Monday, November 30, 2009

Readings with different priorities

The readings in this entry are based on some in the co-authored article "Rewriting Schenker," 60-63, where we construct a series of alternative linear analyses of a short Czerny exercise by employing for each one a markedly different set of priorities. All the readings in this group are consistent with the principle behind the proto-backgrounds and begin to move in a more determined way beyond traditional Schenkerian analysis.

The first (graphic below) gives priority to melodic shape and multiple structures, therefore resists imposing a simple or heavily reduced urlinie type a priori, and ignores most implicit or hidden melodic patterning, draping interpretation instead about the most obvious melodic shapes. This reading, thus, effectively thwarts reduction beyond the phrase by "democratizing" the structural levels - instead of one overarching melodic structure fanning out through a series of prolongations, this is a chain of melodic structures. Such priorities do not prevent the analyst from making summarizing observations, such as noting the parallelism of phrases 2 and 3 (E-A, G#-C#) or the fact that phrases 1-3 rise and only the last falls, or the fact that the rising figures encompasses an octave (C#4-C#5). We are just not allowed to make too much of such observations (by allowing the patterns of the first three phrases to disappear inside the octave, for instance). This "democratizing" highlights the degree to which the synchronic hierarchies of linear analysis can undermine the diachronic.

The motif of rising, whether through arpeggio or line, becomes more obvious in the reading that gives priority to structural "frame" (below), even as we return to a hierarchical bias even more insistent than the traditional Schenkerian ones. The figure we saw in the first strain of the first analysis expands over the entire waltz: overall, an arpeggio from C#5 through E5 to A5, with a line to fill in the fourth. This is an aurally efficient interpretation that does not require fabrication of implicit counterpoint or complex nestings.

Much the same can be said of the next three readings, which substitute for the "frame" metric placement,
a fixed tonal space of the octave (this was already reproduced and discussed in the proto-background ^1-^8 entry),

and registral shape).

Littlefield, Richard, and David Neumeyer. "Rewriting Schenker–History, Ideology, Narrative." In Adam Krims, , ed. Music/Ideology: Resisting the Aesthetic, 138-146. Amsterdam: G + B Arts International, 1998. Originally published in Music Theory Spectrum 14/1 (1992): 38-65.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Schenkerian readings with the space ^5-^8

If the readings from ^8 (presented in yesterday's post) are problematic, still it is certainly true that Schubert puts plainly before our ears the tonal space of the upper fourth, ^5 to ^8, and we might reasonably engage that as a priority in the large-scale design. The first reading built on this basis is a simple rising Urlinie ^5-^6-^7-^8 that trumps Schachter's line from ^3 in simplicity and elegance: not only is the line short but the reading also rests on what we hear readily: "the right hand plays two melodic lines written in free imitation"; furthermore, the upper voice is the lead melody, even if that voice is "generally [less] active" than the alto (Schachter, 70).

We can also appeal to style statistics: although complex compound melodies exist in abundance in the violinistic Ländler repertoire, and certainly find their way into Schubert's waltzes (D145n1 (Ländler), D146n2, D779n26, D779n29, D924n3, and D969n10 are particularly nice examples), a middle-voice main melody is rare in the early waltz repertoire (although we could, I suppose, just declare this to be yet another of the anomalies in the A Major Waltz). In D734n14, for example, "soprano" and "alto" start an octave apart; the role of principal voice is initially contested, but the soprano wins out by bar 3. D779n1 (score reproduced at the bottom of this post) and D779n19 are the only other Schubert waltzes I know in which a really convincing argument can be made for alto-priority.

The alto replicates Schachter's main melodic voice throughout. The soprano also traces a middleground form of the line from ^5 to ^8 in the first strain (not shown). The ^5 is reinstated in the upper voice in the second strain, allowing the final upward-pushing figure ^5-^6-^7 over V, in a replication of the cadence of the first strain.

Although the specific figure Schubert uses here (both ^6 and ^7 over V) seems to have been an innovation of his, play with scale degree ^6 above both I and V was a cliché of the Ländler almost from the beginning and passed into the waltz once its subgenres began to merge in the 1820s.

The other reading focused on the space ^5 to ^8 is decidedly less successful. The symmetrical treatment of the space from ^5 to ^8 takes the strongest elements of the first 8-line reading and replaces its weak ending with the rising line of the first reading above. This version puts before the eye the aurally salient parallel patterns of rising in the first and second strains-the first time through the long initial arpeggiation, the second time through the ascent of the Urlinie to ^8 -- but it suppresses the same figures in the opening of the second strain (once again, however, that could be ascribed to differences of function -- or, here, function in different structural levels). I find the parallelism appealing, but finally prefer the previous reading (^5 rising to ^8) because it puts such emphasis on an unusual stylistic feature of this waltz: its play of counterpoint.

Schachter, Carl. "Rhythm and Linear Analysis: Durational Reduction." Music Forum 5 (1980): 197-232. Reprinted as "Durational Reduction" in Schachter 1999a, 54-78. (Schachter, Carl. Joseph Straus, ed. Unfoldings: Essays in Schenkerian Theory and Analysis. New York/London: Oxford University Press, 1999).

(Score of D779n1 (click the thumbnail for the original image))

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Schenkerian readings from ^8

Continuing the newly revived theme of linear analysis graphs closely hewing to the Schenkerian tradition, here are three potential readings from ^8, none of which is particularly convincing (all would fit Culler's ideas about extravagance and the implausible in (over)interpretation).

The first two are conventional readings. They require an initial arpeggiation across C#4 and E4 to reach ^8 at the end of the first strain; thereafter, each finds its own long path back to ^1. Both begin from G# (now acting as ^7) in the second strain.

The first reading finds a path through F#, as 7 in C#:V7, and so reaches the register of ^5 and descends as in the five-line readings. This requires the "mixture" voice leading to work.

The second eight-line reading preserves Schachter's G# passing between A and F#, but then the descent occurs very late--we are left to imagine a rush downward over two bars of V7; this ^4-^3-^2 is a Leerlauf, though this one sounds less like an "unsupported stretch" than like a free fall. Overall, both of these readings exaggerate the weaknesses of the reading from ^5. The only Schenkerian who might choose such lines would be a contrarian who hears a determined passage of lines through the waltz's net of cover tones.

Nevertheless, the third reading is obviously the most contrived. This Mixolydian reading rewrites the already weak octave-line to replace ^7 with ^7-natural, the motivation being that the G-natural constitutes the only truly dramatic, unexpected moment in this waltz. That a Mixolydian modal scale exists to accommodate the G-natural helps, even though such modal scales scarcely exist in the musics of this period (and certainly not in music for social dancing!).

For this reading we take an expressive, marked moment, rather as Edward T. Cone does with his promissory note in Schubert's Moment musical in Ab or Schachter with his F#/Gb in Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, but go beyond either of these authors by elevating the distinctive pitch to the status of a member of the urlinie; that is, the reading imposes a belief that such a note should not merely point to the background, it should be the background. In this case, however, the G-natural lacks any further consequences (unless you believe that the A Major Waltz was meant to act as a trio to the previous waltz in D major, in which case there certainly are consequences, for the earlier waltz foregrounds a juxtaposition of a G-natural neighbor note in the upper voice with a G# in an inner voice).

Cone, Edward T. "Schubert's Promissory Note." Nineteenth Century Music 5/3 (1982): 233-241. Reprinted in Walter Frisch, ed., Schubert: Critical and Analytical Studies, pp. 13-30. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.
Schachter, Carl. "Triad as Place and Action." Music Theory Spectrum 17/2 (1995): 149-169. Reprinted in Schachter, Unfoldings, 161-183.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Schenkerian readings from ^5

With this post, I pick up the theme of traditional Schenkerian readings again. For comment on what I call the "canonical" reading from ^3, see this entry and my review article on Lerdahl's Tonal Pitch Space, 221-223.

The simplicity and elegance of a reading from ^3 are nearly duplicated by a reading from ^5, which simply flips the priority of voices in the first strain and in the C#-major section of the second strain: E5 is the principal melodic tone and C#5 heads an alto voice. One would choose this reading if one was persuaded that, pace Carl Schachter's claim about relative levels of activity, traditional priority to the top-most voice is maintained in this waltz (Schachter: "The right hand plays two melodic lines written in free imitation. The lower of these lines (starting on [C#5] in bar 2) carries the main melodic motion and is, in general, more active than the upper one. The upper line, therefore, functions as a secondary part" (70).)

A stronger sense of polyphony also is preserved in a reading from ^5, as the upper voice may have priority but the music is still driven forward by the suspensions in the alto. The all-too-prominent ascent from ^5 to ^8 at the end of the first strain is explained as a fourth-line to the cover tone A5.

The only difficulty with this reading is the Urlinie descent: ^4 is assumed in the only place it can be-over the ii harmony-and ^3 follows over the cadential 6/4. This is not just an extrapolation from the chords involved: the move ^4-^3 is in the voice leading, as the left-hand afterbeats of measures 31-34. Still, it is not reassuring when we are obliged to abandon the salient right-hand voices to derive Urlinie notes from the accompaniment. In the meantime, the last recurrences of E5 are reminiscences of ^5, now as cover tones, with an ornamental but inconsequential line to ^8 at the end.

The reversal of function for ^3 and ^5 from beginning to ending phrases is not necessarily a weakness: such changes in function due to context occur so routinely as to be expected in Schenkerian analysis. But one might complain that the distinctive A7 chord in measures 29-30 is not given its due in either of the readings so far. The graphic below shows what happens when one elevates this chord to a necessary part of the voice leading. First heard as a faintly mysterious German sixth chord (see the lower staff), the A7 pulls E# down to E-natural, creating what can be heard abstractly as mixture: E5-E#5-E5.I am using the term "mixture" loosely here to refer to all chromatic mediant relations. Schenker restricts the term to alteration of the third in the initial chord (here that alteration would be C#-C-natural-C#).

The weakness of this reading is that it exaggerates the awkward way in which the Urlinie from ^5 cuts across the voice leading in the transition from the C# section to the final phrase. The chord progression is not incorrect-it is certainly possible to write E5-E#5-E5-D5-C#5 supported by I-III#-"I"-ii6-"I6/4"-but I would insist on it only if I decided that the idea of mixture was fundamental to this waltz (not an implausible notion given the alignment of form sections with the mixture elements) and that the boundary play of the right-hand line was too prominent to ignore (to demote to the status of ornament).

There is a way to have salience both in the principal melodic voice and in the transitional measures, but to achieve this feat we must be willing to sacrifice something else: the notion that a piece must end with a specific, predictable tonal formula that includes melodic arrival on ^1. In the next graphic, I have maintained ^5 as background tone but have reinstated Schachter's reading of the transition. However, once we reach F#, there is time only to descend to ^3. This can be justified by a stylistic argument: I have noticed a number of cadence formulas in waltzes that suggest incomplete endings, especially on ^3, but occasionally on ^5.

Thus, in this repertoire it may be quite enough when all features of the music other than an abstract melodic frame signal "end" clearly. To insist otherwise seems not only counter-intuitive but unmusical. In other words, I am asking you to accept the idea that style information can override even one of Schenker's most fundamental claims, that a piece is only "complete" if its Urlinie descends diatonically stepwise to ^1. Pragmatically, incomplete lines make chaining waltzes easier; affectively, they promote the same sense of sentiment, nostalgia, and the ineffable as the Romantic "fragment." (See also the Play of Thirds entry.)

All three readings from ^5 may be said to express the "everyday" belief in the priority to the traditional uppermost line in homophonic textures. On that basis, I find this last version the most satisfactory.

Neumeyer, David. "Description and Interpretation: Fred Lerdahl's Tonal Pitch Space and Linear Analysis," review-article, Music Analysis 25/1-2 (2006): 201-30.
Schachter, Carl. "Rhythm and Linear Analysis: Durational Reduction." Music Forum< 5 (1980): 197-232. Reprinted as "Durational Reduction" in Schachter 1999a, 54-78. (Schachter, Carl. Joseph Straus, ed. Unfoldings: Essays in Schenkerian Theory and Analysis. New York/London: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Schenkerian hermeneutics, part 2

Yesterday I wrote the introduction for a reading in the mode of Schenkerian hermeneutics, using as a model an article by Frank Samarotto. Here is the final paragraph again:
The parallel to D779n13 should be unmistakable: we just replace ^#4 with ^#5 (that is, E#) and the same process of chromatic progression and "rethinking" or "sublimation" takes place in the second strain as E5 becomes E#5 but then is pulled back to E-natural5 for the reprise. I will explore the details of a reading based on this idea in tomorrow's post.
I will use the proto-background ^3-^5 as the framework. Any of the four readings with ^5 would be workable, but, among all the proto-backgrounds, ^3-^5 is the one I prefer here, in part because (as I wrote in the comparison post) the strongly teleological readings seem out of sync with a waltz whose sections move unpredictably, and the analyses that isolate either ^3 or ^5 (or ignore them, as in the unison ^1 and octave) are much harder to hear than the one that combines ^3 and ^5 (soprano and alto, male and female dancers).

The inflection of ^5 is deeply embedded in the design, as if, in thematic terms, the rising motion is what this waltz is about, an increasing exhilaration in the dancing couple as the waltzing turns continue. Even if he wasn't a dancer, Schubert would have known from the experience and comments of his friends that, because of a basic difference in center of gravity, women in general find it much more pleasurable to turn and spin than do men -- in this portrait of dancing, then, the upper voice expresses the exhilaration, not the lower. The action is shown in the small, as well, in the later-level N
and in the immediate, as, at the beginning, E5 barely sounds before it pushes upward to F#5 and then to A5:

After all these hints (or preliminary attempts), it is hardly a surprise when the soprano pushes (completes the middleground turn?) up to A5 in the cadence.

There is thus a definite kinship -- a shared impulse -- between the E# of the background, the rising cadential gesture of the middleground, and the neighbor note of the foreground.

It is a curiosity that ^#4 or D# never appears in D779n13 as an inflection of ^4 -- instead, D# is ^2 in C# minor/major. The role of distinctive chromatic note is thus all the more clearly thrown onto ^#5 in the second strain -- but that note has a decided inner conflict: in the immediate, it is stable and F#5 is the neighbor, the dominant seventh that must resolve to it, but in the background, E# would move further upward, to that same F# as tonic to E#'s leading tone. The moment of sublimation comes in the transition, where the E#-G# pair that are the C#-major equivalents of C#-E begin to move, not up, but down in a chain of parallel tenths (see graphic below), thus imitating the determined descent of the suspension chain in the first strain. This motion would seem quickly to cancel out E#, but the E-natural belongs to a very unstable chord. Eventually the tenths arrive at C#-E as the reprise comes into focus. But in the meantime the soprano has gone out of the voice leading altogether as the ascending fourths pile up and F#6 is reached; the soprano even reaches again for a high A -- see the text at the top of the graphic. Here is that same transcendent voice, reaching up and out of the harmony, that Lewin describes.
The sublimation, then, is a complicated process here. In the background, exhilaration/ecstasy gives way in the end to the form of the dance. In the immediate, however, the soprano holds to that feeling (or its memory) and floats free of the voice leading for a moment. And in the middleground, Schubert has accomplished something that would take a whole generation of French opera composers after him to manage by force of sheer repetition: make the rising gesture in the waltz's final cadence seem quite conventional, the most natural thing in the world.

Frank Samarotto. "Sublimating Sharp ^4: An Exercise in Schenkerian Energetics." Music Theory Online 10/3 (September 2004): link.
Lewin, David. "Women's Voices and the Fundamental Bass." In Studies in Music with Text, 267-281. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Schenkerian hermeneutics and the proto-background

The rise of Schenkerian hermeneutics was a direct response to criticisms by, principally, Joseph Kerman and Lawrence Kramer in the 1980s and early 1990s. The cluster formalism/criticism, analysis/interpretation (aka hermeneutics), modernist/postmodern (or, less plausibly, structuralist/post-structuralist -- or, minimally plausible, aestheticist/ideological), has been well rehearsed in the literature since, and the employment of the mechanics of analysis to the end of illuminating meaning has become the preferred mode in publication. An impassioned defense of Schenkerian analysis on these terms may be found in Peter H. Smith's study of Brahms, Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 60.

Kerman obviously wasn't aware of the two strands of thinking about Schenkerian analysis at the time, as he not only bundles Babbitt and Forte together but in so doing grossly misrepresents the theoretical-analytical literature of the 1960s and 1970s. In any case, it is unlikely that either he or Kramer would have sympathized with the attitude of the composer-theorist characteristic of Princeton-based or trained authors, who were trying to make sense of (rationalize) Schenker and so grasp the essence of historical repertoires in light of contemporary compositional priorities (see Dembski). The clearest and most effective document in this line is Peter Westergaard's textbook-qua-treatise on tonal theory. By contrast, what we might call the New York/Yale axis was interested in embedding Schenkerian analysis in musicological accounts of historical musics (and of course in altering those narratives as well). One might point to any number of documents that sought to realize this goal, but to my mind still the most beautiful instantiation is Allen Forte's article on the early songs of Schoenberg.

In this blog post, I will construct a hermeneutical reading of D779n13 using the proto-background that I announced as my preference yesterday: ^3-^5. To make the work as clear as possible (and because the hermeneutic mode is not one I find instinctively congenial), I will use as a model an article by Frank Samarotto that is readily accessible online (see the link in References below).
The raised fourth scale degree can represent a powerful, even visceral impulse towards the dominant; once introduced, its course of harmonic resolution appears inevitable. Nonetheless, there are instances when a piece seems to rethink this impulse, and to restrain it by reverting sharp four to its natural state, resulting in what can be characterized as a kind of "sublimation." (abstract)
Samarotto draws on "energetics," in its historical description by Lee Rothfarb, to justify the hermeneutic mode, to speak of a "drama of musical forces," an "'empathetic aural experience' [that treats] music as metaphorically rich," and that "allows us to interpret the activities of those tones as meaningful, even intentional" [¶ 2]. As it turns out, however, energetics is little more than window dressing -- nothing in Samarotto's analyses or discussion could not also be found in Schachter or Schenker himself -- and in that sense the article does a disservice to the historical understanding that Rothfarb so carefully explicates.

That shortcoming, however, will not interfere with our modeling a reading on the analyses. Samarotto provides several examples in two groups: (preliminary examples) Mozart, Piano Sonata in B-flat major, K. 333, I; Beethoven, "Eroica theme" in the finale of the ballet music from the Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43; [J. S. Bach], Aria, "Bist du bei mir," BWV 508, attributed to Gottfried Stölzel; Bach, St. Matthew Passion, "Mache dich, mein Herze rein"; (main examples) Debussy's first Arabesque; Brahms, String Quintet, Op. 111, III.

The first two examples confirm that ^#4, like all significant chromatic notes, is expressive in and of itself; it has "narrative" or "dramatic" implications and, since it is single -- a distinct individual, as it were -- it is easy to ascribe agency to it (a "will" to rise to ^5). The other readings are concerned with the unexpected undermining of that characteristic motion. The ^#4, by convention, is expected to continue to ^5 and, if a significant pitch, very probably to initiate a stable area of the dominant key as well. Samarotto uses the examples to show different ways in which a turn back to the tonic region can achieve what he calls a sublimation of ^#4 in the diatonic ^4, where the diatonic redirects the energy of the chromatic note (almost in the manner of a low-level "breakthrough") or else dissipates it.

The parallel to D779n13 should be unmistakable: we just replace ^#4 with ^#5 (that is, E#) and the same process of chromatic progression and "rethinking" or "sublimation" takes place in the second strain as E5 becomes E#5 but then is pulled back to E-natural5 for the reprise. I will explore the details of a reading based on this idea in tomorrow's post.

Peter H. Smith. Expressive Forms in Brahms's Instrumental Music: Structure and Meaning in His Werther Quartet. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.
Stephen Dembski. "The Structure of Construction." in theory only 13/5-8 (2007): 17-34.
Peter Westergaard. An Introduction to Tonal Theory. New York: W. W. Norton, 1975.
Allen Forte. "Schoenberg's Creative Evolution: The Path to Atonality." Musical Quarterly 64/2 (1978): 133-176.
Frank Samarotto. "Sublimating Sharp ^4: An Exercise in Schenkerian Energetics." Music Theory Online 10/3 (September 2004): link.
Lee Rothfarb. "Energetics," in The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, ed. Thomas Christensen, 927-55. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Proto-backgrounds (comparison and evaluation)

Over the past month, and one at a time, I have presented readings based on the nine proto-backgrounds. (Refer again to the introductory post; clicking on the label "proto-background" in the sidebar will bring up all the entries in a single window.) In many of the individual entries, comments offer preliminary assessments. This post compares all the readings, which seem to form two (non-exclusive) groups: (1) teleological (or end-oriented), (2) focused on one or both of the principal right-hand melody notes and yielding N or LINE-derived backgrounds.

^1-^1, ^1-^8. Of the first version, the unison ^1, I wrote that "Given the alto's strong focus on ^3 and the soprano's equally dogged emphasis on ^5, a reading generated from ^1 might seem counter-intuitive, but it [effectively conveys] the teleology in the 8-bar antecedent." The unison and octave (^1-^8) readings are very closely related, the main difference being the level to which the octave A4-A5 in bar 9 is assigned (whether proto-background or "background"). My assessment was that I "prefer [the octave] version, if only because it takes the teleological bias (which will be a factor in any analysis of this waltz involving ^1) and pushes it to the max, making for a more consistent interpretation overall." Both readings do a good job of aligning formal design and pitch elements at comparable levels.

^3-^8, ^1-^5. The reading from ^3-^8 takes this further, as "the prominent sixth of the closing cadence [that it represents] is unavoidable; . . . the most sharply teleological of the nine, [this hearing of the waltz requires that] everything must be read 'backwards' from the voicing of the final right-hand chord." By contrast, the end-orientation of the ^1-^5 hearing is limited to phrase level, where ^5 shows up immediately but ^1 only arrives at the end.

^3-^3, ^1-^3, and ^5-^5. Like the unison and octave readings, the unison ^3 and ^1-^3 are closely related: "unison ^3 focuses attention on the alto voice but differs from ^1-^3 in delegating its repeated linear path to later levels." Thus the third level ("first middleground") of the unison reading highlights INV transformations, but the same level in the ^1-^3 analysis features layered lines. At the same time, ^3-^3 and ^5-^5 are related in that each forces intense focus on one of the two right-hand melodic notes throughout. Both align very cleanly with the large units of the formal design, but the ^5-^5 hearing is more dramatic in the chromatic shift of its primary tone (rather than a secondary voice) for the C# major section and therefore offers a very direct expression of the most distinctive feature of this waltz.

^3-^5, ^5-^8. This is the odd couple, in that I characterized the former as the most obvious, one might say "natural," hearing, but the latter as a misreading.

As to which of the nine readings is the "correct" one -- or even which of them I favor -- I will first refer the reader to the MTS article's discussion of Lewin's assessment of four Schenkerian readings of a Schumann song and his ultimate choice among them. Like Lewin, I will say that all of the nine analyses of D779n13 are possible in the sense that they are coherent on their own terms and I can -- sometimes with a little effort -- hear the waltz as each interprets it. Finally, though, I would choose ^3-^5: the strongly teleological readings seem out of sync with a waltz whose sections move unpredictably. The immediacy of the suspension chain does drive forward at phrase-level, but the C# major section even breaks that up (note that there is only one suspension in each unit, not a chain). Similarly, the analyses that isolate either ^3 or ^5 (or ignore them, as in the unison ^1 and octave) are much harder to hear than the one that combines ^3 and ^5 (soprano and alto, male and female dancers).


"Any background analysis does crucial work in specifying just what some metastable hearing of the piece is" (Lewin, 167). Analysis using the proto-backgrounds as initial structures for generative hierarchies is highly dependent on the choice of the initial or highest-level figure. Such figures are what Lewin calls "metastable": not universals but acting pragmatically as if they were for the sake of the work of analysis or interpretation (see discussion in my MTS article). As I have noted in earlier posts and in web essays, they are, in fact, identical in function to the themes that a reader engenders to gather and guide reading and interpretation of a poem, story, play, or other text. For examples of themes in the analysis of literary works, see Rebecca and Genre Clerk. [this paragraph is quoted and edited from the web essay Blac Danse]

Neumeyer, David. 2009. "Thematic Reading, Proto-backgrounds, and Transformations." Music Theory Spectrum 31/2: 284-324.
Lewin, David. Studies in Music with Text. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Proto-background 9: the fourth ^5-^8

Also see the proto-background introduction.

The last of the proto-backgrounds implausibly demotes the alto voice and gives all the attention to the overall shape of the uppermost voice. Although some interesting insights emerge from this focus on the fourth, still the reading overall seems forced, a deliberate misreading.

Schubert uses the ^5-^6-^7 Leerlauf most blatantly to end the first waltz of the Valses nobles. It can also be found in the first strain cadence of D783n16, and, in more elaborate form, in D734n1, in D924n7, and in the last of theValses sentimentales.

In the graphic below, the second level shows other figures in addition to the basic opposed neighbors, E-E#-E, A-G#-A; these could, alternatively, be described as a WEDGE.

In this version, the second staff shows simple registral shifts generating later-level INV transformations, plus the transposition of E5-A5 to generate the C# major section. The third staff elaborates all of these intervals by means of lines.

This conception of the piece traces the interval/line relationship more abstractly, as a series of Transpositions in the first staff, to which the countermanding (and insinuating) line is added. This latter, nevertheless, traces the same fourth down (A-G#-Gnat-F#-E), and in the end notes also reaches a vertical interval of that fourth again.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Proto-background 8: the sixth ^3-^8

Also see the proto-background introduction.

The sixth ^3-^8 often seems more comfortably regarded as a transformation of ^1-^3 through INVersion or ADDINV (in the first case, the sixth replaces the third; in the second case, the sixth is added onto the third).

In D779n13, however, the prominent sixth ^3-^8 of the closing cadence is unavoidable; it generates a foil to the previous reading's static ^3-^5: the new reading is the most sharply teleological of the nine, as everything must be read "backwards" from the voicing of the final right-hand chord.

In the graphic below, the proto-background is at the top. The second level shows the distribution of the pitches over the form (A5 appears at the end of the first strain), along with the first elaboration by means of neighbor notes (as N-1 in both voices). The third level shows the origins of the C# major section in a temporally displaced (and registrally elaborated) INV transformation. The material below the third level shows later iterations of the same kind of registral play with the basic pitch classes.

For other examples of the ^3-^8 proto-background, see my web essays on Beethoven WoO10n2, where ^3-^8, curiously, plays the anti-teleological role among the several readings; and Beethoven WoO10n1, in which registral shifts upward elaborate a neighbor-note pair (no commentary).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Play of thirds

In the reading with a proto-background ^3-^5, I emphasized the static, or radically anti-teleological, character of a hearing that takes hold of that very prominent first interval and never lets go of it. In this post, I try to mitigate that effect by posing a progression from ^3-^5 at the beginning to ^1-^3 at the end -- in other words, an interplay of the upper third with the lower third of the triad.

In one take on this, it is possible to speak of a play of (diatonic) symmetries about ^3-^5; in the other, a line that descends from the opening background third to the lower, closing third pushes the reading very close to a traditional Schenkerian analysis, albeit with a structural alto and an incomplete line.

The upper third is firmly placed in both right and left hand parts at the beginning (see circled notes below). When the topmost part takes the turning eighth notes, it sets them above that upper third (as F#5-A5); then the alto voice sets them below (as A4-C#5, not the strictly symmetrical G#4-B4). The upper third is reinstated for the second phrase but both thirds are present in the cadence. The upper third controls the whole of the C# major section, but the repetition of the cadence at the end of the reprise seems to give the last word to the lower third, and the progression is nicely echoed in the left hand's final quarter notes: C#4-E4- (rep) - A3-C#4.
Another way to look at it is in terms of a harmonic progression supporting voice leading, as in the graphic below.

A foreground representation (below) shows that, once collapsed into the narrowest voice leading patterns, the music hardly moves except to traverse the third-space.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Waltz-song recomposition

This is a continuation of yesterday's post on embodied shapes and schemata. If, as I wrote there, the persistent counterpoint of soprano and alto in this zärtliche Walzer is an astonishing evocation of the physicality of the standard waltz step, then we should feel comfortable representing this "sweet dancing" by means of text, as well.

Schubert as painter and poet of love is the effect that I have put into a song version of the A-major waltz (see graphic at the end of this post; first phrase only). Waltz-songs, especially for chorus, were common by mid-century (Brahms's two sets of Liebeslieder Walzer are obvious examples; but the Blue Danube is prominent among concert waltzes to which texts were also set and publicly performed). Schubert may be said to have anticipated that practice with a waltz perfectly suited to song.

Oddly enough, all this suggests a step away from the physicality of the dance – a portrait or a remembrance of the dance, not the dance. This distancing comes about because of the A-major waltz's metric peculiarities; now it seems like a pause in the dance, isolated yet again from the dances that surround it in D779.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More on music-literal and schemata, after Guck, Saslaw

This entry provides more information about Marion Guck's "music-literal" analysis mode, along with Janna Saslaw's comments connecting Guck's arch shape with image schemata. The post is an extended postscript to the earlier one that matches notions of movement in dancing to shapes in listening: Low/high pairs.

Much has been written over the past two decades about metaphor, cognition, and language. As Marion Guck has shown, controlling metaphors and metaphorical language play a role even in apparently objective descriptive accounts of music ("Analytical Fictions"); in another place, she uses metaphor as a way to build such analytical accounts ("Two Types"). For Chopin's Prelude in B Minor, op. 28 no. 6, she compiled student reactions to hearing the piece, with and without score. These "eventually suggested to me a detailed analysis," summarized as follows: "I imagine the prelude as two-measure arching melodies nested within phrase-length arches in turn nested within a single prelude-long arch. The relatively literal spatial notion of melodic arch leads me on to the movements of arching gestures and then, beyond those, to the rise and fall of mood and to a narrative curve" (204).

Thus, the analysis assumes a loosely hierarchical model: the direct, aurally palpable two-measure arches of melody are "music-literal," the phrase-length arches are figurative (they "do not form a continuous line but rather generalize a directional emphasis" [206] and therefore "the conversion [from arch image to increase and decrease of tension] superimposes a metaphorical reinterpretation on the music-literal, and the resulting description is more deeply metaphoric" [207]), and the "single prelude-long arch" ties both "literal" and figurative to movement and mood, "incorporating all in a depiction of human (inter-)actions: the piece's arch is a narrative curve" (207; her emphasis).

How exactly we move from spatial metaphors to "human (inter-)actions"–and just what its "narrative" might be–is not clear, but that uncertainty is no obstacle to our application of a theme/thesis analysis in Guck's article: the theme may be stated as "direct aural experience [the "music-literal"] can be tied to abstract levels of apprehending music by means of layered (nested) metaphors"; the thesis is directly stated at the end of the article, as if in form of a moral: analysis by metaphor "facilitate[s] an endlessly closer, more profound hearing of each musical work" (212).

Guck begins her discussion by saying that spatial images are "so pervasively and deeply embedded in the language of musical discourse . . . [that] we must speak in spatial terms" (201). Commenting on this work, Janna Saslaw says that Guck "gets very close to the idea of embodiment when she discusses body sensations associated with [the] arch metaphor" in the Chopin Prelude ("Forces" 238n9), as when she compares an "arch's line" (it "ascends, focuses, and curves") to the movement of "the arm that threw the ball" (an image already familiar from Cone (26-28)):

To hear arching movement, one most likely recalls, subliminally, memories that incorporate the fine, continuous adjustments in muscle tensions needed to produce the smooth gesture: the initial impetus that increasingly opposes gravity as the arm rises, stretching to the point of fullest extension, then decreasing tension as the arm yields to gravity. In the [arch] gesture, rise and fall are also converted into increase and decrease of effort and tension. . . . The conversion superimposes a metaphorical reinterpretation on the music-literal, and the resulting description is more deeply metaphoric. ("Forces" 206-207)

Here the metaphoric seems to be equated with the abstract. For Saslaw, following Lakoff and Johnson, body metaphors underly the image schemas that permeate all language, including conceptual language: "image schemas are based on direct experience of a kinesthetic nature," and they "operate at a very basic level of cognitive organization, a level that Johnson has called 'preconceptual'" ("Forces" 218). Saslaw sorts a list of these

kinesthetic image schemas. . . . into two types. First are those that deal with our bodies themselves, including the container, center-periphery, front-back, and part-whole schemas. The container schema, for example, derives from our sense that one's body is a container with an inside and outside. The second group of image schemas . . . consists of those that deal with our orientation in, and relationship to, the world, including link, force, path, source-path-goal, and near-far (218).

These image schemas originate in our physical experience, but, "in order to structure domains that are not experienced directly, we map the kinesthetic image schemas . . . onto these more abstract domains. The mappings take the form of metaphors" (220). Guck's throwing arm–and the arch that might be said to derive from it–is a special case, then, of a general kinesthetic schema of trajectory that involves not only origination-to-goal but force or effort. For Saslaw, "if composers and listeners conceive of tones as objects that move in space, then these conceptual objects can have the attributes of real-world objects: weight, speed, force, direction of motion, etc." (235)

As I claimed in the early post, the persistent counterpoint of soprano and alto in this zärtliche Walzer is an astonishing evocation of the physicality of the standard waltz step. The music-literal allows us a way to think about the "blank" opening bars that permit hearing the waltz as counterpoint not between soprano and alto, but between right hand and left, between the complex of melodic upper voices and the bass. Whether or not these bars are actually danced, one can see/hear the male dancer in bar 1 followed in bar 2 by the musical mimicry of the woman's twirl in the eighth-note figure. The "foundational" (harmonic) leader–perhaps the Vortanzer–courteously makes no distinctive (musical) gesture before the "ornamental" (melodic) partner enters with an individual display of the essential motif of the waltz, the turn or twirl. After this, the couple together performs a larger-scale set of turns through the series of two-bar hypermeasures that make up the waltz. (Note that the harmony, too, is unwavering in its two-bar groups.)

[note (12-20-09): Michael Spitzer writes a critique of music/body-analogies, including Guck's, arguing that the "commitment to somatic immediacy" that she and others, including Robert Hatten, David Lidov, and Alexandra Pierce, stress cannot bridge a gap between the "concrete immediacy [of] performed gestures [and] the deeper principle that enables bodily thought, [or] schematism." (See his Music and Metaphor, 88-91).]

Cone. Edward T. Musical form and musical performance. New York: W.W. Norton, 1968.
Guck, Marion. "Analytical Fictions." In Adam Krims, ed. Music/Ideology: Resisting the Aesthetic, 157-77. Amsterdam: G + B Arts International, 1998. Originally published in Music Theory Spectrum 16/2 (1994): 217-230.
Guck, Marion. 1992. "Two Types of Metaphoric Transference." In Katherine Bergeron and Phillip V. Bohlman, eds. Disciplining Music: Musicology and its Canons, 201-212. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Saslaw, Janna. "Forces, Containers, and Paths: The Role of Body-Derived Image Schemas in the Conceptualization of Music." Journal of Music Theory 40/2 (1996): 217-43.
Spitzer, Michael. Metaphor and Musical Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Spitzer criticizes Guck and several other writers for perpetuating a body/structure dualism. He says that they "identify the bodily experience of a performer with an immediacy that is distanced from musical structure. [The latter], with its abstract and articulated systems of internal relations, can still echo . . . or be echoed by . . . structures of bodily motion, [but] a commitment to somatic immediacy-the continuous, particular, and analog character of musical gesture-stands in the way of discriminating and categorizing the various types of bodily experience" (90).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Proto-background 7: the third ^3-^5

Also see the proto-background introduction.

One might reasonably object that my systematic working through the proto-backgrounds has just delayed the obvious: the alto clearly moves from ^3, while the soprano is just as obviously based on ^5. That sanguine certainty, however, is undermined when one realizes that a proto-background ^3-^5 means the interval also holds sway at the end of the piece: in other words, this reading is radically anti-teleological. Only three of the nine possible proto-backgrounds support such "beginning-loaded" hearings: the unison ^3, the unison ^5, and ^3-^5.

The second level in the graphic below conveys this curiously static sense: the work unfolds in a leisurely way from a firm initial premise, enfolding the C# major section by means of a simple (chromatic) neighbor note and demoting the cadence (whether rising in its direct sense or falling in its hidden sense). The second level also conceals the reprise's instability, which is duly sorted out and explained in the details of the third level.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Transformation table

Here is a reference table with the transformations I have devised to date for use with the proto-backgrounds.
These are presented here as three groups of three: the first group results in stepwise changes, diatonic or chromatic (L, N, WEDGE); the second group adds a third note to a triad interval (DIVision, ADDINVersion, TRiadFLIP); and the third group manipulates a triad interval INVersion, EXPandUp, and TRiadTransposition). All of these assume inverses (L-1, N-1, etc.) but note that EXPU-1 contracts an interval -- it does not EXP downward (to make the point as clearly as possible, a fourth transformation, EXPandDown, is added to the third group: see the staff insert).

Caveats: (a) This is certainly not a complete list of what might be done in "triad space," much less in diatonic space; (b) these can only be regarded as informal -- I have not attempted formal definitions, here or elsewhere; and (c) to both the previous points, someone has without doubt done such work and, once I find it, this post will be updated accordingly.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Proto-background 6: the octave ^1-^8

Also see the proto-background introduction.

Register plays such a crucial expressive role in D779n13 that the octave, at first glance, would seem to be an appealing starting point for an interpretation. As it turns out, however, the proto-background ^1-^8 simply shuffles the priorities (levels) of the reading from ^1-^1, rather than introducing any substantially new information, as will be obvious if you compare the graphic below with the first hearing:
blog entry.

Nevertheless, I am inclined to prefer this new version, if only because it takes the teleological bias (which will be a factor in any analysis of this waltz involving ^1) and pushes it to the max, making for a more consistent interpretation overall.

As a postscript to the reading from ^1-^8, here is a reading that, if possible, goes even further to declare a "universal" space of the octave (see graphic below). This hearing of D779n13 follows from an observation that the traditional octave ambitus of the modal scale continued to exert a considerable force throughout the Baroque era, but not later (Neumeyer 1987; Smyth 1999). Since the practices of European tonal music arose and were solidified in this era, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the octave might be a universal principle for tonal space, with the same status as strict counterpoint, figured bass, and the rhetorical schemata exemplified in the
partimenti tradition.

If so, the result might be a fixed octave "background" with secondary motions (represented by arrows here) established in relation to it. The idea is not only retrospective but prospective since it is, of course, related to the device of absolute register in some twentieth-century musics.

Neumeyer, David. "The Urlinie from ^8 as a Middleground Phenomenon." In Theory Only 9/5-6 (1987): 3-25.
Smyth, David. “Schenker’s Octave Lines Reconsidered.” Journal of Music Theory 43/1 (1999):101–33.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Discontinuities and synchronic/diachronic tension, after Timothy Jackson

In the MTS article, I briefly discuss Timothy Jackson's "diachronic transformation" (293-94). Jackson uses this device as a way to interpret conflicting structural levels in Schenkerian analysis by locating paradoxical moments, or ruptures, in tonal design. He says that "[a] musical work may embody in its endstate a conceptually prior state, which has become the endstate through a diachronic transformation." (Jackson, 239).

We can employ the synchronic/diachronic distinction in service of another way to relate D365n6 and D779n13. To accomplish this, we will have to intuit a diachrony by appealing to waltz design statistics, which will allow us to conceive a prior "typical" version. The existing waltzes, then, may be understood as diachronic distortions; in fact, they might literally have been the case as Schubert played for a late-evening cotillon, the kind of experience I sketched in the "improvisation history" posts.

Of the three basic design models, small binary forms dominate Schubert's waltzes. Regardless of form type, however, the second section most often opens with a dominant seventh chord, which may lead to a stable key area within the phrase but more often opens a modulating sequence. The distinctive feature of the A Major Waltz is the direct modulating shift to another tonic triad, a device that I have found in only twenty four waltzes. Of these, the majority (17) move to a diatonically related key; the remaining seven use mixture or minor/major alteration: bVI (1), VI (1), bIII (2), i (1), or III (2). Five of these seven have a stable single key in the contrasting middle (the other two make abrupt modulations in the final two bars).

It would be possible to use D971n2, the only other published dance that modulates to III, as the synchronic source of D779n13's distorted second half, but for my purpose here it will be more efficient to call yet again on the relationship between D365n6 and D779n13. The first graphic below gives the first half of D365n6, above it a traditional Schenkerian reading from ^3, and above that a depiction of the "endstate"--that is, D779n13--as a reading with an Urlinie from ^5 that takes account of the ascending cadence figure.

In the first strain, two by now familiar phenomena can be interpreted as transformations in Jackson's terms: (1) the upper-voice counterpoint of D365n6, is inverted, with the effect that parallel fourths above ii6-I6/4 become the parallel fifths; (2) the single ending of D365n6, becomes two, the first of them imperfect (upper voice remains on ^5, even if the inner voice reaches ^1), the second seeking the original register of the model via a stepwise ascent. On the other hand, the regular two-bar groups of our A Major Waltz actually smooth out a metric distortion in the model (where the 6/4-5/3 movement over the dominant harmony is repeated in bars 3-7).

For the opening of the second strain (see below), the path to the major mediant key may be more complicated, but it is plausible insofar as both small binary and ternary designs at this point typically take advantage of circle-of-fifths progressions with chromatic inflections. If we expand the four bars of the contrasting middle in D365n6, to eight bars, we can start with a C major triad and move in simple steps to V, at two bars per chord: III-vi-V/v-V. But the progression needs to move one additional step, past V to I, in order to connect with the subdominant bass of the reprise. To contain a move from III to I within eight bars requires some adjustments that would make it difficult to take advantage of the waltz's suspension motive: perhaps III-V7/III-III-vi-V7/V-V7-I-V7/IV.

Under the circumstances, the radical simplification of the key-stable version in our A Major Waltz is a much more workable solution with an effect similar to the metric smoothing out in the first strain. These "simplification paths" to diachronic distortion are an alternative to the "inspired moments"--improvisation histories can be readily understood as narratives of synchronic-diachronic transformation. In this case, I think the "inspired moments" are more plausible because they reduce D365n6 to its opening gesture and formulas, rather than dragging along layers of increasingly idealized voice leading.

Neumeyer, David. "Thematic Reading, Proto-backgrounds, and Transformations." Music Theory Spectrum 31/2: 284-324. {should appear any day now]
Jackson, Timothy. "Diachronic Transformation in a Schenkerian Context: Brahms's Haydn Variations." In Carl Schachter and Hedi Siegel, eds. Schenker Studies 2, 239-75. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1999.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Low/high pairs as "music-literal," after Marion Guck

In an earlier post I discussed D779n13 as a miniature portrait of a dancing couple. The graphic from that post is reproduced here with a slightly different explanation focused on the music's hemiola patterns; this discussion leads to another that makes a more abstract tie between the dance and "shapes" in the music.

The graphic matches the figures of the valse à trois temps and a rhythmically dissonant hemiola pattern. The first iteration of this hemiola (mm. 3-4) may be taken as a courtesy to the woman, whose figure runs in four steps followed by a two-beat pivot turn that does not shift weight, or a rhythm q-q-q-|q-h, which aligns nicely with the hemiola, while the man's mirroring figure initially fights against it: q-h-|q-q-q. (btw, I am using the gender labels appropriate to the period. Although other combinations and roles were certainly possible in couple dancing, I am focusing on the mode for public dancing, which is also what Schubert's friends report in their reminiscences of house balls and parties.)

Whether portrait (rhythmic depiction of the dance) or not, this figure of the dance can also be taken as the basis of a reading following Marion Guck's metaphor-based method. What she calls the "music-literal"--and uses to guide analysis--might be taken as "shapes in space" or "qualities of movement." I have not carried out student surveys of the kind that support Guck's claims about the arch figure as a controlling metaphor in the Chopin Prelude in B Minor, but the experience of playing D779n13 and working out other analyses suggests strongly that the "music-literal" here is a sense of pairing (generally, lower against higher). Apparent immediately in the separation of voices on the downbeat of m. 3, this idea works itself out through the hemiola patterns.

The eighth-note figures (circled) are paired, moving from lower voice to upper voice. This latter pair is also the basis of the entire C#-major section, after which the eighth-note pairs resume (mm. 30, 32) and we eventually hear one last iteration of eighth-notes to rising quarters (mm. 34, 36). A rising gesture, or a pattern of low-->high, thus obtains consistently throughout the waltz, and I would take that as equivalent in function to the arch that Guck finds in the Chopin Prelude.

The suspensions work in a larger time-frame to express the same gesture. As the brackets and connecting line show, the suspensions remain in the lower voice (and emphasize not only "low" but "descending") through all of the first phrase except the close, where a suspension-like effect is achieved with the 6-5 over I. The same pattern of staying-low-then-ascending-at-the-end follows in the second phrase, the F#-E now forming a 9-8 suspension-like effect in m. 15 in combination with a true suspension in the alto. In the second strain, the suspensions remain firmly in the lower voice (mm. 21- 25, 31, 33) until the repetition of m. 15 as m. 35.

The abstract echoes of these patterns resound in registral motions across the first strain (F#5 and E5 till the cadence that rises to G#5 and A5). At the level of the entire waltz, the figure is not "perfect" (the waltz does not end in the highest register), and I am tempted to link the final retreat from the sixth octave to the suspensions (the suspension being a classic instance of a recessive gesture). If so, one might argue for the final integration of the two spatial metaphors, a single metrical group in which the long, asymmetrical low-to-high pair is motion toward an accent and the recessive gesture falls (literally) after the downbeat at m. 31.

Guck, Marion. "Analytical Fictions." In Adam Krims, ed. Music/Ideology: Resisting the Aesthetic, 157-77. Amsterdam: G + B Arts International, 1998. Originally published in Music Theory Spectrum 16/2 (1994): 217-230.

Friday, November 13, 2009

C# major as marked term

Judy Lochhead makes this point in a critique of Susan McClary's (traditionalist) emphasis on tonal direction and structure:

"in listening recently to a [French claveçin suite], I was struck by how the ornamental filigree emerged as the structure of the pieces. I was not hearing the 'improvised surface' as the icing on the tonally coherent cake. Rather, the animated surface was the source of playful design that was anchored by cadential progressions serving as temporal markers" (152-3; her emphasis).
Lochhead has taken a familiar opposition, structure/surface, and “flipped” it, that is, given attention not to what we assume to be the initial term (surface) but rather to its opposing term (surface), the idea being to demonstrate and critique by example the power relations of convention and otherness.

A similar notion of "inversion" informs the first of two readings today: we flip the hierarchies of harmony (and form) in D779n13 to give pride of place to the C# major passage, whose "surprise" and "strangeness," after all, are the truly expressive, "Romantic" moment in this piece.

A less radical way to make the same point would be in terms of "tonal pairing," a concept that has proven fruitful for interpretation of music in the later nineteenth century. In our case, A and C# would be assigned equal status in a double-tonic complex (Krebs, 17), and a resulting graphic might look (in its background) like the one below.

In this instance, we are to understand the tonalities of A and C# as juxtaposed and as equally significant to our experience of the piece. At the outset, A major takes the conventional position of hegemonic tonic, but C# major abruptly undercuts that function, reducing A major to "frame" and A5 (^8) to neighbor note. When A major returns (or, perhaps better said, "gradually reintroduces itself"), the status of C# major is changed, but the "framing" quality of A major is not entirely erased, an impression that the repetition of the second strain only enhances.

Is it possible for B in an AABABA design, as here, to acquire an enhanced status? Not if it functions as a traditional contrasting middle, with unstable tonality, chromaticism, sequences, and fragmentation. But the stability of the C# major area, and the abruptness with which the key is reached and left, suggest an opposition rather than a functional assimilation of the kind we would understand from a conventional focus on the dominant.

Lochhead, Judy. Review of Susan McClary, Conventional Wisdom. Music Theory Spectrum 24/1 (2002): 150-53.

Krebs, Harald. "Some Early Examples of Tonal Pairing: Schubert's 'Meeres Stille' and 'Der Wanderer'." In William Kinderman and Harald Krebs, eds., The Second Practice Of Nineteenth-Century Tonality, 17-33. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Proto-background 5: the fifth ^1-^5

Also see the proto-background introduction.

The fifth space ^1-^5 re-introduces a teleological element into the reading, but by no means so radically as when we hear the background as ^1-^1. Here, the upper part of the interval receives attention at the beginning, but the interval as a whole is only defined at the end of the first phrase (see the third staff below). The contrast between upper and lower voices in the right hand, thus, is more striking even than in the reading ^3-^5 (entry to be posted later this week), in that the definition or the concrete presentation of each background tone is situated at opposite ends of the phrase. And the teleological hearing of the alto voice is a good mirror of the listening experience for a string of suspensions, which constantly push forward, ahead, towards a goal, the resolution of the last suspension in the series (here, the 4-3 suspension that brings the secure arrival of ^1).

The fifth space also coordinates nicely with the C# major section (in fact, more simply and directly than any other reading): a WEDGE transformation pulls the notes apart by a half step, to G#-E#, then its inverse pushes them back together again for the reprise/ending. (WEDGE here can be understood as inversion about C/C#; it is a variant of Lewin's transformation W -- see 1987, 124 ff.; see also 2006, 332 ff.)

In a performance of the waltz, of course, the WEDGE is distorted as the G# is G#5, not G#4. We would include the registral shift in a fourth staff/level (not shown here).

Lewin, David. Generalized Music Intervals and Transformations. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.
Lewin, David. Studies in Music with Text. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Recomposition of the second strain

Another recomposition to show that the first strain can be combined comfortably with a new 8-measure theme. In Schubert's generation it was not common to pair two unrelated strains, but it did occasionally happen, the contrast seeming to be the point. Often these pairings are loud and soft (or the reverse) or even deutscher-Ländler styles. Examples: D365n7, 12, 16, 17, 26; D366n9; D779n4.

In this case I chose the second strain not to contrast so much as to complement: its musical material is different, but both have a "subdominant" emphasis at the beginning, the affect is quite similar, and so is the final cadence. The new strain is taken from the first of 2 German Dances, D. 769, and therefore contemporaneous with the numbers in D. 779. (The two pieces in D. 769, both 16-bar forms, are obviously meant to be a dance-trio pair.)

Note: The pairing of contrasting strains in these small waltzes is very probably the source of the paired 32-bar strains that had become the typical design by the generation of Johann Strauss, jr.
Note 2 (14 November 2009): Here is a better version of the piece, using the 8 bar version of the first strain and adding transitions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

D779 sources

This post has a bit of background information on the Valses sentimentales, D. 779. They were published in 1825, but most were written (improvised?) in 1823 or earlier. Ten of the thirty four dances come from two manuscript collections, as detailed below. I discuss the sources in some detail in my Lerdahl review-article, 216-17.

For reference, Schubert was writing dances already in his mid-teens. Those collected in D365 were probably written (improvised, repeated, reshaped, written down) in the five-year period before publication in 1821. The dances of D779 probably originated (mostly) between that time and 1825, as did the German dances of D783 (which appeared in the same year) and very likely the Wiener-Damen Ländler of D734, published a year later. The other large sets of waltzes published in Schubert's lifetime were D969, the Valses nobles, and D924 (Grazer Walzer), in 1827 and 1828, respectively.

# (key)--(key in source (date of source))

1 (C)--(B in 9 Ländler no. 1 (early 1823))
2 (C)--(B in 9 Ländler no. 2 (early 1823))
3 (G)--(G in 9 Ländler no. 3 (early 1823))
4 (G)--(G in 9 Ländler no. 4 (early 1823))
5 (Bb)
6 (Bb)
7 (g/Bb)
8 (D)--(D in 17 deutsche Tänze no. 1 (1823))
9 (D)--(D in 17 deutsche Tänze no. 2 (1823))
10 (G)
11 (G)
12 (D)--(D in 17 deutsche Tänze no. 6 (1823))
13 (A)
14 (D)--(D in 17 deutsche Tänze no. 8 (1823))
15 (F)
16 (C)
17 (C)
18 (Ab)
19 (Ab)
20 (Ab)
21 (Eb)
22 (Eb)
23 (Eb)
24 (g/Bb)
25 (G)
26 (C)
27 (Eb)
28 (Eb)
29 (Eb)
30 (C)
31 (a/C)
32 (C)
33 (Ab)--(Ab in 9 Ländler no. 7 (early 1823))
34 (Ab)--(Ab in 9 Ländler no. 8 (early 1823))

Monday, November 9, 2009

D779n13 in Papillons

Still another recomposition story. Given his intense interest in Schubert's music (noted in yesterday's post), we can easily reconstruct Schumann's early cycle Papillons with the A Major Waltz embedded in it. Generally understood to be an early product of that enthusiasm, Papillons is filled with pieces that come readily into view as Schubert-style dances exaggerated in tempo, dynamics, and design to create more sharply drawn "portraits" (as Schumann did more effectively in Carnaval).

Several are obviously waltzes (1, 4, 9, 10) and several others have the rough clarity of some of the gruffer German dances in Schubert's D. 783 (nos. 3, 8, and 12). The A Major Waltz might possibly find a place in Papillons as no. 7, if we were to transpose it to Ab major, use only the first strain. Schumann's no. 8 in C# minor is a very suitable substitute for the A Major Waltz's second strain (the affects are very close, Schumann's, again, being a more exaggerated version of the contrasting forte in Schubert's second strain). In the graphic at the end of this post I have called the C# minor/Db major piece a "trio" and slightly altered its ending to make the return a little smoother.

The key sequence of the numbers in Papillons is D--Eb--f#--A to F#--Bb--d--f to Ab--c# to Db--bb--C--D--D. If that sequence seems rough and abrupt, that's the method in Papillons -- Schumann luxuriates in the haphazard key relations that one often finds in dance collections in the 1820s. There is no question of extracting some perfect overreaching key scheme -- the whole point is to avoid it. With the A major waltz (in Ab) the sequence becomes D--Eb--f#--A to F#--Bb--d--(Ab--c# to Db--Ab (reprise))--bb--C--D--D.

(The graphic is a thumbnail; click on it to see the original image.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Schumann's Schubert story

Robert Schumann's review of Opus 9 and 33 (D. 365 and D. 783), published in 1835, gives us another way to think about associations between D779n13 and dances in other collections. Schumann, by his own admission a Schubert "fanatic," imagines a meeting of the Davidsbund, a domestic musical evening that resembles an informal, small-scale Schubertiade.

Florestan is in rare form throughout. He first invokes an image of dancing, with the heavily ironic joke that "dance music makes one sad and languid while church music, on the other hand, makes one gay and active--at least myself." Then Zilia [Clara] pricks her finger on a rose and offers, mysteriously, that "Like these waltzes it has nothing to do with pain, but only with drops of blood, drawn forth by roses" (124). Burgeoning excitement caused by Zilia's playing produces a silly moment at the level of a parlor game, as they try to decide between Schubert and Chopin: "Florestan went into a corner remote from the piano, saying, 'Now if running toward the keyboard I manage to hit correctly the first chord of the last movement of the D Minor Symphony [Beethoven's Ninth], it shall be Schubert.' Of course he succeeded."

After this, "Zilia played the waltzes by heart." These waltzes were, first, Schubert's Opus 9, then the deutsche Tänze of Opus 33 (D. 783). Florestan insists that the latter is a tableau of characters and that a painter present that evening ought to sketch them quickly and project the results as magic lantern slides. Florestan leaves suddenly, and our author offers the apology that "Florestan, as I may explain, is in the habit of breaking off at the moment of highest enjoyment, perhaps to preserve its entire freshness and fulness in his memory" (126).

Here the story has an intrinsic interest for its narrative progress, its characters, their social interactions, and its description of a domestic evening among creative artists in the early 1830s. The music is certainly important as a plot element (motivation for the event and characters' behavior) and as a motif, but Schumann allows his review of the music to be nearly lost in the story. Of D. 365, he does say that they are

lovely little genii, floating above the earth at about the height of a flower--though I do not much like Le Désir [No. 2], in which hundreds of girls have drowned their sentiment, nor the last three aesthetic errors [nos. 34-36] which on the whole I cannot forgive their creator. There is much beauty in the way in which the rest circle round the Désir, entangling it more or less in their delicate threads, also in the dreamy thoughtlessness which pervades them all, so that we, too, when playing the last, believe that we are still in the first. (124)

(About Le Désir—Schumann is being disingenuous, as he himself valued it highly enough to write an (unfinished) set of variations on it.)

D. 783 is described in terms that clearly evoke Schumann's own character-piece cycles, as Florestan declares that No. 1 announces a masked ball and then calls out characters from the ball as each dance goes by: "No.2. A comic figure, scratching its ear, and whispering "Pst! pst!" Disappears. No.3. Harlequin with his hand on his hips; exit with a somersault. No.4. Two stiff, polite masks, dancing and conversing little with each other" (125). Etc.

These descriptions might provoke us to consider how the A Major Waltz might replace one of the dances in D. 783. Florestan describes only the first ten dances, not all sixteen, but from those he does describe, No. 7 would seem to fit well: "Two reapers waltzing together in a happy trance. He says softly, 'Are you she?' They recognize each other." (Schumann's original for "Are you she?" is "Bist du es?" which is easily mapped onto the dotted rhythms that open phrases or–more likely perhaps–onto the half-quarter pairs at the ends (as "Bist du's?") (Gesammelte Schriften 1:200).)

The Bb-major Deutscher in this position bears a number of similarities to the A Major Waltz: its first strain is the only one in D. 783 that does not end with a hypermetrically weak tonic, its overt chromaticisms are restricted to the opening of the second strain, and it relies on expressive suspension figures.

The first strain is the "happy trance" of the two dancers, the chromaticism a question, and the descent to the final cadence the mutual recognition. Each of these traits is easily transferred to the A Major Waltz: the soprano/alto pairs of the first strain and the more exuberant C#-major section; the question in the mysterious chromatic measures measures 29-30; and the moment of recognition in the sixth-octave registral climax.

As a final comment, I should add that David Gramit is only half-right when he claims that "Schumann's one extended discussion of Schubert's dances . . . effectively neutralizes the physical and potentially popular not by dismissing it, à la Hanslick, but by transferring it to the realm of the imaginary" (232). The physical--that is, the functional quality of dance--is certainly gone, as Zilia is seated at the piano throughout the evening; through her, the dances become domestic salon music: as Gramit puts it, they are "no longer functional music but rather evocative character pieces." The physical is transferred to Florestan, who is a vital, even hyperactive, presence throughout the story, but it by no means follows that "Schumann creates high art out of dance" (232).

The domestic musical evening, the salon, itself is a principal emblem of middle-class entertainment in the 1820s and 1830s, and often included dancing and parlor games. There is, furthermore, nothing "high-art" about the magic lantern (indeed, quite the reverse, if one recalls that magic lanterns and similar machines were later associated with photography, not painting). Gramit anachronistically imposes socially exclusionary high/popular art distinctions onto an era when such distinctions were far from fully formed, and thus he falsely turns Schumann the creative critic into Schumann the snob, the progressive Romantic into the reactionary Romantic that Schumann did indeed become after the democratic revolutions in 1848-49.

Schumann, Robert. "The Literature of Dancing: First Waltzes, Opus 9, Book 1, German Dances, Opus 33." In Robert Schumann, ed. Konrad Wolff, tr. Paul Rosenfeld, On Music and Musicians, 123-6. New York: Pantheon, 1946.
Schumann, Robert. Gesammelte Schriften über Musik und Musiker. 3d ed. 2 vols. Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1883.
Gramit, David. "Between Täuschung and Seligkeit: Situating Schubert's Dances." Musical Quarterly 84/2 (2000): 221-37.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Recomposition as a polka

As a postscript to Wednesday and Thursday's entries, I have followed a habit common in American sheet music of the mid-nineteenth century, according to which a waltz or other 3/4 meter dance is recast as a polka in the form of an appendix. In the graphic below, I have changed the meter from triple to duple, converting the A Major Waltz into a polka. This waltz works surprisingly well because its eighth-note groups switching between the hands allow one to make very characteristic polka rhythms in the melody (the two eighths plus four sixteenths in bar 3; the two eighths and a quarter in bar 4).
The model for this recomposition is the "Adelaide" polka by D. T. Haraden, published in Boston in 1848. A facsimile of Haraden's polka is available on the Library of Congress American Memory website in the 1820-1860 section: Adelaide.