Thursday, November 5, 2009

Recomposition as analysis

Kofi Agawu rebuts Joseph Kerman's critique of "formalist" analysis and call to replace it with a model based on (literary) criticism and belles lettres by pointing to the affinities of music analysis not only with criticism but, as importantly, with music performance and composition. Of the latter, Agawu says: "composition as the art of making, of putting together, shares with analysis the speaking of music as a language" (280). That is to say, "when analysis is realigned with composition, we restore to it a measure of improvisation, liberate it from the requirement of making propositional statements, and reconfigure its epistemological requirements to privilege play. In short, the link with composition encourages more thinking in music about music" (279).
Agawu describes recompositions (perhaps the simplest and most obvious way in which analysis can be carried out as composition) as "fictions" and reminds us that such "imaginary constructions [are] designed to persuade, titillate, amuse, entertain, lead in a certain musical direction or mislead" (279). When he says that "we need an ethical attitude towards constructing these fictions," his argument can be said to apply more broadly to any kind of analytical construction, any interpretation, any "fiction," and it aligns well with a self-conscious practice of (musical) interpretation but also with David Lewin's warning about rewriting theoretical models indiscriminately (when he says that we should "think long and hard before subjecting a received theoretical discourse to fundamental modification" (91)).

Along these lines, I rethink the waltz by adding a new trio (below). This addition suggests a process by which the hierarchy of design is upended -- or at least unexpectedly influenced -- and a background can be shaped or "colored" by the middleground, in this case the principal melodic tone as "engineered" by a newly-composed Trio.

Considering only Schenkerian readings, I hear the waltz by itself very readily and convincingly as a three-part ursatz with a rising upper line from ^5 (post forthcoming), but Carl Schachter’s reading from ^3 (see this entry) becomes stronger in combination with this new trio, as it very unambiguously highlights ^3 in the upper voice with the cover tone ^5 appearing only in subordinate formal positions: that is to say, the trio follows convincingly the path into which Schachter cannot very easily force the waltz itself, and it influences us to hear the waltz in the same way (during the reprise at least, if not during the initial presentation).
All of this is straightforward enough: it merely reflects the fact that, whatever we may think about the priorities of hierarchies, the local can influence the general -- a decision may be made about large-scale features based on an influential nuance (at the abstract level of the background, a newly added trio is a nuance). This is always the danger of the "promissory note" -- that it may not merely act as an expressive marker but insist on its own influence over design, and the hierarchy may be flattened out (to something like a network) or even inverted.

I have added another element to make this point even more blatantly: an intertextual reference that draws the waltz out of Vienna, indeed out of Europe altogether: my bogus trio is a version of one of the most famous nineteenth-century American songs, written by a man who opened a music publishing company in one of the most prosperous cities of the old Northwest Territories, Chicago: the composer was George Root, the song is “The Battle Cry of Freedom," and my reason for including it is the resonance it still has thanks to a plaintive rendering heard several times in Ken Burns's video documentary of the American Civil War. We could explore the binaries generated for quite a long time -- Schubert and Root, Vienna and Chicago, old Europe and young America, the urban and the wilderness, Metternich and the democratic authors of the Northwest Ordinance, the revolutions of 1848 and the secessions of 1861, etc.

My point, however, is simply to show how powerful an intertextual reference can be -- made all the more obvious here because an association was deliberately manufactured. And -- perhaps my greater point -- the "creative analysis" of arrangement or recomposition can manage these kinds of shifts with ease.

Agawu, Kofi. "How We Got Out of Analysis, and How to Get Back in Again." Music Analysis 23/ii-iii (2004): 267-86.
Lewin, David. "Music Theory, Phenomenology, and Modes of Perception." In Lewin, Studies in Music with Text, 53-108. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.