"Scary" Wallace Berry...

 

1. Berry indicates in the introduction to "Structure and function in music" that his work seeks to "give comprehensive exposition to particular syntactic processes in which music can be said to have meaning." Berry is concerned with the relations between syntactic processes, which function in music as "element-systems." His examination of specific elements is intended to uncover "progresssive and recessive" processes in the music, which are, he asserts, "basic to musical effect and experience."

2. "The business of musical analysis," Berry writes, "is to consider the the nature of functions and expressive effect in the tones and rhythms of which music is made." Berry's thorough analysis study of the elements of structure and their interrelations is supposed to be a study of what we respond to, emotionally and thoughtfully, in a piece of music. To this end, Berry examines three significant aspects of musical structure: tonality, texture, and rhythm.

3. In the opening chapter on tonality, Berry defines tonality in a telling way as "the hierarchic ordering of pitch content." I am reminded of Teresa's comments on Perle and the question of the necessity of seeing as harmony stacks of intervals, especially as Berry goes on to described tonality as "the formal system in which pitch content is functionally related to a specific pitch-class or pitch-class complex of resolution." Using this definition as a point of departure, Berry identifies "melody" and "harmony" as the principle elements of music, and then offers two distinct functions for each: linear, and tonal. The tonal function relates to the position and status a particular tonality has within the various "system components" that make up the work. Linear function is "the relation of an event to the structural... linerar frame or basis." With these definitions in place, Berry is able to utilise, in his analyses, a conception of tonality that encompasses both tonal and atonal music. Tonality has "relevance" to atonal music; just how much, Berry cannot say. However, tonality thus conceived, allows for analysis of atonal works in terms of how and where they allude to tonality. As I mentioned in class, Berry's theory of tonality, or tonal function, is really a theory of tonicization, wherein there is always either a tonic, or a "vacillating tonic." In atonal music (and Berry does, in this chapter, analyse music by Webern, Berg, Schoenberg, and Boulez) the syntactic processes that are evident in tonal music, processes that establish the tonality of the work, through local events that point to overall structural progression and recession, towards resolution, are also evident in atonal music, according to Berry. Notes, and areas, are tonicized, by virtue of their participation in, for example, linear functions such as neighbor or auxilliary roles. These notes, in Berry's analysis, must be heard as provisional tonics. This conclusion, despite the fact, that post-tonal music often explicitly engages in syntactic processes that are purposefully ambiguious, complex, and semantically mystified to such an extent as to be virtually unpenetrable...As it turns out, in Berry's view, no matter what you do, all music is, in someway, in complicity with tonal function. Despite the fact that much twentieth century music purposefully rejects the "constraints" or "limitations" of the traditional tonal system. Oh well, I guess there's no escape. Thank you, Mr. Berry, for setting us all straight on that one. Thank God for your vision and insight (sigh).

4. In the second section, Berry identifies "texture" as the "sounding components in interaction." Texture has two aspects: quantitative, which refers to the number of notes, to density; and qualitative, which has to do with the interaction and interrelation of events. Texture, like tonality, is structured, and structuring, in terms of progressin and recession; that is, a piece, as it progesses, or, if you like, as it grows, grows in complexity, only to reach a point where this grow must stop, where growth is limited. Berry asserts that the study of texture serves as an important study of musical process, and that texture, as an "object" of study, is often neglected or undervalued. I would agree. Textural emphasis, or lack of emphasis, has an important function in music, I am sure. I believe, however, that the study of texture is one of the important ways that analysis can transcend the syntactic and the positivistic, and move towards semantic/ discursive epistemological ground.

5. Finally, Berry address the issue of rhythm, identifying it as the primary aspect of music, as the rate at which events take place, as pulse, as connected to pattern and motive, and most significantly, as connected to the fundamental (for Berry) notion of grouping. "Rhythm... is all of music," states Berry, and is the most powerful reminder of the importance of the structural interaction and interrelation of elements. Rhythm and texture, to my mind, are invaluable analytic avenues down which one may pursue a greater understanding of post-tonal music; but, I must reject, again as I mentioned before, the positivistic, syntactic approach to musical analysis as outlined in this book. While thorough probing, and often quite remarkable in some of its original formulation, I think that ultimately "Structural Functions in Music" must be recognized as belong to an age passed: an age where the pursuit of "the essence" of a piece of music was possible and profitable. In the shadow of contemporary analysis and the new musicology, such an approach, born out of a desire to "know" in a fully complete way that is, as Berry admits, a "disorder," the possible and the profitable become the prohibited and the pitiable.

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Cheers.

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