Category Archives: Theory

Analytical approaches to world music

Founded in response to the excitement generated by the First International Conference on Analytical Approaches to World Music in 2010, Analytical approaches to world music (ISSN 2158-5296) brings together disciplines including music theory, ethnomusicology, musicology, cognitive psychology, computer science, and mathematics for a cross-cultural dialogue that aims to promote and enhance understanding of the diverse collection of traditions that is commonly referred to as world music.

Edited by Lawrence Shuster and Rob Schultz, the inaugural issue of this peer-reviewed online journal includes articles by Robert Morris, Sarah Weiss, David Locke, Richard Widdess, Jay Rahn, and Michael Tenzer.

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Filed under New periodicals, Theory, World music

Musica ragionata

Libreria Musicale Italiana launched the series Musica ragionata in 2009 with Musica poetica: Retorica e musica nel periodo della Riforma by Ferruccio Civra; the book explores Reformation treatises on rhetoric and on music, illuminating the connections between them. The series is overseen by Alberto Basso.

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Filed under Literature, New series, Renaissance, Theory

Rediscovering sonoristics

When he coined the term sonorystyka in the 1950s, Józef Michał Chomiński (1906–94) considered sonoristics a new branch of study centered on the sound technique of a composition. Discernible as early as certain works by Debussy, sonoristics involves a whole new layer of a musical work that emphasizes its actual sound, transcending older approaches in which structural elements were considered independently of their sonorous realization.

Among his expositions of his sonoristic theories, Chomiński showed how the first six measures of Webern’s Die Sonne (op. 14, no. 1) present no traces of melody or harmony in the traditional sense; rather, they embody a full transformation of both concepts into a sonic universe regulated by timbre, rhythm, and register contrasts.

This according to “Rediscovering sonoristics: A groundbreaking theory from the margins of musicology” by Zbigniew Granat, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Below, a performance of Webern’s op. 14; Chomiński’s example begins the set.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Theory

Harmonizing the past

In response to a heightened anxiety regarding the preservation of a pure, authentic French identity and spirit as contacts with exotic cultures increased, the collection and dissemination of French traditional songs blossomed during the 1890s and the 1900s.

With harmonizations employing modal inflections, ambiguous tonalities, and unconventional voice leading, these collections presented traditional songs as historical evidence of a clear progression from provincial folk tunes to the sophisticated musical language of the fin de siècle. These harmonizations offer unique insights into the ways in which the French consciously manipulated how they wanted to be heard and understood during this period.

This according to “Harmonizing the past” by Sindhumathi K. Revuluri, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.

Above, a page from the original edition of d’Indy’s Chansons populaires du Vivarais, op. 52 (Paris: A. Durand & Fils, 1900) illustrates his approach to modal harmonization.

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Filed under Romantic era, Theory

The first historical musicologist?

In the second quarter of the sixteenth century Nuremberg was the epicenter of the so-called German Josquin Renaissance; the music of Josquin des Prez and his contemporaries formed the core of the repertoire taught in schools, sung by amateur choral societies, and included in the published anthologies that served those markets. As a music theorist and rector of one of the city’s principal schools, Sebald Heyden was confronted, perhaps for the first time in Western music history, with urgent problems regarding historical performance practice.

Although the music was only 40 to 50 years old, its mensuration and proportion signs were already obsolete and no longer understood. Heyden approached the task of recovering their  meanings from a historian’s perspective; by reading old treatises, studying old music in a local private collection, and analyzing his observations with abstract reasoning, he created a theory that enabled singers to produce what he believed to be authentic performances of music of the past. He read conflicting opinions on his topic, felt free to declare some authorities right and others wrong, and drew clear and consistent conclusions about problematic issues. His influence on later scholars was incalculable.

This according to “Sebald Heyden (1499–1561): The first historical musicologist?” by Ruth DeFord, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.

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Filed under Musicologists, Notation, Performance practice, Renaissance, Theory

Music theory from Boethius to Zarlino

The winner of the Music Library Association’s 2009 Vincent H. Duckles Award, Music theory from Boethius to Zarlino: A bibliography and guide by David Russell Williams and C. Matthew Balensuela (Hillsdale: Pendragon Press, 2007) is a companion volume to Pendragon’s  Music theory from Zarlino to Schenker: A bibliography and guide by Williams and David Damschroder (1990). Like the earlier volume, the book aims to create a logically organized introduction to major Medieval and Renaissance theorists and a thorough review of scholarly work on them.

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Filed under Antiquity, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Resources, Theory

Musipedia

Inspired by (but not affiliated with) Wikipedia, Musipedia is a searchable, editable, and expandable online collection of melodies. Entries can contain notation, a MIDI file, information about the work and the composer, and the Parsons Code for Melodic Contours. The database can be searched by tapping rhythmic information or by entering melodic information on a virtual keyboard, through a microphone, or using the Parsons Code.

Above, a screen capture shows that the first phrase of The star spangled banner has been entered. A search yielded that song (with notation and a midi file), along with melodies by Beethoven, Chopin, and Šostakovič, and several traditional songs and dance tunes.

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Filed under Resources, Theory

Rāgs and recipes

In “Why Hindustani musicians are good cooks: Analogies between music and food in North India” (Asian music XXV/1–2 (1993–94), pp. 69–80), Adrian McNeil notes that culinary topics are frequent—sometimes even favorite—subjects of conversation among Hindustani musicians, and that a notable number of top Indian musicians are also expert cooks. He attributes this phenomenon to the similarities between the cognitive and sensory aspects of the two activities, and proposes a “culinary perspective” on rāg.

Offering a basic “culinary recipe” alongside a basic “melodic recipe”, McNeil similarly juxtaposes, in a two-page spread, a photographic “depiction of potato with ginger and puris” with a rāgamālā “depiction of rāg sārant”. Further positing a “melodic conception of food”, he recounts examples of Indian musicians using culinary analogies to illustrate musical matters, and cites a use of the phrase biryāni chicken khā (eat chicken biryāni) to convey a rhythmic pattern to a hungry mrdangam player.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Ethnomusicology, Food, Theory, World music

Multifunctioning publications

Ethnomusicological monographs are often published with transcriptions, photographs, and recordings; the printed texts present the primary information, while the other materials serve a secondary, supporting role. For ethnographic recordings, these functions are reversed: The recordings themselves are the primary concern, and the other materials fill in contextual or technical information.

Some publications occupy the border between these two types, where neither the printed texts nor the other materials can be definitively deemed secondary. The raga guide: A survey of 74 Hindustani ragas, published by Nimbus in 1999, is an example of such a multifunctioning publication. On its four CDs, each rāga is portrayed in a three- to six-minute rendition by a top-ranking performer; this is arguably the primary information, and RILM classified the publication as a sound recording. But the 196-page book in the package is hard to consider merely supportive—it includes analytical and historical notes for each rāga and its performance, including its basic structures shown in both Western and Indian sargam notation; full transcriptions of the ālāp (introductory) sections of each recording; and 40 full-color reproductions of rāgamālā paintings

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Filed under Asia, Ethnomusicology, Iconography, Publication types, Theory

Advanced musicology

In October 2009 the Finnish branch of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres (IAML) inaugurated the series Advanced musicology (ISSN 1798-3754) with Esa Lilja’s dissertation Theory and analysis of classic heavy metal harmony. The book’s author explores the implications of the harmonic language of heavy metal from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, with examples from bands including Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden.

Related article: In Extremo and Walther

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Filed under New series, Popular music, Theory