I have submitted – and am optimistic that it will come to pass – a proposal for a new course. This will be an undergraduate music theory seminar. First topic: 20th century analysis. I recognize this is an involved topic, so I’m trying to think of ways to narrow it slightly.
By way of background, our students get a rudimentary knowledge of atonality and 12-tone music in the second half of Theory IV. I also add a little bit of minimalism into the mix, and the year always ends with an in-class performance of In C.
These are what I’d like you, Gentle Reader, to think about:
(1) Given a seminar for undergraduates, what topics do you think are appropriate? An overview of techniques that would help them with the totality of 20th/21st century music, or paring it down to one to three ideas and working the heck out of them?
(2) The class will meet twice a week for 100 minutes at a time. I am thinking that, say, Tuesday meetings will feature discussion of the readings and Thursday meetings will feature analysis projects. Thoughts?
(3) Any recommended books/articles? I do like Miguel Roig-Francolí’s Understanding Post-Tonal Music, but I will admit to a certain bias: Miguel was and is a faculty member at CCM, and was both on my dissertation committee (and always helpful and appreciated) as well as a colleague for a year.
(4) I remember taking Danny Mathers’s Copland seminar at CCM back in 2000, and the seminar included a performance component (though added after the fact and at the instigation of the students in the seminar). Do you think a seminar such as this would benefit from a performance component?
The local PBS station (which seems to be very good) has been showing the Metropolitan Opera’s most recent production of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Tonight is opera number three, Siegfried.
As most of you music types know, Wagner was a big fan of the Leitmotiv, or motive connected to a person, place, thing or concept. The Ring uses tons of these, but they’re probably used to the fullest in Tristan und Isolde. Like a development section, the interaction of the Leitmotivs with each other show the evolution of the plot and of the characters. Many theorists and musicologists have charted these motives; I encourage the reader to seek out some analyses.
Although I might live to regret mentioning this in case any potential employers find the blog, there is an area of music theory in which I have not had much teaching experience.
I haven’t taught aural skills/musicianship in a while, and I’m rusty.
What is the pedagogical purpose of musicianship/aural skills? We require aural skills because – and this is not meant to be sarcastic or obvious – it makes a musician better. The ability to sing a melody at sight will improve performance accuracy. The ability to internally hear intervals, chords and progressions will improve analysis, which in turn will lead to a performance that is a better reflection of the composer’s intent.* A musician needs to hear a piece internally before he or she plays/sings it.
What is the proper balance of theory/analysis and aural skills? Whoever unties that particular Gordian knot is going to be the King/Queen of All Theory Pedagogues. Even though I don’t officially teach the Aural Skills classes at my current institution, I do incorporate hearing and singing intervals/chords/bass lines into my theory classes as well as a small keyboard component. Music is, after all, an aural art.
Fellow theory teachers – what sorts of materials and techniques do you use in your aural skills classrooms?
Continuing with the theme launched in Tuba-Euphonium Tuesday this week, I decided to make a list of ten books every theorist should read at some point during the MA/MM program (or just before entering). Caveats here: 1. As always, I can’t claim to have read all of them, though at the very least I have read excerpts. 2. This list assumes an undergraduate degree in theory/composition or a solid BA. 3. Some are (or can be considered) textbooks.
And away we go, in no particular order…
1. Heinrich Schenker, Five Graphic Music Analyses
2. David Lewin, Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations
3. Felix Salzer, Structural Hearing
4. Joseph Straus, Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory
5. Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff, A Generative Theory of Tonal Music
6. Allen Forte, The Structure of Atonal Music
7. Grosvenor Cooper and Leonard Meyer, The Rhythmic Structure of Music
8. William Rothstein, Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music
9. William Caplin, Classical Form
10. David Huron, Sweet Anticipation
This list is going to be hopelessly and helplessly incomplete. I have tried to cover tonal music, atonal music, rhythm, form, and even cognition. The tonal materials skew Schenkerian; that’s not intentional, but even if you don’t like Schenker you have to deal with him.
We’ve had some discussions over the past few months about comparing analytical approaches, and he’s doing something interesting. He’s adapted a Quaker Bible study approach to the study and analysis of post-tonal music. It’s a fascinating idea, one to which I am sympathetic; my own research adapts an ecological model of postmodernism to analysis of quotation-laden music, so I can appreciate when a theorist steps outside the norms of structuralism/function-based analyses and develops a new hermeneutic.
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.