I wanted to finally post on Michael Cherlin’s Schoenberg’s Musical Imagination (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Without delving too much into the technical aspects, I will say that it is refreshing to read a work that gives a high-quality, cogent analysis of Schoenberg’s work that doesn’t devolve into mere row-chasing or structuralist pronouncements. (Mike Berry, I know you agree with this idea.)

Cherlin draws upon Bloom and Bergson to explore aspects of Schoenberg’s composition – specifically, Bergson’s theories on time and memory and Bloom’s thoughts on Freud (a companion of Schoenberg in the Zeitgeist, thought they were nothing more than passing acquaintances and Schoenberg considered Freud “too scientific,” according to David Schiff). From these intellectual underpinnings, Cherlin examines row selection and partitioning in Moses und Aron, memory in the String Trio, and the idea of “time shards” (bits of music that “maintain or revert to a regular pulse stream” against ideas that are amorphous rhythmically), and from this examination draws fascinating conclusions about how Schoenberg’s philosophy affected his music.

As I said before, it is refreshing to read analyses that do more than just create matrices and point out row forms. We do students a disservice when we distill Schoenberg’s music to math and leave out the incredible musical and philosophical underpinnings.


This week: What do you play?

Survey time! (And I probably left some brands off!)


I want to apologize to both of my readers for not being consistent with blogging. I really would like to rebuild the blog and have nice consistent posts, but there are a few things that have required my attention lately and prevented me from doing the blogging I would like to be doing.


I just finished a remarkable novel – Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog, as translated by Alison Anderson. Simultaneously postmodern and a manifesto against empty postmodernism, the book examines the lives of Renée, a 50-something concierge at a Parisian apartment building and Paloma, the nearly 13-year-old daughter of one of the tenants. Renée is more intelligent and cultured than the tenants suspect, though she goes to great lengths to hide this. Paloma feels that she can’t handle the ordinariness of her life and decides that on her 13th birthday, she is going to do something drastic. An older Japanese man who moves in to a recently vacated apartment both reaffirms and upends their beliefs about culture and beauty.

Few books go to the heart of the human condition so effectively. It’s not without flaws (Paloma loves the aphorism, and her thoughts are skewed accordingly), but it is absolutely worth reading.


To compensate or not to compensate? That is the question.

Like all brass instruments, the tuba and euphonium have an issue with their lowest notes. Any three-valve B-flat non-transposing instrument will hit its lowest non-pedal note on E (all three valves pushed down). Players and composers wanted extra range, so a fourth valve was added. This valve opens a length of tubing equal to the first and third valve tubes combined. Trombonists have something similar – the F attachment, which is equivalent to putting the slide in sixth position. It’s almost an octave-down key, thanks to the vagaries of the overtone system. For example, E-flat 3 is first valve, and E-flat 2 (one octave lower) is valves 1 and 4.

The problem is that the lower the pitch, the longer the tubing needs to be. At a certain point, notes on the tuba and euphonium are so low that the tubing isn’t long enough. At about D2, you have to finger the note one half-step down from the corresponding fingering up an octave to compensate for the tubing issues. For example, B2 on a euphonium is valves 1, 2 and 3, but pushing 1, 2, 3 and 4 down on a euphonium will generate C2 instead of B1. This means that, in its lowest octaves, the instrument isn’t fully chromatic.

The solution was to create what’s called a compensating system for the horn. In this, whenever the fourth valve is pushed, the airflow is not only redirected through the fourth valve tubing but also through smaller bits of tubing that add the required length to compensate for the half-step issue. This makes the horn fully chromatic over the entire range – but it also adds weight to the horn. Not a lot of weight, but noticeable. The extra metal can also affect the sound somewhat, though a good player can adapt.

Not everyone likes compensating horns, especially if they rarely use the lower register in their playing. Players out there – what is your opinion?