Saturday, December 5, 2009

Parody (after Wheeldon)

Timothy Jackson's diachronic transformation (see earlier post) bears some similarities to Marianne Wheeldon's "parody." Wheeldon examines methodological problems for linear analysis in Debussy, whose music is well-suited to studies of ambiguity and discontinuity. She identifies several features of his late works that can be interpreted in terms of discontinuities. Of those, “parody” might be applicable to D779n13.

Wheeldon finds parody in the Cello Sonata, first movement, to lie in a contradiction of the developmental expectations of sonata form: "Despite . . . motivic correspondences that pervade the movement, the motivic material fails to develop or grow, since wholesale repetition does not constitute development. The high degree of motivic repetition creates an ultra-unified movement, yet it literally inverts the central metaphor of organicism, that of growth" (163). In this kind of context, unity does not evolve–it is imposed: "The statistical climax [in the movement's prologue] is not the point where unity is first achieved, but rather where it is overwhelmingly reinforced."

In the case of D779n13, we seem to have a reverse process. When Margaret Notley says of dances including this waltz that they "unequivocally are works" (141), she points to an attempt to break free of the constraining frame of the 16-bar social dance, to "evolve" rather than simply to repeat. Paradoxically, drawing the dancers' establishment of the beat into the piece itself (measures 1-2) begins this process. On the other hand, the echoing figures in the right hand tightly constrain the first phrase and its repetition up to the moment of the cadence, at which point the line not only ascends but for the first time fails to repeat the four eighth notes of the principal motive.

In this context, the opening of the second strain is unexpected–its insistent literal repetitions take the place of the contrasting middle of a small ternary form, where we would expect to hear motivic fragmentation and rearrangement. The parody, then, would seem to be of temporal or design expectations as much as pitch. At both beginning and end, the C# major section draws attention crudely to the awkwardness of the waltz's metric design, the point that we emphasized in the earlier post, under the diachronic transformation, in our attempts to construct a suitable contrasting middle as a simple expansion (using D365n6 as the model).

Wheeldon, Marianne. "Interpreting discontinuity in the late works of Claude Debussy." PhD. diss., Yale University, 1997.
Notley, Margaret. "Schubert's Social Music: The 'Forgotten Genres'." In Christopher H. Gibbs, The Cambridge Companion to Schubert, 138-54. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.