forms from a quoted piece of music alter and are altered by the landscape of the quoting piece.

Chapter 1 is a brief examination of the history of quotation in music, including authoritarian versus anti-authoritarian uses of quotation. In Chapter 2, the project looks at the development of postmodernist thought and compares deconstructionism to reconstructionism. Following that, there is a discussion of postmodernism and quotation in music, and an overview of the literature on discontinuous forms. Chapter 3 gives background on the concept of irony, drawing upon the work of D. C. Muecke, Richard Rorty, Linda Hutcheon and others. Chapter 4 develops the methodology using Ferré’s reconstructive postmodernism as a model and the concept of “timbral space” or “orchestrational space” as a launching point, and Chapter 5 applies this methodology in an analysis of the third movement of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia through formal, motivic and harmonic structure. The final chapter details the conclusions – there are moments of high, medium and low levels of irony in the work, based on the number of parameters (form, motive, harmony) that are altered in the transfer. The graphic analyses present yield many interesting pieces of data about the work, and the methodology can be adjusted to look for other important information in a given piece of music.

Mahler to Berio Transference
Mahler to Berio Transference


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