Monday, May 3, 2010

Archaeology of Improvisation

In November, I will be giving a paper-presentation during a conference session on improvisation. The place is Indianapolis; the occasion is the joint national meeting of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Music Theory.

The title is "Schubert's 'Riemannian Hand': An Archaeology of Improvisation." Here's the abstract:
Schubert was said to string his waltzes into "endless cotillons" for dancing. A close relative of the contredanse, the cotillon required frequent repetition of strains, particularly the principal one. Using the three-layer texture of the waltz (as played on a piano) and "endless cotillons" as the design, I will demonstrate (1) how strict small forms, repetition, and variation can reveal pairings and groupings among Schubert's surviving waltzes, suggesting relationships that may have arisen through varied repetition in performance; and (2) how the chordal offbeats can effect transformations with parsimonious voice leading by simply moving thumb, middle finger, or little finger, thus anchoring the more distant modulations that Schubert attempted in improvisation. By doing multiple comparisons among dances, I try to reconstruct some sense of how Schubert, during improvised performance, may have been—in Kofi Agawu's terms—"thinking in music about music."
[note added 5-19-10: Legler and Kubik reproduce instructions from a dance manual by Edward David Helmke (1830), one of which is "A waltz may last no more than 15 minutes and a cotillon no more than 45 minutes" (95).]

Legler, Margit, und Reinhold Kubik. "Anmutige Verschlingungen. Tänze des Vormärz: Quellen – Notation – Ausführung." In Boisits, Barbara, and Klaus Hubmann. Tanz im Biedermeier: Ausdruck des Lebensgefühls einer Epoche, 89-131. Proceedings from the Symposium Musizierpraxis im Biedermeier: Tanzmusik im ländlichen und städtischen Bereich, Graz, Austria, 26.-27. März 2004. Series: Neue Beiträge zur Aufführungspraxis, vol. 6. Vienna : Mille Tre Verlag Robert Schächter, 2006.