CFP for 2020 Meeting

The SMT Performance and Analysis Interest Group (PAIG) invites proposals for 13-minute lightning talks at its upcoming meeting during the 2020 Society for Music Theory conference in Minneapolis, MN (November 5–8).  We await guidance from SMT in determining the format of our meeting, but commit to accommodating those who cannot attend in person.

Proposed talks may relate to any aspect of the relation between music performance and theory or analysis.  Proposals should reflect that the presentation will be suitable for a lightning-talk format and that it will incorporate recorded or live music in some way.  We welcome collaborations between scholars and performers.  And we especially encourage presentations that focus on non-white, non-male performers/composers and that confront or decenter harmful theoretical framings.

Authors may submit only one proposal for consideration, and proposals will be reviewed anonymously.

To submit a proposal, please do the following by Friday, August 7, 2020:

  • Prepare a PDF file including (1) a title, (2) a proposal of up to 500 words, and (3) up to 2 pages of examples and/or bibliography.  The document (including its filename and metadata) should be anonymous, with any self-references in third person.
  • Email the PDF file to smtpaig (at), using the subject line “2020 PAIG Proposal.”  In the body of the email, please identify the author(s) of the proposal.
  • If SMT meets in person, our conference room will have a standard AV set-up and a piano.  If your presentation requires any special equipment beyond this, please describe it in the body of your email.  Because of PAIG’s budgetary constraints, you will likely have to make such arrangements yourself.

By submitting a proposal, you agree to the following if your proposal is accepted:

  • To register for and attend—in person or virtually—the upcoming SMT conference (November 5–8, 2020);
  • To provide PAIG with a short (500–750 word) “teaser” blog post by October 1, written in a reasonably non-technical and accessible style.  This could simply adapt your proposal or could be a newly composed text.  (PAIG blog staff will assist those unfamiliar with the medium.)  We will use this blog post to promote our meeting and to allow PAIG members the opportunity to engage with your ideas or listen to recordings in advance of the session.

We will announce the members of our program committee shortly.

Ernst Levy’s Liszt: Analyzing Analytical Limits

By Daniel Barolsky (Beloit College)

In the winter of 1997 I first heard Ernst Levy’s 1956 recording of the Liszt B minor Piano Sonata in the studio of Ward Marston, whose eponymous label would later release a transfer of the performance onto CD.  At that time—before I started graduate school—I had not yet developed any of the tools I now use to analyze or reflect on recorded performances, nor had I read and understood Levy’s own writings on the Liszt Sonata.  But this first experience remains a vivid part of my memory—three moments in particular.  Multiple re-listenings later, these three elements of the recorded performance still enchant me, drawing me into Levy’s aesthetic as an interpreter and into Liszt’s skill as a pianist-composer.  They have continued to broaden my thinking about performers, interpretation, recordings, structure, analysis, form, tonality, listening, the body, and sound.  Moreover, these three moments remind me, over two decades later, not only of how far we’ve come in the area of performance and analysis but, also, of our limits.

I remember laughing about the first observation:  It was the sound of Levy’s fingernails clicking on the keys.  (Listeners with better sound systems will hear the clicking more readily, especially at the faster sections.)

Listen, especially, to the passages here and here.

Maybe the microphones, placed by Peter Bartok in M.I.T.’s Kresge Hall, were particularly sensitive; or perhaps Levy was merely inattentive to manual care.  Regardless, the rapid clicking remains a part of the recording and, thus, perpetually affects how I experience and remember the interpretation.  It reminds me of Levy’s body (despite the disembodied nature of an LP or CD), of the “liveness” (even in a studio) of the performance, and of the “human-ness” of the performer—as Paul Sanden has argued with regard to Glenn Gould’s singing and the creaking of his famous chair.

Levy and Gould are performers whose recordings include noises that many perceive as extraneous.  But they are not alone.  The legacy of recordings, both recent and historical, contains the groans of Pablo Casals and Erroll Garner, the heavy breathing of Björk and Tom Waits, Jacqueline du Pré’s violent snapping of strings against the fingerboard, and the sliding of fingers by any number of guitarists—that engineers either could not or did not try to remove.  And yet, these “noises” are often dismissed or ignored as irritating distractions by many scholars and critics who aspire to focus, instead, on a more pure or timeless understanding of the recorded events.  The clicking encourages me to recognize the human-ness of Levy’s performance while also appreciating what sometimes feels like the superhuman character of his overwhelming interpretation.

The second moment comes immediately after a cascade of crashing octaves that heralds the return of Liszt’s second thematic subject.  In this climactic yet fluid passage, Liszt suggests that the interpreter slow down and pause dramatically on the G of the predominant chord (note the ritenuto and fermata, which I’ve boxed, in the score below).

Barolsky--Figure 1

Liszt, Piano Sonata in B minor, S. 178:  mm. 591–603 (Sauer edition)

The subsequent F# octave appears and sounds, in the hands of many pianists, as a stark, harmonically unsupported, dominant.  When it resolves in measure 600 to the glorious B major second theme, the low B, often blasted out, satisfies these tonal urges.

As I reflect on the first time I heard Levy play this passage, I remember being struck by his masterful control of time, texture, and momentum, his pushing and pulling of tempo and dynamics that kept me, as a listener, hypnotically engaged in the moment.  To my ear, Levy’s performance blurs the formal boundary, re-shapes time, and even makes ambiguous the harmonic function.  His F#s initially ring out as though preparing an unsubtle imperfect cadence.  Yet in Levy’s rendering, when the B major melody arrives and the harmony resolves itself in the low bass, the resonance of the F#s persists without interruption, louder than the notes underneath.  They neither complete the yearning of the dominant nor disrupt the B major arrival since, of course, they are subsumed within the tonic chord.  Levy’s control of pedaling, dynamics, voicing and, most important, his intangible sense of timing, raise more questions than answers about whether we’ve arrived somewhere or are simply continuing onwards.  Moreover, this performance reminds us—as John Rink has argued on more than one occasion—that any sense of perceived “structure” is determined, not just by the features in the score alone but also by performers’ thoughtful rendering.

(As I prepared this essay, I compared Levy’s performance of this moment to those of Martha Argerich, Mariam Batsashvili, Jorge Bolet, Arnaldo Cohen, Clifford Curzon, Jeanne-Marie Darré, Sidney Foster, Vladimir Horowitz, Lang Lang, Polina Leschenko, Raymond Lewenthal, Yundi Li, Mikhail Pletnev, Sviatoslav Richter, Fazil Say, Yuja Wang, and Andre Watts.  ALL of these performances are fascinating and inspiring in their own right, and I would not want to suggest that one performance is better or more correct than the rest.  I would encourage readers to explore how different pianists interpret this transitional passage.  I find that it vividly reveals the artfully interpretative personality of the pianist, so varied are the ways each understands and renders this moment.)

The third, and perhaps most memorable, moment reimagines the materials that shape our perception of form.  In 1950 Levy gave a lecture at the University of Chicago on the Liszt Sonata, a summary of which can be found in the book Levy co-wrote with Siegmund Levarie:  Musical Morphology: A Discourse and Dictionary.  Its organicist foundations resonate with nineteenth-century views of form and the evolution of sonata form from Beethoven to Liszt.  Levy, unfortunately, never really talks about his own performances.  However, his recorded performances of Brahms and Beethoven reflect his developmental conception of musical shape and formal processes.  His performances of the Liszt sonata are similar, but hardly pedantically so.  For a piece that lasts almost 30 minutes, Levy makes quite clear to me the recapitulatory significance of mm. 531-33, which repeat the theme in B minor that first occurs in mm. 30-32.  This recapitulation, following an epic and momentum-building fugato (starting in m. 460), is one of the most dramatically prepared moments in Levy’s performance of the sonata.

When I first heard this moment in 1997, I understood neither the formal complexity of the sonata nor Levy’s theoretical views of form.  And yet, I remember that, upon first hearing this moment in the performance, I jumped out of my chair.  One might think that my response, while unknowing, reflected an almost intuitive understanding of this tonal and thematic return.  But I would suggest that in some ways it’s just the opposite.  What first pulled me into the performance (and remains to this day the driving force behind my experience of the moment) was not the memory of a theme from 500 measures or 19 minutes earlier or the harmonic arrival of B minor.  Instead it was the momentary but complete dissolution of harmony as a driving force, the shift from a world of nineteenth-century tonality to an amorphous cloud of pure sound that I found so remarkable.  Listen to how Levy holds down the sustaining pedal!  Any sense of pitch and key in m. 533 is swallowed up in a noisy haze.  The sonic ambiguity is only heightened by the descending notes that precede it, pounded out like canons by Levy in octaves (a traditional practice that some pianists still continue today even if some purists object).  Only in the next measure, as Levy draws out the E#s in the left hand, do I begin, again, to regain my sense of harmonic direction.

Barolsky--Figure 2

Liszt, Piano Sonata in B minor, S. 178:  mm. 528–536 (Sauer edition)

For some, Levy’s crashing climax might merely reinforce Liszt’s structural narrative or, for more cynical critics, distract listeners from Liszt’s Sonata by drawing attention to the personality of the performer.  But, for me, the memory of my first listen and, perhaps, my visceral reaction to this moment push me to think about and recognize some of the limits that confront musicians:  the limits of the score as a representation of my listening experience, and also the limits of those analytic tools that struggle to navigate the relationship between pitch and sound.  It is Levy’s momentary escape from the limiting domain of harmony and pitch (or, as Ligeti might have put it, its “disintegration”) and the performed exploration of differently sounding possibilities, unmarked in the score or in any analyses, that most vividly account for and confirm any sense of meaning that grounds my experience of this performance.

I’d like to thank Ward Marston, Cecilia Oinas, Nathan Pell, Anna Schmidt, Victoria Tzotzkova, and Yvonne Wu for their help and insight with this essay.

As always, comments are welcome.  Share your thoughts below!

Expressive Asynchrony and Lyrical Meaning in Buffy Sainte-Marie Performances

By Nancy Murphy (University of Houston)

This post serves as a preview of a lightning talk that will take place at PAIG’s 2019 SMT meeting in Columbus (Saturday, November 9 from 12:30 to 2:00 pm).

The study of expressive timing typically observes how notated metric structures are varied in performance.  Expressive asynchrony is one such method of variation in which performers desynchronize notationally aligned events.  Previous studies—like Yorgason (2009) and Dodson (2011)—have observed this technique in performances of nineteenth-century piano music.  In the paper I will present during the Performance Analysis Interest Group meeting at SMT this weekend, I examine asynchrony as a technique of lyrical expression in two performances by Canadian singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte Marie:  “Winter Boy” from Little Wheel Spin and Spin (1966) and “Ananias” from It’s My Way! (1964).

Sainte-Marie, a contemporary of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, emerged as a self-accompanied singer-songwriter in the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene.  Her songs explore topics of personal significance alongside politically charged narratives that engage her original perspective as a Native American; Sainte-Marie is a longtime activist, and her music is well regarded for the social impact of its lyrics.  Her song “Universal Soldier,” a powerful anti-war anthem written as the Vietnam war was escalating, allowed her to speak about individual responsibility for war.  Sainte-Marie’s songs also address the mistreatment and inaccurate historical representation of Native Americans.  Her first widely popular Native American protest song was “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone”; here she decries the 1960s hypocrisy of Americans condemning past treatment of Native Americans while simultaneously displacing them (for example, by building the Kinzua Dam in New York).  Sainte-Marie’s critiques also extended to educational issues; “My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying” borrows text and melody from “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” specifically targeting U.S.-history curricula that begin with the arrival of European colonists.

While singing passionately about her subject matter, Sainte-Marie often uses expressive timing to highlight the meaning of her lyrics.  Her song “Suffer the Little Children,” from Illuminations (1969), addresses the impact of residential schools that pushed children and their parents to abandon their culture and language to succeed in colonized society.  Sainte-Marie’s performance on the studio recording features ritardandos at significant moments in her lyrics, particularly when she sings about mothers of children in residential schools.  She repeats different words of the line “Mama don’t really care” with a slower tempo, as if to scold mothers, but later empathizes with their situation (“Poor Mama needs a source of pride”).  These timing fluctuations serve to express Sainte-Marie’s perspective on the subject matter.

My talk explores two of Sainte-Marie’s more personal songs, in which her use of expressive asynchrony highlights the lyrical meaning.  This technique of expressive timing is usually heard between the two hands of the piano:  for instance, when notationally aligned chords are desynchronized between the hands, or when composed-in events like rolled chords and grace notes elongate beats.  When the downbeat of a measure features such an expansion, Brent Yorgason describes this as an elongation of downbeat space:  a type of asynchrony that occurs in combination with the sense of arrival associated with downbeats.

Sainte-Marie’s performance of “Winter Boy” establishes a regular meter and then emphasizes specific phrase-unit beginnings by slowing the tempo and elongating downbeat space through asynchrony.  At the first mention of the titular “Boy,” (transcribed below) the voice’s syncopated arrival leaves the downbeat unarticulated, and the sense of anticipation increases until the eventual entry of the guitar.


Sainte-Marie, “Winter Boy,” asynchronized m. 9 downbeats

This reading highlights sensations of expectation as Sainte-Marie lingers on and anticipates the arrival of “Winter boy”—after which the meter resumes.  She employs similar techniques at several other moments in the song, highlighted below, each serving to express the lyrical narrative.


Sainte-Marie, “Winter Boy,” elongations of downbeat space through expressive asynchrony

Yorgason’s study also explores large-scale patterns of timing variation:  what he calls processes of gradual or diminishing dispersal.  In progressive dispersal, events like rolled chords and the increased lengths of notated durations expand beat space.  The opposite—what Yorgason terms diminishing dispersal—can be found in Sainte-Marie’s song “Ananias.”  Here the song’s goal-oriented narrative of achieving faith is mirrored in its achievement of synchrony, a process I call progressive synchrony.  In “Ananias,” asynchrony is part of an expressively timed opening (the opening fragments of which I’ve transcribed below).


Sainte-Marie, “Ananias,” initial asynchronies

Eventually this yields to a coordination between the voice and guitar.  As the text affirms belief, the process of progressive synchrony aligns with the shift in lyrical narrative, which can be heard by listening to the refrains highlighted below (click to listen:  Verse 1 Refrain, Verse 2 Refrain, Verse 3 Refrain).



image6-e1573131324380.pngThese two techniques of expressive asynchrony are not limited to performance of notated piano music.  Indeed Sainte-Marie uses them to convey the narratives of her songs.  Studying asynchrony in Saint-Marie’s music brings us in closer contact with her broader contributions to techniques of lyrical expression in the singer-songwriter style of the 1960s and 1970s.

As always, comments are welcome.  Share your thoughts below!

Performing a Syncopated Hemiola and Its Cousin in Brahms

By John Paul Ito (Carnegie Mellon University)

This post serves as a preview of a lightning talk that will take place at PAIG’s 2019 SMT meeting in Columbus (Saturday, November 9 from 12:30 to 2:00 pm).

In my upcoming talk during the PAIG meeting at SMT this weekend, I’ll be talking about navigating the performance issues created by a special rhythmic pattern:  the syncopated hemiola.  To do this, I’ll draw on my forthcoming book, Focal Impulse Theory:  Musical Expression, Meter, and the Body, scheduled for release by Indiana University Press in October of 2020.

In the book I introduce the concept of the focal impulse:  a special kind of physical motion that performers make.  In Western classical music (and I suspect in many other musics not addressed in the book), focal impulses usually occur on the main felt beats.  In many cases you could even say that the focal impulses are what makes these the main felt beats.  (This holds most directly for the performer.  Listeners may make their own focal impulses as they respond physically to what they hear—these may or may not match up with a performer’s—and doing so may often be an important part of feeling a main beat for them as well.)

In the simplest kinds of syncopations, a rhythmic pattern is displaced with respect to the main felt beats.  The mismatch between the focal impulses on the felt beats and the notes in between will create a visceral sense of conflict for the performer, and it will also impart characteristic sonic qualities to the syncopations.  The example below shows the opening melody from “The Infernal Dance” from Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird.


Stravinsky, “The Infernal Dance” from The Firebird, opening melody

The vertical lines above the staff with the beginnings of slurs are my notation for focal impulses, and the dots below them indicate their placement on the quarter-note beats.  (The dots are necessary because the beats are often not visually apparent in the score).  Within each two-bar unit, the accented notes are all off-set from the main beats (thus also from the focal impulses) until the final note of the unit, where they come into alignment.  These final notes provide moments of physical grounding within the melody, moments at which the conflict between accented notes and focal impulses is resolved—and they will be subtly different in their articulation from the other accented notes.

A hemiola occurs when two triple metrical groupings are reorganized as three duple groupings.  We can also think of this as preserving triple organization but doubling the duration of the beat (though we will generally have multiple choices of which beat to feel, both in the main meter and in the hemiola).
IMAGE2As shown in the example above, a hemiola in 6/8 meter reorganizes the two dotted-quarter-note beats as three quarter-note beats (similar to changing the meter signature to 3/4).  Hemiolas are especially common in baroque music, often occurring just before cadences.

There are two basic possibilities for performing hemiolas:  the hemiola can become the performer’s heard meter, with focal impulses placed on the main beats of the hemiola meter;
IMAGE3or the performer can continue to hear in the notated meter, with focal impulses on the main notated beats and the hemiola functioning as a cross-rhythm.
IMAGE4(There are other possibilities not shown, such as feeling the music in one, but these will still involve hearing either the notated or the hemiola meter.) 

Combining syncopation with hemiola creates some interesting possibilities, one of which presents special challenges to the performer.  The example below shows such a syncopation, with cue notes indicating the hemiola (the imagined performance is only of the main, syncopated line).

Syncopated hemiolas like these present the same basic possibilities as the un-syncopated examples above:  the performer chooses to hear either in the notated meter or the hemiola meter.  The more straightforward option is to use the hemiola meter as the heard meter.
IMAGE5In this case the performance is like that of Stravinsky’s triple-meter syncopation above.  Alternatively, the performer can retain the notated meter:
IMAGE6This approach yields a more complicated situation, because the syncopation following the second hemiola note will be a metrical double negative:  though quite weak as a syncopation in relation to a hemiola, it aligns with a strong beat in the notated meter, and thus also with a focal impulse (at least if performed in two).

My talk will apply these ideas to the performance of two passages by Brahms (one a syncopated hemiola and the other a close cousin), in both cases retaining the notated meter as the heard meter.  Each performance option will be illustrated by an original recording, and the pianist who performs in the recordings, music theorist and Brahms scholar David Keep, will be on hand for the discussion following the talk.

The first passage will be the middle section of the Capriccio, Op. 116, No. 7, which features a displaced hemiola melody.


Brahms, Capriccio op. 116/7, mm. 21–46

Here there are actually three candidates for performance, as it can also be heard in a shifted hemiola (3/4) meter (with the quarter notes of the melody aligning with the heard meter); Frank Samarotto advocates for this option, and it is the one taken by many performers.

But some observations about the passage prompted me to see if I couldn’t hear it in the notated meter, with the melody syncopated.  More specifically, I wanted to hear and perform it both with the original placement of the barlines and in the notated 6/8 meter rather than in the hemiola 3/4 meter.  There were some smaller signs that pointed me in this direction, such as a few midbar harmonic changes (e.g., mm. 26 and 28); but the strongest prompt was the way in which the notated meter seemed to emerge as if out of the fog in the first ending of the second reprise (mm. 43a–44a)—when Brahms uses shifted heard meter, he usually presents a clearer path back to the notated meter.

So how might the passage be heard throughout in the notated meter?  How could this hearing be conveyed in performance?  And, in particular, how could the metrical double negative be prevented from turning into a simple positive, with an accent on the second melody note of each bar?

Similar issues arise in the thematic return from the Capriccio, Op. 76, No. 5.  The original theme is an unsyncopated hemiola.


Brahms, Capriccio op. 76/5, mm. 1–4

Returning in 2/4, the melody is displaced, and Brahms comes as close as he could (without using triplets) to the rhythm of the syncopated hemiola.


Brahms, Capriccio op. 76/5, mm. 86–90

A straightforward performance in two (indicated above the staff)—one that does not respond at all to the implication of a syncopated hemiola—has a sharply etched rhythmic profile; and as we shall hear in the talk, this makes a stark contrast with the hauntingly sinuous quality of the syncopated hemiola of Op. 116, No. 7.  Is there a way to bridge this gap?

You will have to wait for the talk (or, if you can’t make it, for the appearance of the book next year) in order to find out how I resolve these issues.  But for those attending the talk, your ability to follow these performance approaches and to hear them in the recordings might be facilitated by some preparation.  For both passages I draw on a special resource described in Focal Impulse Theory:  to respond to an anticipation first by shifting the focal impulse forward to coincide with the anticipation, and then by sustaining the muscular contractions of the focal impulse into the main beat.

In the book I describe exercises for feeling such shifted and sustained focal impulses; they involve pushing against resistance (real or imagined) at the start of the anticipation, continuing the push as the note continues, and then having the resistance abruptly removed on the strong beat.  In each case the primary motion, performing the shifted and sustained focal impulse, is done using the dominant arm.  The following short videos explain the exercises:  in the first video, the non-dominant arm creates resistance; in the second, a partner provides resistance; and in the third, resistance is imagined and mimed using only the dominant arm.  I will only have time to explain these motions quite quickly in the talk; so if you are able to find the time to watch the videos and practice the exercises, it will help you to connect more fully with the original recordings of these Brahms examples, and with the solutions I propose to these performance challenges.

As always, comments are welcome.  Share your thoughts below!

Toward a Performance-based Analysis for the Shō

By Toru Momii (Columbia University)

My current research develops a framework for analyzing interculturality in contemporary Japanese music through the lens of performance.  One of my case studies—on which I’ll be presenting at SMT next month—focuses on shō player Miyata Mayumi, who not only maintains an active career as a gagaku musician but also as a pioneer of contemporary music for the shō.  But this blog post will focus more on the shō itself and how musicians today might learn the basics of the instrument.  I hope to familiarize the Anglophone music theory community with the shō and its performance practice as a first stage in facilitating an analytical approach to the instrument, its players, and gagaku music in general.

About the Shō


Ishikawa Kō playing the shō

The shō (笙) is a free-reed mouth organ used primarily in the Japanese court-music tradition of gagaku (雅楽).  Those living in Japan might associate the shō’s sound with the New Year, when Shinto shrines across the country play recordings of gagaku on repeat.  For those living outside of Japan, the instrument might recall the opening ceremony of the 1998 Nagano Olympics, where Miyata played the Japanese national anthem on the shō.

The shō has seventeen bamboo pipes, each of which is equipped with a metal reed tuned with beeswax and resin.  Above the reed each pipe has a small finger hole, which must be covered in order to produce a pitch.  The technology for producing sound is similar to that of the pipe organ, harmonica, accordion, and khaen.  The player can generate sound either by exhaling into or inhaling from the mouthpiece, which allows the performer to maintain sound continuously without pausing for breath.

One key technical requirement of shō performance is that the instrument must be heated thoroughly before and after playing so that the pipes are free of moisture.  As such, heaters are always placed onstage during any performance, and performers will often be seen warming their instruments during pauses and between pieces.  While some ensembles—such as the Jūnion-kai (十二音会) and Ono Gagaku-kai (小野雅楽会)—continue to rely on hibachi charcoal heaters, it’s now more customary to use electric heaters.  I personally use a portable electric stove, easily obtained in the United States.

A relative of the Chinese sheng (also written as 笙), the shō made its way into the Japanese archipelago around the beginning of the Nara Period (710–94), a period in which many aspects of Japanese society were modeled after those of Tang China:  written language, religion, architecture, art, and, of course, music.  While gagaku has transformed dramatically since then, the design of the shō itself has undergone minimal changes, as evidenced by this Nara-period shō from the Shōsō-in (正倉院) treasure house.

Gagaku encompasses a number of genres, each with its own repertoire, instrumentation, and performance practice.  The shō is featured in three of these genres:  the vocal genres of rōei (朗詠; vocal music set to Japanese text) and saibara (催馬楽; vocal music set to Chinese text), and the instrumental and dance repertoires of tōgaku (唐楽, which translates into “music of the Tang dynasty”).  The shō performs in an ensemble composed of string (biwa (琵琶), gakusō (楽箏)), percussion (kakko (鞨鼓), taiko (太鼓), shōko (鉦鼓)), and other wind instruments (ryūteki (龍笛), hichiriki (篳篥)).  In contrast to rōei and saibara, where the shō accompanies the vocal melody with a monophonic line, tōgaku uses the instrument to color the ensemble texture with clusters of five or six pitches called aitake (合竹).


Notation and Shōga

While gagaku is a notated tradition, professional musicians today are still expected to learn their repertoire orally.  Musicians use a mnemonic device called shōga (唱歌) to learn their respective parts.  In a nutshell, each piece comes with a different shōga melody for the performer to memorize, with every instrument having a unique set of shōga.  The shōga outlines the melodies played by each instrument, indicates phrase structure, and provides recommendations for phrasing and expression.  Musicians at the Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency are expected to spend five years devoting themselves to the mastery of shōga before picking up an instrument.  There is absolutely no way around shōga, even outside the Imperial Household:  when a colleague of mine was studying in Tokyo, his teacher asked him to recite shōga while sweeping the floor of the shrine.  Nowadays, however, shōga is used in tandem with notation when teaching amateur musicians at culture centers, community groups, and universities—including at the Columbia University Gagaku Ensemble, one of two university gagaku ensembles in the United States.

An example of the shō notation for Hyōjō Etenraku (平調越殿楽)—arguably the most well-known piece in gagaku today—is shown below.


Taken from the Chūshōkyokufu Hōshōfu (1977; 『中小曲譜 鳳笙譜』), edited and compiled by the Ono Gagaku-kai ensemble)

Unlike in most modern Western art music, there is no full orchestral score available to gagaku performers; players are expected to acquaint themselves with the other instrumental parts through repeated ensemble practice and by listening to each other’s shōga.  As with Japanese text, the notation proceeds from top to bottom, then right to left.

Etenraku consists of eight hyōshi (拍子), a term analogous to “rhythmic cycle” in Western music (Kapuscinski and Rose 2013).  Etenraku follows the haya-yohyōshi (早四拍子) metrical system, in which each hyōshi (rhythmic cycle) is four measures long, with each measure consisting of four beats:  in Western terminology, four-measure phrases in 4/4 meter.  Each measure is marked by a dot on the right side of each line.  The larger dots, which occur on the third measure of each cycle, mark the points at which all three percussion instruments align on the first beat to produce a metrical accent (see Example 1 of Kapuscinski and Rose’s website for a Western transcription of the percussion parts in a haya-yohyōshi cycle).  The rhythmic cycles and percussion instruments play an essential role in keeping the ensemble together, since there are no conductors in a gagaku ensemble and all performers face forward.

In shō notation, the kanji character to the left of each dot specifies the name of the aitake the performer must play in a given measure.  Since the notation does not provide any pitches or fingerings for the aitake, it is imperative that shō players memorize them before learning any tōgaku repertoire.  Shō notation therefore resembles more closely a lead sheet than it does an individual instrumental part that instructs performers which notes to play.  The notation is also consistent with the shōga for shō players, in which the recited text comprises the name of the aitake being played.  This means that if you’ve memorized shōga, you’ve also memorized the sequence of aitake in the piece!  In other words, because shō players are expected to learn repertoire primarily through shōga, performers often internalize pieces as a string of aitake.  Notation therefore functions as a mode of recordkeeping rather than as a memory aid for performance.  In fact, no professional ensemble ever uses notation in performance.


Aitake:  Analogous to Harmony?

While it may be tempting for music theorists to talk about aitake (listen to all eleven aitake here) as a cultural variant of harmony, it is important to acknowledge the key differences between the two concepts.  First, most shō players do not conceptualize aitake as collections of individual pitches.  Rather, aitake are learned as configurations of fingerings and pipes.  It is therefore likely that they will feel more comfortable listing the pipes used in an aitake (e.g., sen, otsu, hachi, etc.) than the names of its pitches (e.g., shimomu, hyōjō, banshiki, etc.).  Likewise, shō players often refer to pitches by their pipe names:  the pitch hyōjō, analogous to the Western pitch class E, is referred to as “otsu” (in the case of E5) or “hachi” (E6).

Furthermore, aitake are not strictly accompanimental in the sense that Western harmonies are.  Gagaku instruments play in heterophony, meaning that each simultaneously articulates a different version of the same melody:  the shō presents its version through aitake.  Moreover, the syntactic notions of doubling, resolution, consonance, and dissonance are not applicable to aitake.  By understanding how performers learn and think about aitake—as configurations of pipes rather than as accompanimental pitch collections with functional obligations—we can open new possibilities for theorizing and analyzing shō performance (and gagaku writ large).


Analyzing Gagaku Performance:  Next Steps?

Paying serious attention to performers’ perspectives is an effective way of analyzing non-Western music without forcefully imposing Western music theory’s methodologies and assumptions.  For instance, analyzing gagaku performance requires a different goal than Western performance analysis.  In gagaku, the relationship between composer and performer is fundamentally different from that of Western music.  Most traditional gagaku pieces are not attributed to a composer.  Asking a performer to “bring out” the composer’s musical structure would therefore seem outlandish.  In fact, performers generally avoid drawing attention to themselves, prioritizing instead the dynamics of ensemble performance at the core of gagaku.

Another common assumption in Western music theory is that analysts can access a musical work primarily through the score.  In traditional gagaku, however, there are no full orchestral scores, and their absence poses a unique challenge for scholars interested in analyzing gagaku.  Since each instrumental part employs a different notational method, studying the “entire piece” requires in-depth knowledge of all instrumental parts.  One possible workaround is to consult transcriptions of gagaku pieces by prominent gagaku musicians.  But, as a number of scholars have warned, none of these transcriptions accurately represents how gagaku has been performed—neither at the time of publication nor today.  Rather, the transcriptions reflect each musician’s image of an ideal performance, shaped by their own musical training, research, and aesthetic preference.  While the transcriptions offer a comprehensive overview of each piece, these scores might not always be consistent with performance.  Understanding how each part functions in an ensemble performance requires years of training and performing experience (How many years?  Ten, according to Shiba Sukeyasu).  This difficulty is compounded by the fact that many essential components of performance—phrasing, tempo, rhythm, dynamics—are not written in the individual instrumental parts; they are taught through shōga alone.

Keeping in mind these particularities of gagaku, I therefore suggest that performance analysis offers an accessible starting point for a theoretical approach to present-day gagaku.  Since shōga and notation differ between each instrument, I propose that we analyze gagaku through the lens of individual performers.  Studying specific instrumental parts invites us to consider how a present-day ensemble performance is experienced by performers.  Shō performance, for instance, suggests a number of directions for analysis:  theorizing how instrumental gestures impact the performer’s experience of the piece; how interactions between the shō and other instruments evolve throughout the piece; and how shōga informs the shō player’s phrasing, articulation, and dynamics.

As always, comments are welcome.  Share your thoughts below!

Tempo as Form

By Nathan Pell (The Graduate Center, CUNY and Mannes College)

This past Fall, I presented at a nineteenth-century performance practice conference at the Sydney Conservatorium, convened by Neal Peres da Costa, Daniel Yeadon, and Clive Brown.  (Fellow PAIG member Jocelyn Ho also gave a paper, on Debussy’s performance style, that showcased her truly stunning piano playing.)  The theme of this symposium was “Correct, but not Beautiful, Performance,” a phrase borrowed from treatises by Hummel and Spohr.

The idea, these treatises say, is that beginning music students must first learn to execute notes, rhythms, dynamics, articulations, and phrasings with exactitude.  This sort of discipline sits at the core of Western musical training, and lays the groundwork for a student’s solidity in musicianship, technique, and ensemble playing.  Performing the music precisely as written in the score—the principal goal, I and the symposium’s participants would argue, of most modern-day musicians—is only the first step, however.  It is “correct, but not beautiful, performance”:  for composers can only notate so much, and to play a dry rendition of the score, therefore, would be to miss their point.

Beauty in music-making, for musicians of two hundred years ago, required performers to read between the lines, intuiting the unstated implications of the printed page in accordance with a shared awareness of musical practices and styles, so as to tease out what elements the composer might have left out of the score.  To be sure this is an interpretive process, but not really in the modern sense that performers ‘make their mark’ on the music.  Rather, it was understood that composers really wanted to hear such liberties in performance, and as such a certain spirit of fidelity existed even in especially free realizations of the score.  So, the conference organizers were quite right to charge participants with “deciphering the hidden messages in nineteenth-century notation”;  for this is the same activity that sensitive nineteenth-century performers engaged in—albeit with the advantage of living and breathing these performance practices rather than trying to reconstruct them.

The result was a fascinating symposium that brought together musicians of many stripes and included a large number of performances by participants.  Several of these, easily among the best “historically informed” performances I have heard, will stay with me for quite some time:  Ho’s aforementioned Debussy, Peres da Costa’s performance of John Field in the manner of Carl Reineke, Koen van Stade’s 1870s-style rendition of “O Isis und Osiris,” and an open rehearsal/coaching of the Brahms Horn Trio with Anneke Scott, Robin Wilson, and Peres da Costa.  So I was thrilled to learn, a few days ago, that a follow-up conference is planned for this September in Vienna.

My own contribution to the symposium was a paper called “Tempo as Form:  Orchestral Recordings from 1910–1940 in Light of Earlier Sources.”  (I have since delivered versions of this paper at several American theory conferences.)  Especially since the topic touches on questions of analysis, I think it will be of interest to PAIG members.  This medium does not give me space to rehash my full argument, but I will summarize some main points.

 *          *          *

Many musicians believe that tempo fluctuation in orchestral performance began with Wagner.  And, further still, some think that rubato in general is a trapping of “Romantic,” but not “Classical,” performance.  I stressed that I consider these among the major misconceptions in music historyAmple evidence surely exists that eighteenth-century tempos were flexible, and that this was a sine qua non of “beautiful” performance.  The most commonly discussed sort of rubato is that in which the performer speeds up in vigorous, loud passages and slows for tranquil or soft ones:

In compositions whose character is vehemence, anger, rage, fury, and the like, the most forceful passages can be played with a somewhat hastened motion…  For extraordinarily tender, longing, or melancholy passages, in which the emotion, as it were, is concentrated in one point, the effect can be very much intensified by an increasing hesitation.  (Türk, 1789)

But in the eighteenth century such flexibility was mostly confined to solo and chamber music, for reasons of ensemble:

Certain purposeful violations of the beat are often exceptionally beautiful.  However, a distinction in their use must be observed:  In solo performance and in ensembles made up of only a few understanding players, manipulations are permissible which affect the tempo itself; here, the group will be less apt to go astray than to become attentive to and adopt the change; but in large ensembles made up of motley players the manipulations must be addressed to the bar alone without touching on the broader pace.  (CPE Bach, 1753)

(At the end of this last sentence Bach makes an implicit distinction between tempo rubato‘s original meaning—where a melody weaves in and out of tempo against a steady accompaniment—and an actual fluctuation of the main pulse across a musical texture.  As time went on, the term tempo rubato began to refer to the latter practice too, causing a bedeviling confusion in terminology.)

Exceptions were rare enough to earn special mention.  But by the early nineteenth century, when the capabilities of Europe’s orchestras were growing to match the demands composers were placing on them, this was no longer the case:  CPE Bach’s rule underwent reformulation, and the differences between solo and orchestral tempo styles began to fade.  Indeed, important composers are known to have varied the tempo in their orchestral performances, and treatises began to single out specific moments in orchestral works that call for rubato.

For an example, click here to look at the instructions that Anton Schindler added for the Larghetto of Beethoven’s Second Symphony while hearing a performance that follows them.


If you know of Schindler, it is probably for his many forgeries and outlandish claims surrounding the life of Beethoven.  But his testimony here must be reliable, given its full-throated endorsement by Ignaz Moscheles—a far closer friend of Beethoven’s than Schindler was and, moreover, a rather conservative musician:

I agree with M. Schindler in these remarks.  The slight deviations of time recommended must give life and expression, not only to this movement, but also to the imaginative compositions of all the great masters.  Their success, however, can only be assured by intimate acquaintance on the part of the band with the manner of the conductor, and his mode of conveying his intentions, either from long intercourse or careful rehearsals.

Carl Czerny, another prominent pupil of Beethoven’s, provided the fullest account of tempo flexibility in the first part of the nineteenth century—and it is very likely that his precepts reflect the performance practice of his teacher.  Below I have reproduced his advice for the use of the ritardando, interspersing links to a number of early recordings (mostly orchestral performances from before 1940) that, to my ear, exemplify Czerny’s discussion.  I do this not only so we can more easily grasp what Czerny is getting at, but also to make the case that the practices described in early nineteenth-century treatises can be heard to have survived into the twentieth century.  This should come as no surprise, considering that most of these musicians were born and educated in the nineteenth century.  (I have deliberately chosen recordings that display a wide array of approaches, from the subtle to the ridiculous:  there have always been stiff performances and over-the-top performances, and the nineteenth century was no exception.)

§8 The Ritardando, according to the generally established Rule, is much more frequently employed than the Accelerando, because the former is less likely to disfigure the character of the piece, than the too frequent hurrying on in the speed of movement. We may retard the time most advantageously.

a.  In those passages  which  contain the return to the principal subject.
b.  In those passages, which lead to some separate member of a melody.
c.  In those long and sustained notes which are to be struck with particular emphasis, and after which quicker notes are to follow.
d.  At the transition into another species of time, or into another movement, different in speed from that which preceded it.
e.  Immediately  after a pause.
f.  At the Diminuendo of a preceding very lively passage; as also in brilliant passages, when there suddenly occurs a trait of melody to be played piano and with much delicacy.
g.  In embellishments, consisting of very many quick notes, which we are unable to force into the degree of movement first chosen.
h.  Occasionally also, in the chief crescendo of a strongly marked melody, leading to an important passage or to the close.
i.  In very humorous, capricious, and fantastic passages, in order to heighten the character so much the more.
k.  Lastly, almost always where the Composer has indicated an espressivo; as also
l.  At the end of every long shake which forms a pause or Cadenza, and which is marked diminuendo.

Let’s take stock.  Recall the eighteenth-century paradigm described by Türk:  vigorous/fast, tranquil/slow.  The place one is most likely to find tranquil music in a sonata form is the second theme.  We know that performers in the nineteenth century would have slowed here.  Sure enough, so did performers on early recordings, where the second theme is usually one of the slowest passages in a sonata movement.

Listen:  Beethoven, Symphony in E-flat, Op. 55, First Movement—Henry J. Wood, New Queens Hall Orchestra, 1922 (first recording of the work)

Blog Examples

The music just before the second theme, the transition, is normally quite vigorous—as we might expect given its harmonic purpose.  This too is borne out in performance; the transition often contains some of a sonata movement’s fastest music.

Listen:  Mozart, Symphony in E-flat, K. 543, First Movement—Felix Weingartner, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 1928

Blog Examples3

Czerny tells us (in Letter A above) that one should slow before thematic restatements.  The biggest of all thematic restatements is the sonata’s recapitulation, and performers almost always heed Czerny’s advice.

Listen:  Beethoven, Symphony in D, Op. 36, First Movement—Clemens Krauss, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, 1929

Blog Examples2

From these principles we can begin to construct a generic tempo plan that a typical sonata movement might follow.  Although by no means typical in most other regards, Mozart’s G minor Symphony demonstrates most of the standard tempo conventions of the high classical sonata:

K. 550--Strauss.jpg

Click here to listen along with Strauss’s famous recording while looking at the chart.  Notice how closely Strauss’s tempos match up with our familiar formal units.  This is what I mean by my title, “Tempo as Form.”

How these practices changed across the twentieth century (and change they very certainly did!) is beyond my scope here.  But because the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had conventional ways of varying tempo in response to specific musical situations, we can surmise that composers wrote their music with these tempo variations in mind.  (In the full paper, I discuss in detail what these specific musical situations were.)  If, indeed, tempo was written into the music in such a way, we would do well to consider tempo a truly form-defining feature, much like harmony and thematic design.

As always, comments are welcome.  Share your thoughts below!

CFP for 2019 Meeting

The SMT Performance and Analysis Interest Group (PAIG) invites proposals for 13-minute lightning talks at its upcoming meeting during the 2019 Society for Music Theory conference in Columbus, OH (November 7–10).

Proposed talks may relate to any aspect of the relation between music performance and theory or analysis. Proposals should reflect that the presentation wil lbe suitable for a lightning-talk format and that it will incorporate recorded or live music in some way. Presentations involving collaborations between scholars and performers are encouraged. Authors may submit only one proposal for consideration.

To submit a proposal, please do the following by July 7:

  • Prepare a PDF file including (1) a title, (2) an proposal of up to 500 words, and (3) up to 2 pages of examples and/or bibliography. The document (including its filename and metadata) should be anonymous, with any self-references in third person.
  • Email the PDF file to edward.klorman (at), using subject line “2019 PAIG Proposal.” In the body of the email, please identify the author(s) of the proposal.
  • Our conference room will have a standard AV set-up. If your presentation requires any special equipment beyond this, please describe it in the body of your email. Because of PAIG’s budgetary constraints, you will likely have to make such arrangements yourself.

By submitting a proposal, you agree to the following if your proposal is accepted:

  • To register for and attend the upcoming SMT conference (November 7–10, 2019 in Columbus, OH).
  • To provide PAIG with a short (500–750 word) “teaser” blog post by October 1, to be written in a reasonably non-technical and accessible style. This could simply adapt your proposal or could be a newly composed text. (PAIG blog staff will assist those unfamiliar with the medium.) We will use this blog post to promote our meeting and to allow PAIG members the opportunity to engage with your ideas or listen to recordings in advance of the session.

Program Committee:

  • Ellen Bakulina
  • Wing Lau
  • Edward Klorman (ex-officio)
  • Nathan Pell (ex-officio)

Reflections on the 5th International Performance Studies Network Conference

Lee Blasius recently instructed a program committee:  “One question we don’t need to ask is, ‘Is this music theory?’  The field is an ever-expanding horizon.”  On the surface, many of the presentations and performances given at this summer’s 5th International Performance Studies Network Conference, held at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, presented analyses that defied or ignored the conventions that many might associate with music theory (as well as composition, musicology, and performance studies).  Yet the multiple perspectives, disciplines, and topics that attendees encountered in Oslo this July should encourage music theorists, in the spirit of Blasius’s instructions, to think more expansively about what music theory and analysis can do, for whom they operate, what tools and methods they might employ, and what new voices to include.

As always, the parallel sessions prevented those of us in attendance from reporting on the entirety and richness of the full program.  There were, however, highlights that we would like to share with our colleagues.


Introduction: David Kopp (Boston University)

The Performance Studies Network (PSN) is a legacy of the Center for Musical Performance as Creative Practice (CMPCP), a five-year initiative based at the University of Cambridge led by John Rink.  CMPCP’s tradition of biennial conferences has continued under the auspices of PSN; this was the fifth in the series, and the first to be held outside the UK.  Darla Crispin, director of research at the Norwegian Academy, was the conference organizer.  The growth and maturation of the field of musical performance studies and the continuation of CMPCP’s mission, framed within the European practice of artistic research , were evident throughout the conference.

The guiding philosophy behind CMPCP/PSN is that musical performance, and by extension music, must be understood as more than the realization of the composer’s vision and its representation on the score.  The performer’s contribution constitutes an essential, active, and creative element of music, thus providing a compelling object of study.  Moreover, because performers are recognized as thoughtful, expert practitioners—not mere channels for a composer’s intent—they are uniquely placed to share in the research endeavor.  Not surprisingly, a majority of conference presenters wore multiple hats:  active equally on the one hand as performers, conductors, composers, educators, and critics, and on the other as scholars (whether in traditional academic fields or as specialists in artistic research).  Many of the performer-presenters were of considerable distinction.

The presentations reflected several topics central to musical performance studies.  These included, among others:

  • Performance practice, from established approaches to historically informed performance to the developing practice of the 21st-century music
  • Determining and articulating performers’ contributions to the realization of music beyond the information on the score, both individually and in collaboration
  • Composer-performer collaborations in which both contribute to the creative product
  • Improvisation
  • Analysis of recordings
  • Anthropological, sociological, and cultural aspects of performance
  • Interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approaches to the development of performance strategies
  • The influence of technology on performance practice
  • Approaches to music production
  • And, last but not least, despite a current of skepticism directed at the privileged position of the score, several talks drawing on the performance and analysis tradition, given by both North American and European presenters.

There were also several concerts given by Norwegian artists, ranging from avant-garde music to music inspired by Norwegian vernacular traditions.  Many of the presentations gravitated toward new music, where the contribution of the performer is often more explicitly acknowledged or readily ascertained.  An equally important goal, though, was evident in other presentations that aimed to demonstrate the unacknowledged and essential contributions of performers to music of the European canon.

The role of music theory in the PSN enterprise was most apparent in, but not limited to, the presentations that involved performance/analysis questions or the analysis of recordings.  If the conference raised any challenges for North American theorists, they might be to better recognize and incorporate those beyond-the-score aspects of performance into analysis, and, through the force of future work, to expand the presence of music theory within the performance studies community.


Daniel Barolsky (Beloit College)

Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, in “Aspects of belief and attachment in the performance of classical music,” equated our deeply rooted reliance on compositional instructions to a kind of religious devotion.  Doing so, he drew attention to how normative processes, especially those of performance style, are not only created but also policed.  Attempts to deviate from these norms have been regulated by critics (and theorists, I would argue) in a manner that not only discourages interpretive creativity but also perpetuates, in euphemistic ways, outdated gendered binaries, homophobia, and misogyny.  Although Leech-Wilkinson focused on music criticism, his larger argument can be extended more broadly to “the heteropatriarchal values that underlie western classical music belief.”

Many of the presentations in Olso offered ways to combat these limits.  The most activist strategies could be found in Challenging Performance, a new project created by Leech-Wilkinson and his colleagues that seeks to challenge traditional practices and gives voice to entirely new ways of analyzing and hearing familiar repertoire.  Analogously, Rosanna Lovell, Brandon Farnsworth, and Darla Crispin led a panel conversation on GRiNM (Gender Relations in New Music), a relatively new organization (2016) that confronts the normative mechanisms that have resulted in such major classical music festivals as Darmstadt programming a disproportionate number of compositions by men.  Readers will find it well worth their while to explore both of these websites and to take note as they develop.

In work that embraces more radical interpretations, Lina Navickaitė-Martinelli and Georgia Volioti introduced new analytical lenses through which we might explore new modes of listening.  Navickaitė-Martinelli, in her “P is for Person, Performance, Pogorelich:  Performer’s Identity as Creative Tool,” used a comparison with a slow cinematic take by Michelangelo Antonioni to help reimagine how we might listen to a hypnotically drawn-out interpretation by the controversial pianist Ivo Pogorelich.  However simple the comparison, many of us in the room, previous critics of Pogorelich, came to recognize how the pianist’s tempo, however unconventional, gives the listener space and time to explore—almost like a temporal X-ray—the inner workings, dynamics, texture, and make-up of a given score, details that would have been lost at a faster tempo.  Similarly, Volioti (in “Narrativity in Grieg’s Ballade Revisited:  The Nineteenth-Century Pianist as Storyteller”) used recorded performances by Eugene D’Albert and and Percy Grainger to conceive of the narrative possibilities of Grieg’s Ballade, a theme and variations that had appeared to resist or fail to convey narrative construction.

Cecilia Oinas and Naomi Woo explored the interrelationship between analysis and embodiment, thus expanding the domain of analysis even further.  In “The Body in Pain at the Piano:  Where Form Meets Failure in Ligeti’s Etudes pour Piano,” Woo presented an “autoethnography” of the author’s process of learning (and at times failing to learn) the Etudes.  She provided us with the critical reminder that any analysis of a score as a “work” will always be “radically incomplete” if we limit our engagement to just reading and listening.  In a discussion of Ligeti’s Étude no. 3:  touches bloquées, Woo drew attention to the cognitive dissonance that occurs not only between what we see and what we hear, but also between what performers hear or feel (including pain) and how they play or practice.  A similar cognitive dissonance was explored by Oinas’s paper, “From four-handed monster to an all-embracing Vishnu:  On sensitivity, intimacy, and corporeal interaction in György Kurtág’s four-handed works.”  Because the negotiation of bodily space is central to any four-hands successful collaboration, such music is more inherently physical than other duos.  Not only do Kurtág’s compositions intentionally force the performers to cross over and invade each other’s space—a critical and rarely analyzed element of this music—but because both musicians are playing the same instrument, what the individual performer plays is often confused with what she hears.  The author will be presenting an expanded version of this paper the upcoming SMT conference in San Antonio.


Michiko Theurer (Stanford University)

Of the presentations I was able to attend, the one I keep coming back to is a multi-modal performance/lecture given by Anna Scott and Valentin Gloor, entitled “Brahmsphantasie:  Performing Historical Fictions.”  Their presentation posed questions about how historical fictions and contradictions can be used as tools for analysis and interpretation of canonical music, using as an example Max Klinger’s Brahmsphantasie Op. 12, a fantastical creation that led Brahms to reimagine the potential of his own music.  When I entered the room, the lights were dimmed and Gloor was singing Brahms as he climbed over and between chairs in the audience, while Scott played the piano at the front of the room.  The presentation unfolded in a series of seamless transitions between musical performance, scholarly lecture, and theater, sometimes layered in such a way that it was difficult to untangle one from the other.  At one point, Scott compared Klinger’s Brahmsphantasie with Baroque emblem books, explaining that the multiple and conflicting layers in the emblem books forced the viewer to interpret or choose between possible readings.  As she spoke, I kept getting distracted by the sound of Gloor crumpling pages of music in the back of the room.  Why on earth was he distracting from what she was saying?, I kept thinking, until I realized this forced hovering-between-ideas (schweben) was precisely Scott’s point.

Toward the end, Scott announced that at a previous conference (Orpheus Institute 2015) they had presented a paper concerning an entirely fabricated invented correspondence between Brahms and Debussy and the (alleged) resulting music.  In exposing this falsehood, she asked:  did she also in some way kill truth?  The tone of her question was extremely complex, and loaded with the intellectually rigorous and musically persuasive power of their presentation.


Victoria Tzotzkova (Massaschusetts Institute of Technology)

When I think about what gives the PSN conferences their distinct flavor, one particular point stands out:  that often there is a palpable sense that the person speaking is a performer.  These are still clearly scholarly presentations, sometimes more historical in approach, sometimes more sociological, psychological, experimental, and so on; but the questions being posed and the ways these questions are treated are, somehow, essentially performerly, to borrow a favorite term from Mine Dogantan-Dack.  In other words, these are questions that come up in the course of practicing, rehearsing, and performing—they are fundamentally relevant to experiences in performance.  Rather than asking performers to do scholarly work in the ways that academic music disciplines already do their work, these conferences seem to have become platforms for research that is not typically native to either the academic music department or the conservatory.

This is not to imply that this research merely consists of the incidental insights performers glean in the course of practice—the work is typically done in depth and with rigor.  But the questions raised seem to be specifically directed at performers, often aim to identify and analyze a particular aspect of performance experience, and generally tend to be readily subsumable back into performance experience.  I found this element of a performer’s voice both engaging and compelling, and I want to briefly trace it in three presentations.  (As a pianist, I gravitated towards more-or-less piano-centric talks.)

Mark Ferraguto’s presentation (“Interior Virtuosity in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto”) drew on letters, criticism, and philosophical writings from Beethoven’s time and current analytic work to highlight a then-important conversation about distinguishing between real and fake artistry in virtuoso performance.  While I cannot claim to have retained all details of the discussion, the points that stood out for me include the following:  in the context of that distinction, expressive markings can become a way to signal the depth of inner experience; that also within this context emerges the polarity between brilliant vs. expressive virtuosity, both of which can be part of real artistry.  These two styles can become a particular lens through which to analyze and experience specific passages of Beethoven’s keyboard writing, especially in a work like a concerto, where the artistic personality of the composer-soloist is explicitly on display.  Ferraguto drew our attention to passages that exemplify each category, and suggested that knowing about these categories might affect how such passages are treated in performance.  It was exactly that last point that bespoke a performer’s outlook to me:  this understanding of virtuosity—carefully researched and laid out—was offered not only as a piece of historical research but also as an attitude one might adopt in playing the piece.  If, through the many variants of the solo part to the Fourth Concerto, Beethoven was negotiating the full range of his artistic persona, from the brilliant to the expressive, then that same attitude of showcasing a range of inner experience and pianistic prowess may also be productive today.  Ferraguto did not explicitly make this point, but in offering these ways of understanding virtuosity, he certainly opened the possibility.

In “Beautiful Piano Tone–A Matthay Legacy?,” Julian Hellaby presented the findings of an experimental study he undertook which aimed to establish whether pianists in the Tobias Matthay legacy were any more likely to be perceived as playing with “beautiful tone” than pianists who were never in contact with Matthay.  (Being a strong proponent and life-long theorist of beautiful tone in piano playing, Matthay is an obvious choice for questions about this elusive concept in piano performance.)  While the results were personally fascinating to me, the main point I would again like to make is that the question the study asks is fundamentally pianistic and performance-centered.  In the Q&A session, Hellaby used a short Romantic excerpt to demonstrate at the piano an aspect of how he understood beautiful tone.  The very understanding of the concept is rooted in experience at the piano, and sharing that understanding seems to almost require a demonstration, again at the piano.  With a strongly expressed scientific outlook and allegiance to proper experimental design, the study also remains clearly pianistic and steeped in experience:  it treats a question that a performer would ask.

Tor Espen Aspaas’s presentation (“Unfolding Beethoven Extempore”) focused on passages in Beethoven’s piano writing which bear the mark of extemporizations.  Again motivated by performance experience, Aspaas’s research aims to create an improvisational framework in which a performer could experience portions of Beethoven’s oeuvre.  The difference this switch could make is something Aspaas discovered first-hand, having recorded the full Beethoven sonatas cycle twice:  first working from traditional methods for interpretation, then more recently from this improvisational perspective.  There was not sufficient time to spend with his recorded examples, but in his own judgment the extempore framework not only offers a sense of greater freedom in performing the works, but also sounds fresher, more spontaneous, and more compelling than the earlier interpretations.  Again, this is a long-term research project, hosted at the Norwegian Academy and spanning several years, which springs from performance experience and, once developed, aims to directly impact performance experience.


2018 PAIG Meeting at AMS/SMT

“Since Schnabel: Pondering Hypermeter in Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas”

Presented by William Rothstein (The Graduate Center and Queens College, CUNY)

Friday, November 2, 12:30–2:00

** New Location: Lone Star B Crocket CD

Our upcoming meeting will take the form of a 45-minute presentation (see abstract below) followed by an extended analytical discussion.

For those who wish to do a bit of “pondering hypermeter” in advance of the meeting, Prof. Rothstein has generously prepared some study materials about the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in E-Flat, op. 33, no. 3. These materials may stimulate your thinking and serve as food for thought for the discussion. Click here to download them in PDF format

We wish to emphasize that this preparatory material is completely optional. Everyone is welcome at the meeting and in the discussion, regardless of whether they have perused the preparatory materials. A handout will be available for the talk, and it will be possible to follow without having done any preparation.

We hope to see you there!


Abstract: According to his pupil Konrad Wolff, Schnabel said that when he began to play a passage, he needed to know how far away the end was. Hence the “metrical periods,” as he called them, that he marked in his edition of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, first published in the 1920s. Unfortunately, he never defined very clearly what a “metrical period” is.

Many performing musicians have felt a need similar to Schnabel’s: how to feel, or count, Beethoven’s rhythms of medium size (3–16 measures). The terms “meter,” “metrical period,” and “hypermeter” have been used by many, but the same term often conceals different meanings, as John Paul Ito has rightly pointed out. In this talk, I consider the views of several writers since Schnabel, from Tovey to Temperley to Ito. Excerpts from most or all of the following Beethoven movements will be discussed: op. 28, i; op. 31/3, i; and op. 90, i.

Glenn Gould’s Uncommon Approach to Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata

By Michael Thibodeau (University of Toronto)

Author’s note:  The following adapts material from the second chapter of my dissertation, which can be found here.

Glenn Gould’s relationship with Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata is often overlooked.  Indeed, he recorded the work eight times between 1952 and 1974 in a variety of circumstances:  live and studio recordings, radio and television broadcasts, and a documentary.


Glenn Gould’s recordings of Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata

As I will show, these recordings bear witness to significant shifts in the pianist’s aesthetic.  This post focuses on Gould’s uncommon approach to manual asynchrony and tempo in these recordings, with the hope of encouraging further discussion about performance practice.

Most pianists are familiar with the stigma surrounding what is colloquially known as ‘breaking’:  the vertical separation of harmonic and melodic material in performance.  I can recall one instance in graduate school where I was cautioned for using it.  My teacher reminded me that it was not 1940 and told me a story about an old pedagogue who warned against its occurrence more than once during a lifetime.  This position may seem extreme (and it is), but it reflects current fashion in performance.  In the introduction to Neal Peres da Costa’s monograph Off the Record, musicologist Clive Brown argues that the device’s scarcity in contemporary practice is symptomatic of a modern misunderstanding:  “an extreme example of the ways in which the implicit meaning of the notation fell victim to an unhistorical conviction that fidelity to the composer’s intentions required the most scrupulous literal observance of the notated text.”

Many instances of manual asynchrony in Gould’s recordings flout common practice.  A particularly noteworthy example occurs in his 1974 Chemins de la musique performance during the development section.  In measure 101, Gould sounds the melody’s opening pitch twice:  first with the bass and then as the final note of the (notated) arpeggio.


Berg, Piano Sonata, mm. 100–102 annotated to show Gould’s manual asynchrony (the caesura and arpeggio are marked in Berg’s score)

Gould’s motivation likely stems from the dominant-function harmony in the preceding measure.  Despite the notated caesura, Gould is compelled to continue the melody upwards so that it sounds at the same time as the left hand’s tonic.  Gould is consistent with this decision later in measures 103, 105, and 106 where variations of the same material occur.

In measure 102 (see score above), Gould again chooses an unconventional asynchrony.  Of the three numbered pitches (C/A/D#), the middle note is sounded last, resulting in the performance order:  C/D#/A. The purpose of this choice is to highlight the inner voice which begins on A, repeats, and then continues upwards to F# and F♮.  Alfred Brendel’s more conventional performance allows us to put Gould’s creative approach into context.

Gould’s use of manual asynchrony allows him to articulate contrapuntal material with great flexibility.  His recordings demonstrate, in practice, how the work is underdetermined by its score.  Pianists could learn from Gould’s novel applications of manual asynchrony, which represent compelling solutions for highlighting contrapuntal lines.

Gould had a penchant for reconsidering tempos, as is well known from his 1955 and 1981 recordings of the Goldberg Variations.  But a remarkable increase in length also occurs across Gould’s recordings of Berg’s sonata, with the opening theme witnessing the greatest change.  On CBC radio in 1952 Gould plays the phrase in 12.36 seconds.  A notable increase occurs through his next four recordings, until 1958 in Stockholm where it is completed in 25.10 seconds.  Gould’s final recording, from 1974, is the longest at 28.57 seconds.  The total increase between the first and last recording is a dramatic 131.15 percent—more than double the initial length.  To situate Gould’s performances alongside common practice, here is Murray Perahia’s 1987 recording.  The aggressive nature of the first phrase’s growth displays Gould’s search for the limit of possibility.  Indeed, the expansion is non-linear and displays a logarithmic trend, meaning that it is inversely exponential:


The increasing length of Gould’s first phrase displayed as a logarithmic trend.

To spur discussion on these topics, I advance the following questions:

First, what should we think about the disappearance of manual asynchrony from common practice?  Have we lost the full expressive potency of revered works?  While the application of the device in Gould’s performance is undoubtedly brilliant, could we ever tolerate again a performance style that involves the dislocation of harmony and melody?

Second, Gould’s continuous reassessment of the work’s tempo demonstrates a restless interpretative search and a dissatisfaction with the habitual.  Should students be encouraged to reconsider their approach when revisiting a work, and can these interpretations reside safely inside of common practice?