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.

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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!


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.


SMT Preview

By Edward Klorman (McGill University) and Nathan Pell (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

As we look forward to the upcoming SMT meeting in Arlington, PAIG has surveyed the program and abstracts to identify papers that pertain to performance topics, including those involving the analysis of recorded performances.  Below is a list of the papers we were able to identify; if you know of any we overlooked, please let us know.

In a future blog post, we will share some reflections on the papers listed below.  If you attend any of these papers and are inclined to share a few thoughts (even just a sentence or two), please email Nathan Pell by November 15.


Thursday 2:00–5:00 pm
Notation and Performance:  Influence, Intersection, and Interpretation (Studio D)

  • Solomon Guhl-Miller (Temple University), “The Early History of Modal Rhythm: What Theory Tells us about Practice”
  • Heather J. Holmquest (Buena Vista University), “Choosing Musica Ficta: The Modern Tradition of Historically Informed Performance Practice”
  • Carolann Buff (Indiana University), “In Search of the Ars Magis Subtiliter
  • Adam Knight Gilbert (University of Southern California), “Juxta artem conficiendi: Notating and Performing Polyphony in Solmization”
  • Megan Kaes Long (Oberlin College Conservatory), “The Mensural Ambivalence of Repeat Signs”
  • Karen Cook (University of Hartford), Loren Ludwig (Independent Scholar), Valerie Horst (Independent Scholar) Respondent Panel

Thursday 2:45–3:30 pm
Revisiting Prolongation and Dissonance in Jazz (Salons 1 & 2)

  • Joon Park (University of Arkansas), “Theorizing Outside Playing in the Improvised Jazz Solo”

Thursday 3:30–5:00 pm
Instruments and Transformations (Salons 1 & 2)

  • Jonathan De Souza (University of Western Ontario), “Instrumental Transformations in Heinrich Biber’s Mystery Sonatas”
  • Toru Momii (Columbia University), “Sounds of the Cosmos:  A Transformational Approach to Gesture in Shō Performance”

Thursday 9:45–10:30 pm
Rhythm and Meter in Popular Genres (Studio E)

  • Mitchell Ohriner (University of Denver), “(Why) Does Talib Kweli Rhyme Off-Beat?”

Friday 12:15–1:45 pm
SMT Performance and Analysis Interest Group (Studio A)

  • Bonnie McAlvin (The Graduate Center, CUNY), “Using Embodiment Schema to Help Student Performers Relate to Their Theory Work”
  • Jonathan Dunsby (Eastman School of Music), “Three Case Studies In Search of Holistic Performance Research”
  • Wing Lau (University of Arkansas), “Paradox of Interpretation and the Resolved(?) Dualism”

Friday 2:00–5:00 pm
Special Invited Session:  Models in Improvisation, Performance, and Composition (Salons 1 & 2)

  • Philippe Canguilhem (Université de Toulouse), “The Teaching and Practice of Improvised Counterpoint in the Renaissance”
  • Giorgio Sanguinetti (University of Rome–Tor Vergata), “Who Invented Partimenti? Newly Discovered Evidences of Partimento Practices in Rome and Naples”
  • Elaine Chew (Queen Mary University of London), “Notating the Performed and (usually) Unseen”

Friday 8:00–9:30, 10:00–10:30 pm
Considering Coltrane:  Analytical Perspectives after Fifty Years (Studio E)

  • Barry Long (Bucknell University), “‘The Black Blower of the Now’:  Coltrane, King, and Crossing Rhetorical Boundaries”
  • Brian Levy (New England Conservatory of Music), “‘Pursuance’ and ‘Miles’ Mode’:  Untangling the Complex Harmonic and Rhythmic Interactions of John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet”
  • Milton Mermikides (University of Surrey), “Changes over Time: The Analysis, Modeling, and Development of Micro-Rhythmic Expression through Digital Technology”

Saturday 10:30–11:15 am
Theorizing Musicality (Salons 1 & 2)

  • Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis (University of Arkansas), “Theory, Analysis, and Characterizations of the Musical”

Saturday 10:30 am–11:15 pm
The Music of George Friedrich Haas (Studio E)

  • Landon Morrison (McGill University/Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technologies), “Playing with Shadows:  The Reinjection Loop in Georg Friedrich Haas’s Live-Elektronische Musik

Creaking Chairs and Metric Clarity: Microtiming Glenn Gould Recording Schoenberg Op. 19/1

by Richard Beaudoin (The Royal Academy of Music, London and Brandeis University)


Glenn Gould performed and recorded on an increasingly rickety, loose-jointed, swaying piano chair that his father, Bert Gould, had fashioned from a folding bridge chair in 1953. Its telltale clicking/cracking noises — made whenever Gould shifted his body — can be heard in this 1966 film of Gould discussing Schoenberg’s music with Yehudi Menuhin. Below are two photographs of the chair, in all its skeletal beauty:

I encountered Gould’s chair creaks up-close while microtiming his recording of Schoenberg’s Op. 19/1, to use as the basis for a series of new compositions called New York Mikrophon. I found the trajectory of Gould’s chair creaks intriguing, and I began to investigate.

My approach, which extends Paul Sanden’s writings on “corporeal liveness, considers Gould’s so-called “ambient” or “extraneous” chair noises as significant “sounded movements.” Quantifying sounds that are normally marginalized, my research connects sound studies, music theory, and performance analysis, and fuses published analyses about rhythm and meter in Schoenberg’s composition with the audio artifacts of Gould’s corporeality.

The elements of my analysis can be seen below:


Using the Lucerne Audio Recording Analyser [LARA], I made millisecond-level measurements of the number and location of all of the sound events — including each chair creak — in Gould’s recording of Schoenberg’s Op. 19/1, made in September 1965, at 30th Street Studios in New York.

This recording is very noisy, even by Gould’s standards; there are 85 creaks in this 86-second track. I noticed that the creaks were not spread uniformly across the performance, but, instead, followed a rough trajectory (see the image below). In addition, prominent gaps in the creaking were not easily explained.

spectrographRather than propose my own analysis (which might be seen as self-serving to the microtiming data I had collected), I surveyed the published scholarship on rhythm and meter in Op. 19/1. This led me to publications by Jonathan Kramer, Charles Morrison, and John Roeder. Kramer devotes a chapter of The Time of Music to Schoenberg’s 17-measure work, and singled it out as exhibiting “the emergence of a foregrounded meter” (Kramer 1988). His tracing of the work’s metric evolution is outlined in the three score-based examples below:



kramer-3I set about comparing the location the chair creaks in Gould’s recording with Kramer’s chart of the emerging metric hierarchy in Schoenberg’s work.

Within this specific recording of this specific work, the level of Gould’s body motion that is transferred to the chair correlates to the gradual emergence of a metrical hierarchy: as Schoenberg’s written meter becomes the sounding meter, Gould’s physical shifting largely abates. The image below presents the first stage of my findings; I presented more detailed analyses in a paper given at SMT/AMS Vancouver 2016, as part of the session called Performing Meter.


You can listen to how Gould’s creaking relates to Kramer’s metrical observations here.

The microtiming also turned up some wonderful ‘hidden’ details in the recording, including:

  • Gould re-attacking a tied note on the downbeat of measure 8 (the tie exists in Schoenberg’s manuscript and all printed scores), which affects the perceived metric clarity,
  • a peculiar gap in the creaking that corresponds precisely to measure 7, which Kramer highlights as the clearest meter thus far in the piece,
  • an unusual bit of vocalizing in measure 2, in which Gould sings a motive which is not simultaneously occurring in the piano (as was his common practice), but which instead occurs a few moments later — a kind of subtle, improvised vorimitation.

I’ll write more about these in the future, as I prepare a paper on this research.

I don’t, however, take these findings to be general proof of what pianists do when playing metrically irregular music. Nor do I use them to hypothesize about body movements by pianists, twentieth-century pianists, mid-twentieth-century Canadian pianists, or Glenn Gould in his mid-30s, etc.

Rather, what interests me is how all of the sounds captured by the microphone in New York in September 1965 work together to create a distinct impression of this unique piece. And in this single case, the proliferation and exact placement of the creaks made by Gould’s chair does, subtly, guide the mind across a trajectory of movement that is sympathetic with a recognized structural aspect of Schoenberg’s piece. In this way, they are perhaps analogous to microexpressions.

My work — in some ways the opposite of corpus analysis —involves detailed cataloguing of all of the sounds within a single recording. Doing so, I unearth little signals provided by overlooked, over-heard, so-called extraneous noises. Removing or suppressing such “insignificant” sounds — a common practice in the recording industry — deprives the listener of unique types of intimacy and musical understanding.

Communications about Musical Structure in Professional String Quartet Rehearsal

Su Yin Mak (The Chinese University of Hong Kong) has graciously allowed us to post the video of the paper she delivered this past Fall at SMT in Vancouver.  The paper was presented in a session chaired by PAIG member Alan Dodson called, appropriately enough, “Performance and Analysis,” alongside PAIG co-chair Andrew Friedman’s paper “Reimagining (Motivic) Analysis in Light of Performance.”

You can find the video here, and the abstract reproduced below.  Su Yin writes:  “I am currently planning a follow-up project with collaborators based in Japan and the United States that focuses on the uses of metaphorical description in rehearsal communication by professional string quartets, and would greatly appreciate comments and suggestions from PAIG members.”



Abstract:  Structural models for Western art music are primarily score-based and rarely incorporate the views of performers. I have attempted to redress the omission through a multi-phase study of rehearsal discourse by professional string quartets based in Hong Kong, China, Japan and the United States. This paper presents the findings from the Hong Kong phase of the project. Over a six-month period, I attended and recorded the Romer String Quartet’s rehearsals and public performances as a participant-observer. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the rehearsal footage, along with interviews with the players, offer insights on how a professional string quartet perceive, conceptualize and communicate about musical structure. My research reveals that although parameters such as formal articulations, harmonic changes and motivic continuity were rarely singled out for discussion in rehearsals, the players did pay close attention to structure within the context of feeling and character or in relation to considerations of sound and ensemble co-ordination. While the quartet’s communication relied extensively on metaphorical descriptions rather than music-theoretical terminology, when asked to explain the meaning of their metaphors the players referred to very specific aspects of compositional syntax. Thus, in its combination of overt expressive considerations and latent structural understanding, the rehearsal discourse suggests that the relationship between the two is more complex and less exclusive than some have assumed. These observations prompt critical reflection on ways of mediating between theoretical and practical perspectives of musical structure, and demonstrate how methodological interactions between theory and ethnomusicology might contribute to such mediation.

Reflections on PAIG and SMT

by Daniel Barolsky (Beloit College)

At this year’s business meeting for PAIG at SMT/AMS in Vancouver, we ended with the relatively mundane task of discussing and voting on a new set of bylaws. One of the sub-topics that I had expected to be routine was the issue of interest-group membership. Much to my surprise and dismay, there were voices that expressed concern about our openness and proposed hypotheticals that some collection of individuals (especially those from organizations other than SMT) might decide to colonize the interest group. Happily the final decision was to define membership by the listserv, a collection of email addresses to which anyone, regardless of institutional or disciplinary affiliation, can join.

However jocular the suggestion about “colonization” or more serious the proposal to police membership, I couldn’t help reflect, as I left Vancouver, on the larger intellectual, disciplinary, and political context of this conversation. Not five hours after the business meeting, the AMS convened a session on “Race, Ethnicity, and the Profession” that made clear to everyone how the restriction of methodologies did more than merely help define a discipline but, rather, served to shut out individuals and identities. Less than a week before the US election, I couldn’t help but see parallels between the desire to “other” members of  different musical societies (including their subjects and approaches) and the rhetoric of political candidates who espoused building walls to keep out people of certain faiths and ethnicities. And, finally, I reflected on the history of the Performance and Analysis Interest Group, an inclusive and welcoming organization that over a decade ago gave me, a graduate student in musicology who was interested in performers and recordings, a scholarly, intellectual, and professional home at a time when the majority within the AMS and SMT excluded methodologies that addressed the voices of performers and their performances. The question we need to grapple with, as we continue to revise and develop our bylaws and, in particular, our mission statement, is what would restricting our membership protect? What does it really mean to limit ourselves to theorists only?

As I flew home to a polarized and fractious political climate, I also took comfort in the excellent and discipline-bending session organized by PAIG that took place the evening before the business meeting (as well as in the other papers/sessions during the weekend that explored a range of issues pertaining to performance and analysis). In particular I took hope from the comments by the session moderator, Victoria Tzotzkova, who urged the audience, while listening to the presenters (none of whom were exclusively music theorists, some of them not even card-carrying members), to expect new voices, sounds, and perspectives, and to consider in what new and inclusive ways we could imagine music theory to be.

Thursday at SMT/AMS

Hope everyone has made it safely to Vancouver!

As Ed Klorman posted last month, this year’s SMT/AMS conference program features an unusually rich selection of offerings for those of us engaged in questions of performance and analysis.  Today there are three full sessions devoted to performance, including PAIG’s own sponsored session, “Musical Performers, Musical Works” (8:00 – 10:00 pm, Pavilion Ballroom D).

But first, from 3:30 – 5:00 pm in Pavilion Ballroom C, is a session called “Positional Listening/Positional Analysis” that explores pop music from a performer’s point of view—which will certainly interest many PAIG members.

The organizer of the session, John Covach, has graciously allowed us to post its abstract below.  The abstracts and handouts for the individual papers can be found at the SMT conference guide.

Positional Listening/Positional Analysis

As analysts, we typically approach a piece of music from the conductor’s (classical) or producer’s (pop) point of view, attending to the entire texture and attempting to keep it all in our ear, even while we are simultaneously focusing on certain specific elements. There are certainly textures that challenge our ability to hear everything, such as complex orchestral scores or intricate contrapuntal pieces. But even in such cases, we still strive to hear all parts, and this helps define the Ideal Listening Position as a kind of balanced, objective, or even distanced view of the complete texture.

But what happens to this Ideal Listening Position for a musician playing inside a texture? How might one’s experience of and focus within the music provide a different perspective? If it does differ, what factors account for this? Is such a listening position a negative one—a kind of pragmatic practice required by performance but one that ultimately distorts the music—or does it offer fresh insight, a new way of hearing that enriches and augments our experience and understanding?

To explore these issues, this session will focus mostly on pop music. Four speakers will explore “positional listening/positional analysis” from distinct positions inside of the standard rock combo. This ninety-minute session will feature four fifteen-minute talks, followed by a ten-minute response and ending with twenty minutes for questions and discussion.