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!

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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.

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Improvisation Experience Predicts How Musicians Categorize Musical Structures

by Andrew Goldman (Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience at Columbia University)

[CLICK THIS LINK TO VIEW A SHORT VIDEO (DURATION 3:40)]

This video explains a recent research project on musical improvisation published in Psychology of Music. It shows that more experienced improvisers, compared with less experienced improvisers but otherwise skilled musicians, categorize harmonies with similar functions as being more similar than those with different functions. We argue that this aids the ability to make appropriate substitutions, and shows a difference in the way improvisers structure their musical knowledge that facilitates their abilities to improvise.

For more information about this research project, please view this article in the journal Psychology of Music.

Beginning in Fall 2018, Andrew Goldman will be based at the University of Western Ontario, where he will work with Jonathan De Souza on the Music, Cognition, and the Brain Initiative.

PAIG Meeting at 2017 SMT Conference

We are looking forward to seeing you soon in Arlington! The PAIG meeting will take place on Friday, November 3, 12:15–1:45 in Studio A. Our program will comprise three short papers (chosen through a blind review process) followed by a business meeting and general discussion. Thank you to everyone who submitted proposals and/or assisted with the review process!

  • 12:15  Welcome
  • 12:20 “Using Embodiment Schema to Help Student Performers Relate to Their Theory Work” (Bonnie McAlvin, CUNY Graduate Center)
  • 12:40 “Three Case Studies In Search of Holistic Performance Research” (Jonathan Dunsby, Eastman School of Music)
  • 1:00 “Paradox of Interpretation and the Resolved(?) Dualism” (Wing Lau, University of Arkansas)
  • 1:20 Business Meeting and General Discussion
    • We hope to keep the Business Meeting very brief so as to use the remaining time for some General Discussion. Members are invited to share a bit about their current work, recent publications, or other interests so members of the PAIG community can get to know one another.

Please scroll down to the bottom of this post for abstracts for all three papers. During the general discussion,

ABSTRACT: “USING EMBODIMENT SCHEMA TO HELP STUDENT PERFORMERS RELATE TO THEIR THEORY WORK” (BONNIE McALVIN, CUNY GRADUATE CENTER)

This brief talk illustrates how embodiment schema (Lakoff and Johnson 1980) can be used to engage performance students in their music theory work, by bridging students’ analytical work to the development of their narrative imagination and mastery of grouping and expression. An important function of analysis is that of revealing potential groupings. In many cases, groupings map readily onto embodiment image schema such as UP/DOWN, CONTAINER, and BARRIER. We are able to empathize with motions UP, DOWN, IN and OUT, so groupings which map onto these schema are in turn readily anthropomorphized. An approach to a passage might ask whether a middleground reading moves UP or DOWN, and what the anthropomorphized pitch-group hopes to achieve in moving UP/DOWN? Contextualizing the slope is part of this work: is the anthropomorphized pitch-group navigating a slippery cave, battling a current, or wafting a hillside? As students master analytical tools, mappings can become sophisticated. What awaits the pitch group at the end of the PATH: a tonic chord or a betrayal? Which of the steps UP/DOWN are in the diatonic CONTAINER, and which are chromatic? Of the scale degree steps, which are part of the governing harmonic CONTAINER? How does each step relate to the various metric CONTAINERS and how does this enliven the narrative? The talk suggests some group activities that use embodiment schema mapping to prime students toward higher engagement in the intricate analytical work of harmonic, voice-leading, Schenkerian, and set class analysis.

 

ABSTRACT: “THREE CASE STUDIES IN SEARCH OF HOLISTIC PERFORMANCE RESEARCH” (JONATHAN DUNSBY, EASTMAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC)

I offer three short case studies:

1) a critical aspect of microtiming studies, specifically Llorens’ recent article researching onset asynchrony in Brahms performance, with a minimum perceptibility threshold of 100 ms;

2) Gould’s ‘prelude’ to Webern’s Op. 27i, which to my knowledge has not been studied theoretically before, despite the wealth of recent performance research on the Piano Variations; and

3) another look at Schenker’s graphic analysis of Chopin’s Fourth Prelude and  Schachter’s durational reduction, in light of actual ‘readings’ old and new (for example here, Pollini’s and Trifonov’s).

I briefly air my position that what typically appears in theoretically-informed performance studies is a disassembled practice, the investigation of only those elements of a performance that can be measured, assessed, or manipulated, always in danger of being called ivory-tower rather than real-life. Equally, the concentration on surface analysis, on the results of the application of what followers of Lewin call the ‘technology’ of music theory, may be considered to have evaded a concrete engagement between interpretive practice and musical meaning in its deepest, inclusive senses.

In the first two case studies we see Kerman’s ‘positivism,’ through, first, excusable, totalizing assertion of perceptual pertinence, and, secondly, the understandable exclusion of obscure but intriguing creative evidence. The second two cases show how an engagement with precompositional materials, or structurally remote features of the ‘inner’ form, can be part of interpreters’ volitional agency and affect all parameters of the sounding score.

ABSTRACT: “PARADOX OF INTERPRETATION AND THE RESOLVED(?) DUALISM” (WING LAU, UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS)

The paradox of interpretation, the belief that performance serves the work and the composer but the performer’s subjective contribution is inevitable, has a long history in performance discourse (Rosen 2002 and Cook 2013). The attempt to reconcile such paradox, the notion “to play as if from the soul of the composer” represents an early Romantic subjectivity (Hunter 2005), a resolved dualism that still influences the classical music culture today.

In this paper, I suggest that the attempt to reconcile such paradox, the resolved dualism, is paradoxical in and of itself. I illustrate discrepancies between the recordings of Artur Schnabel, a pianist who strives to reach the “same free spiritual height” as the composer, and his interpretative rationales documented by his students in Wolff 1979. In addition to the dissonance between his rationales and the interpretive choice documented in his recordings, I demonstrate the dissonance between his rationales and his perceived intention of the composer. I ask, can one be truly immersed in the soul of another? Can we not argue that the composer’s supposed intention is actually Schnabel’s own subjectivity masked behind authenticity, consciously or not? As this paper shows, the performers’ subjectivity and their perceived intention of the composer could be hard to distinguish, and that the resolved dualism could be more apparent than real. Recognizing this paradox sharpens our sensitivity towards performers with the authentic reputation and help us better understand the epistemology of the faithful performance.

Call for Papers

The Performance and Analysis Interest Group (PAIG) invites proposals for short presentations to be delivered at its meeting during the 2017 SMT conference. Papers will be 15 minutes, with 5 minutes of Q&A to follow. We welcome proposals pertaining to any aspect of musical performances or performers that engage analytical perspectives.
 
Papers will be selected through a blind review process. Please note that accepted papers are not an official part of the SMT program and will not be listed in the SMT program book. Papers that are accepted for the SMT program are not eligible.
 
Proposal guidelines are as follows:
  • Proposal Format: PDF file listing the paper title, proposal (up to 500 words), and up to two pages of supplemental material (examples, bibliography, etc.). The author’s name should not be included in the body or metadata of the file.
  • Submission Deadline: Sunday, May 28, 2017 at midnight (ET)
  • Submission Email: Email your proposal as an attachment to Edward [dot] Klorman [at] McGill [dot] ca. Use subject line “PAIG Proposal.” In the body of the email, please list the author’s name, affiliation, email, and the title of the paper.
Questions about the proposal process may be directed to Edward Klorman.
 
Sincerely,
Andy Friedman and Edward Klorman
Co-Chairs, Performance and Analysis Interest Group

Performing Metrical Interplay in Brahms

By Edward Klorman (McGill University)

Author’s note: This blog post is adapted from Chapter 6 of my book Mozart’s Music of Friends: Social Interplay in the Chamber Works (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

When examining a metrically ambiguous passage, many musical analysts will seek to untangle problems by explaining which among multiple metrical interpretations is “the correct one.” In this blog post, I explore metrical conflicts from a different point of view—namely, that of the performers.

Musicians often strive to find ways to play better together, to match their phrasing and shaping in order to “feel” the music in a unified way. But what happens when they encounter a passage in which their parts don’t match, but are in conflict? The subordinate theme from Brahms’s Sonata in E♭ Major for Piano and Clarinet, op. 120, no. 2 is a case in point.

You can get a sense of the issue—and imagine how you might approach it in performance—from this video. (Since my clarinet skills are a little rusty, I perform on viola instead!)

To provide some context for the subordinate theme, let’s first look briefly at the main theme and transition. The sonata opens with fairly regular four-bar hypermeter, as I’ve shown in my markings above the staves.

Brahms1.1

Some metrical dissonance arises in mm. 15–17, which tend to sound more like 3/2 meter than the notated 4/4. Within these four bars, the piano’s left hand emphasizes the off beats, playing on the weak quarters of each half-note pulse. The four-bar hypermeter is restored in mm. 18–21, but the piano’s syncopations continue to emphasize weak quarter notes. (These syncopations foreshadow an ambiguity I will discuss in the subordinate theme.)

Brahms1.2

In m. 21, the final bar of the transition, the diminuendo hairpin and the rest on beat 4 encourage the players to use some rubato, allowing the sound and momentum to dissipate as the passage comes to rest on a tentative German augmented-sixth chord in B♭ major (a harmony that yearns to resolve to V in the new key, the traditional cadential goal of an expositional transition).

And then what? After the general pause, the clarinet begins the subordinate theme on the notated downbeat, with the piano imitating one beat later.

The Subordinate Theme in Brahms’s Notation

Brahms2

This imitation constitutes a canon per arsin et thesin, whereby strong beats in one part coincide with weak beats in the other. Coming right after a general pause, this passage would challenge many listeners to determine whether it is the clarinet’s entrance or the piano’s that falls on the “true” downbeat (if the listener is not following the score).

Indeed, for the first several bars of the theme, it seems plausible that the bar lines might be located one quarter note later than how Brahms notated them, as shown below. Only by m. 28 (best seen above, in the print of Brahms’s score) is the notated bar line unequivocally confirmed: the clarinet’s eighth-note upbeat clearly establishes the downbeat of m. 28, and moreover it is at this juncture that the piano gives up the metrically ambiguating canon. Simply put, my alternative notation below seems plausible initially at m. 22 (making the placement of bar lines difficult to discern for several measures), but by m. 28 it is absurd.

Subordinate Theme in a Plausible Alternative Notation

Brahms3

Why do I hear this passage as so metrically ambiguous? And how should musicians approach their performance of such a metrical conflict? I will explain my own understanding and performance approach:

After the German augmented-sixth chord and general pause in m. 21, the clarinet’s entrance on concert F may initially seem to represent dominant harmony, bolstering the sense that it is an upbeat to the piano’s tonic entrance. But when I play the passage (on viola), I try to make the entrance in a metrically neutral way, stressing neither note of the (concert) F–F gesture. Observing Brahms’s sotto voce marking and emulating a clarinet’s capacity for niente entrances helps to achieve this. Once the piano enters in canon, the two players might emphasize their conflicting meters with a gentle persistence—that is, with the piano emphasizing the long slurs beginning on beat 2 (and thus suggesting my alternate notation). Brahms’s beams across bar lines encourage the pianist to count in terms of my alternate notation. This performance approach heightens the conflict and suspends the sense of metrical ambiguity as long as possible (ideally until around m. 28), thus taking advantage of a special opportunity afforded by Brahms’s passage.

 *          *          *

The approach I’ve suggested here is consistent with performance advice proffered in eighteenth-century performance manuals, such as those by Leopold Mozart, Johann Joachim Quantz, and Daniel Gottlob Türk. These authors encourage performers to emphasize beginnings of slurs, especially those that are syncopated against the meter (as in the piano part here). Brahms was certainly familiar with these ideas and harbored a highly traditional understanding of the meanings of slurs, one that is particularly relevant in a passage such as this. (On these eighteenth-century writers’ understanding of slurs and their execution, see my discussion in Mozart’s Music of Friends. On Brahms’s affiliation with older understandings about slurs, see Heinrich Schenker’s essay “Abolish the phrasing slur” in The Masterwork in Music, I [1925]).

I’ll close with a perspective on performing metrical conflicts from an author more nearly contemporary to Brahms (and certainly one who felt a strong affinity to him), Heinrich Schenker:

It is the responsibility of the performer primarily to express the special characteristics of a composition, as they sometimes coincide with the meter, sometimes oppose it. Today, not only the failure to recognize rhythmic relationships but also sheer indolence creates a performance for the metric scheme alone—a dismaying evidence of decline (Free Composition, translated by Ernst Oster, emphasis added).

Leaving Schenker’s hortatory tone aside, he offers an idea well worth pondering. In everyday life, we strive to avoid conflicts or else to resolve them. But in playing music, our impulse to resolve conflicts should be questioned. A conflict-resolving performance strategy might conclude: “Brahms clearly intended the meter as he notated it, and this is confirmed by m. 28. Therefore, we should perform in accordance with the notated meter, minimizing signals that rub against it.” But a more satisfying approach, at least to me, is to allow the conflict to flourish and for the two musicians to each make an earnest bid for the meter as suggested by their own parts. The clarinetist’s bid for the notated meter ultimately prevails, of course. But our final-state understanding of the metrical structure is, like history, determined by the victor, and only after the conflict has ended.

PAIG essay collection published in MTO

We are thrilled to announce the publication of “Performance and Analysis Today: New Horizons” in Music Theory Online 22.2 (June 2016). These essays originated in a panel session sponsored by PAIG on the occasion of its tenth anniversary, which took place at the 2014 SMT meeting in Milwaukee.

We invite your thoughts about the collection here on the WordPress site. Here’s a list of the collection’s contents:

Thank you, and congratulations, to all the contributors!