- 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.
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.
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.)
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
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
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 ).
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.
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:
- Benjamin Binder, “Art and Science, Beauty and Truth, Performance and Analysis?”
- Daphne Leong, “Analysis and Performance, or wissen, können, kennen”
- Peter Martens, “Ways of Knowing the Body, Bodily Ways of Knowing”
- Fabio Morabito, “The Score in the Performer’s Hands: Reading Traces of the Act of Performance as a Form of Analysis?”
Thank you, and congratulations, to all the contributors!
By Edward Dusinberre
The author is the first violinist of the Takács Quartet and Artist in Residence at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Read more about his book at this link.
The interpretation of a professional string quartet that performs the same musical work repeatedly, evolves even from one night to the next. Beethoven for a Later Age: Living with the String Quartets explores this process in the Takács Quartet as we rehearse and perform Beethoven’s string quartets. ‘Art demands of us that we do not stand still,’ Beethoven remarked to a friend concerning the innovations in his last quartets. From the revised edition of his first published work, Opus 18 no. 1, to the alternative last movement of Opus 130, Beethoven’s restless spirit fueled his string quartet project, at times shocking the first players and audiences who encountered these complex works. As a young whippersnapper freshly out of Juilliard and daunted by my new position as first violinist of the Takács, I found the bemusement of violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh and his friends reassuring.
Twenty-three years later the music is more familiar but when I listen to our Decca recording of Opus 127 and compare it with other recordings, basic interpretative questions of character and pacing remain. Fortunately, for me at least, the performance of a Beethoven quartet will never feel definitive:
Excerpt from Beethoven for a Later Age: Living with the String Quartets:
While we had resolved questions about characters, balance and tempi in one particular way for the CD, no single recording could adequately explore the many interpretative possibilities the music suggested. This seemed particularly true for the ending of the whole piece, a section that Beethoven had himself modified between the first and second performances. According to the violinist Joseph Böhm, it had been Beethoven’s experience of observing Böhm’s quartet rehearse that encouraged him to change the tempo marking for the last section of the final movement. After a festive and at times rambunctious Allegro, the music winds down in dynamics and pace, the pulse briefly suspended as two violins trill on a long note. Out of this hiatus emerge fleeting pianissimo scales and the opening tune of the movement, whose transformed rhythm now adds buoyancy and lilt to the previously smooth legato line. The character of the ensuing climax and the last gestures of the piece depend largely on the choice of tempo.
Böhm later claimed he had suggested to his fellow musicians that they ignore Beethoven’s instruction, meno vivace (less lively), ‘which seemed to me to weaken the general effect . . . I advised that the original tempo be maintained, which was done, to the betterment of the effect.’ The first violinist continued his modest narrative:
Beethoven, crouched in a corner, heard nothing, but watched with strained attention. After the last stroke of the bows he said, laconically, ‘Let it remain so,’ went to the desks and crossed out the meno vivace in the four parts.[i]
Apparently the often volatile master, far from being offended by the tempo alteration, was willing to change his mind at this late stage. Böhm admitted that the composer could not hear how the musicians were playing, but Beethoven had probably sensed the extra exhilaration and excitement that came with the change. As he watched the newly configured ensemble rehearsing his music, he glimpsed a different way of ending this complex piece – at least according to the testimony of a first violinist. In published editions Beethoven replaced the meno vivace with Allegro commodo (comfortably fast), a rather wishful indication in my experience, given the difficulties of the passage.
Recordings of Opus 127 take a variety of approaches to this last section. The Budapest Quartet play a fast tempo in their version recorded in Washington’s Library of Congress in 1941, their last climax frenetic and exhilarating: a courageous choice considering that this was a live recording made with no editing sessions. They play the whole movement faster than many groups, as if Beethoven were determined to end this complex piece with a whirlwind of joyful activity.
Many groups, including the Takács, choose tempi that give the impression of meno vivace – the very instruction that Beethoven is purported to have deleted. One of the more dramatic examples of this comes in the Alban Berg Quartet’s recording, where a markedly slower tempo results in a powerful and majestic climax that seems to refer the listener back to the Maestoso mood at the opening of the whole piece. If Beethoven had experienced this version he might have been inclined to reinstate his meno vivace, while the Budapest Quartet’s rendition might have prompted him to add a Presto marking instead. The Takács ending was neither as fast as the Budapest nor as slow as the Alban Berg and I enjoyed our transparent, speculative sound at the beginning of the section. Beethoven created such an array of possibilities in Opus 127 that the piece can be concluded in a number of different ways.
[i] Alexander Wheelock Thayer, Thayer’s Life of Beethoven. Revised and edited by Elliot Forbes, 2 vols (Princeton, NJ, 1964), vol. 2, p. 941.
What Can We Learn About Ars Subtilior Temporality from Mala Punica’s Performances?
Timothy Chenette (Utah State University)
Performance Analyzing Analysis
Andrew M. Friedman (Harvard University)
Performers’ Analyses: Collating, Integrating, Assimilating
Charise Hastings (Tallahassee, FL)
A Tale of Two Recordings and Their Analytical Ramifications: Jane Bathori, Pierre Bernac, and Debussy’s “Colloque sentimental”
Peter Kaminsky (University of Connecticut)
[Editor’s note: Click here to watch a live performance of Webern’s 5 Lieder as Der siebente Ring, op. 3, by Kate Maroney (mezzo-soprano) and Christina Yue (piano), recorded live in a recital during the summer of 2014.]
A few weeks ago I received an email on a Saturday morning asking if I could learn and perform Webern’s 5 Lieder nach Gedichten von Stefan George, op. 4, as a last-minute replacement for another singer by the following Saturday. This would be for a memorial service at Yale University. Without knowing all of the details, I thought about it for a few minutes, listened to the songs once, and considered the logistics of the week. (I was also scheduled to rehearse and sing the solos in Bach’s Mass in B-Minor that Wednesday.) In a burst of adrenaline-fueled confidence, I accepted the challenge. It was only after I had committed to the “gig” that I learned that the memorial was for Allen Forte, the renowned Webern scholar and the father of pitch-set theory. He had passed away last fall, and this performance would be before an invited audience of friends and scholars. The event would consist of speeches by fellow theorists alternating with performances of Webern’s Langsamer Satz; Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, op. 7; the op. 4 songs; a piano piece by a student of Allen Forte; and several Cole Porter songs, reflecting his love of the Great American Songbook.
This daunting task felt comparable to reading Shakespeare in a ceremony commemorating the work of Harold Bloom. Not only did I have to render these songs accurately but I would be singing them for perhaps the largest quorum of critical ears ever assembled into a room. (How many times are two hundred people who know Webern’s complete oeuvre assembled?) This performance would have to be not only be acceptable but would have to honor the legacy of a man who paved roads in the field of American music theory, specifically in the analysis of Webern and Berg. I was assured that the pianist Daniel Schlosberg was amazing and up to the task (which was an understatement). Other than my Bach performance, I cleared my calendar for the week, and Dan and I reserved spots in our schedules to rehearse potentially all day Thursday and Friday before the memorial. But first, I had to learn the notes. The pressure was on.
My first experience performing Webern happened in 2009 during my DMA studies at Eastman. I had been approached by a marvelous pianist, Christina Yue, who wanted to perform Webern’s op. 3 (like op. 4, also five songs of Stefan George texts from Der siebente Ring) as a lecture recital piece. At the time, I was taking Elizabeth Marvin’s post-tonal theory course, which was my first entry into pitch-class sets and post-tonal analysis, so I thought, “this could be a fun challenge and it also ties in with some of what I’m learning this semester.” I had not performed much atonal or serial music at all, though I really loved learning about the Second Viennese School composers and their relationship to late-nineteenth-century Romanticism and chromaticism. It’s a fun period to learn about philosophically even if takes a little while to aurally identify the things we were learning to analyze in theory class. I learned to identify the pitch-class sets (by Forte number), to recognize their iterations vertically and horizontally and in transposition as both harmonic and melodic material so brilliantly and compactly constructed by Webern but I certainly couldn’t hear those “leitmotifs” upon first listening.
I should also offer a qualification that as a singer, my prior vocal and operatic training before Eastman was frightfully lacking in music theory. Beyond very basic analysis, keyboard skills, rudimentary ear-training and sight-singing, the prevailing mentality in the opera training I received was that singers have so much to learn—diction and languages, style, stagecraft, vocal technique, audition technique, etc.—that theory and musicology is and should be less of a priority to instill early on. The vibe tends to be “sure, theory is good to learn in music school, but it cannot be put to use as practically as the other things we have to teach young voice students.” I agree that singers some singers, perhaps because their training may begin later than their instrumentalist counterparts, have a lot to learn. But I absolutely think that both theory teachers and voice teachers should be working together to actively show singers how ALL theory—sight-singing, analysis, ear-training—is of utmost practical value. The more a young undergraduate student invests to hear intervals for example or to practice fluent, flawless sight-singing, the greater the payoff later in his or her career.
So, when I first set out to learn Webern in 2009, even though I was learning how to analyze the music in theory class, I didn’t know the best method to practice to perform the music. In order to ingrain the phrases into my ear and voice, and without having perfect pitch, I used the tried-and-true (if not fast-and-efficient) method of rote repetition so that both my ears and vocal mechanism would internalize the pitches, hoping that after enough time, the melodies, while not tonal, would start to make sense. This worked more or less (“Dies ist ein Lied für dich allein…,” once learned, is quite an earworm), but I distinctly remember these eight minutes of music taking hours of rehearsal and coaching time that semester. Once our notes and rhythms were learned individually, Christina and I tried to implement everything about the style, the musical language and gesture, the imitation and duetting between the voice and piano, to observe the rubato over meter changes, and detailed extreme dynamic markings in the score. We learned that every single note (and rest!) had intention and meaning and that we both had to understand and hear the other’s part as well as our own for the songs to convey Stefan George’s texts in the way that Webern intended. Each measure is like an entire song. Of course, the same can be said for all piano-vocal music, but these songs are so detailed, so dense, and so atonal. At the end of myriad hours of practice, we performed them a few times that semester and we were relatively happy with the fruits of our labors. It had also been a great learning experience for us both.
Last summer, I had the chance revisit Webern’s op. 3 with Christina Yue in a recital we shared at the University of Oregon. [A video of Kate and Christina’s performance at this link.] Amazingly, everything we had worked on five years earlier was still there after the first hour of rehearsal! And even more satisfying was the realization that the singing and practicing I’ve been doing professionally since my student years (a lot of Bach, a lot of work with contemporary composers, seventy-five performances worldwide of Philip Glass’s opera Einstein on the Beach, a lot of chamber choral work that challenges my listening while singing) helped the pieces settle, helped my ears and voice—this experience of revisiting songs that had been so challenging in school and finding that they were comfortable and made sense is definitely one of the few quantitative measures of improvement that I’ve had as a singer and musician. We all know what it feels like to finally “get” something—this newfound understanding and perceiving Webern’s harmonic world enhanced the performance of these songs in every dimension.
If I had not just recently revisited Op. 3 last summer, I’m not sure I would have taken on op. 4 to learn in a week. But these two cycles are similar in feel and they both set texts of Stefan George. With an acute sense of the clock ticking, when I sat down at the piano on Monday morning, I thought, “I need to somehow condense what I did in a semester into three to four days.” So, unlike in 2009 when I relied solely on rote repetition, I first scanned the pieces for themes (yes, pitch-class sets!) that recurred throughout songs,  and  abounded, and I spent a few hours practicing these little motives as vocalizes in all transpositions. (Something I didn’t really think to do years ago, though I’m not sure why I didn’t make the connection between analysis and practice back then—it saves hours.) When possible, I tried to identify the pitches that I would sing in a horizontal line in a piano chord that preceded my entry so that I could hear my starting pitch and the harmonic bed I would be singing over. Then, I would slowly go through the songs and force myself to NOT give myself any pitches until I fully heard the intervals and eventually the shape of each melodic gesture. (This is something my jazz-trained composer husband-to-be has often said is the key to practice—it would be an oversight to omit his advice and positive influence on my practice of difficult or atonal music.)
Many singers may feel that this ear-training seems tedious and takes A LOT of time at the beginning of practice, but I find it’s one of those methods where investing a lot in the beginning yields a great payoff later. I knew that even if I couldn’t sing the songs fully the first day or two I was studying them, that if I trusted this method and slept on it, the next time I revisited the songs the pitches would have stuck. Luckily, they did for the most part—of course, this is only the beginning with Webern since one can certainly become unmoored when singing these lines over the piano part. Training your ear and brain with this music is definitely the way to learn it—and also a healthy way of saving yourself from vocal fatigue as many of Webern’s phrases have octave-plus leaps to the extremes of ones range with pianissimo markings. You certainly don’t want to be blindly aiming for a pitch and tiring your vocal mechanism.
After three eight-hour days of solitary work (and a performance of Bach’s Mass in B-Minor the same week), I met with my Daniel Schlosberg (a brilliant musician) on Thursday morning. We started with Eingang, the first and longest of the op. 4 songs. In many ways, it is the most straightforward song as well (thank you, Webern!) as there are often vocal pitches shadowed (or foreshadowed) in the piano part. This one came together relatively easily and since it was about three minutes (perhaps Webern’s longest song?) of the eight or nine minutes total. It was a huge psychological boost knowing that at least we would start strong in the performance. We spent four hours that day, breaking apart sections and practicing in every way possible for a singer and pianist rehearsing songs. For instance, since my solo practice had focused so much on intervals and pitches, it was especially helpful in our rehearsal together for me to speak in rhythm as Daniel played the piano part so we could lock in the phrasing, accelerandos, rubatos, polyrhythms, meter changes, etc. This week of intense practice reminded me that one should always break music apart into small units of pitch and rhythm when learning AND slow everything down. We spent time doing that Thursday and by the end of another four-hour session on Friday, we were basically able to perform the songs (with 85% accuracy on my part) effectively and with commitment.
By our performance on Saturday afternoon, I felt intensely focused and nervous, but also so charged and honored to sing Webern for a room full of people who understood and appreciated this music so deeply. As an added bonus, Elizabeth Marvin was in attendance, so the event resonated even more, since It was wonderful to perform for the theorist and fellow singer who first introduced me to and coached me on Webern songs. I also tried to tell myself that although many people in the room would be familiar with the songs from an analytical perspective, they might not all be able to tell if I sang a few slightly wrong pitches within the sweep of a large gesture—I told myself to hold on to the aural anchor points my ear had grasped during our preparation and to fully commit to the text, gesture and distinct atmosphere created in each song.
This experience was incredibly liberating. Although we learned the piece in just a week, we had to trust in what we could do and we had to perform as though we’d known the songs for years. I felt confident that I had done the best work I could have done to prepare and honor the legacy of Allen Forte. I have immense respect for the field of music theory, and after this experience, I have a deeper understanding of theory’s practical use in practice and performance. At best, all music, especially the brilliantly crafted complexity of Webern’s, is amazing in that way—we seek to understand and experience it in multifarious ways through analysis and performance. In my opinion as a singer and a theory enthusiast, both lines of inquiry are equally important and work to enhance each other. All methods of understanding and experiencing music more deeply should be respected.
The author, mezzo-soprano Kate Maroney, holds the D. M. A. from the Eastman School of Music and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. For more information visit http://www.katemaroney.com.