Debussy's Ondine provokes thoughts on Polarities

Debussy's "Ondine" Provokes Thoughts on Polarities!

[1] When I think of the word Polarities two things initially come to mind. The first is the idea of "boundaries." The mapping of opposite poles seems to create a somewhat artificial or humanly constructed boundary zone wherein various shades of "the grey" lie. Though we may see each pole as heading in opposite directions towards infinity, there lies an imaginary boundary between these two poles. A musical boundary, for example, lies between what is tonal and not tonal. It seems to me impossible to know where exactly (or inexactly) this boundary should be drawn. Certainly no two people or two cultures could agree one hundred per cent as to its specific location. In fact, the whole two-dimensional structure of polarities is in itself a boundary which leads me to my second innitial thought-- "no boundaries."

[2] Since boundaries/polarities are cultural/personal constructs one can argue that they do not really exist or exist but without usefullness. Certainly they do exist from a "human" perspective. They are everywhere: Black vs. White, Up vs. Down, Self vs. Not-self, Alive vs. Dead, Male vs. Female, Music vs. Not-music etc., etc... It is in the constructing of these polarites/boundaries that makes us functional in the world and that makes art possible. So polarites exist and doesn't exist simultaneously depending on which perspective one shoses to view the matter. Also simultaneous within life, as in art, are the polarities/non-polarites of Structure vs. Non-structure, Destiny vs. Fredom of choice, and Growth vs Limitaion. All can be seen as polarities, the human separation of one extreme from the other or/and the unseperatable whole in which the two are dependant on one another.

[3] So how does our analyisis of Debussy's Ondine fit in? It helped me see the piece (and music in general) as both structured and unstructured. I saw the music as completely uncentered ("floating in space" as Dr. Renwick pointed out) and yet structured within itself, depending on human constructions/polarities/boundaries for its coherence. I and other students chose to center or pindown the "bridge motive" as a starting point in our analysis due to its isolation and development within the piece. This one motive was for us the foundation by which ultimately all other relations and structures were built on. From this foundation non-structure turned into structure. However, this was only one possible starting point. The possiblilty of other starting points seems to pull the rug out from under our foundation as a centered/structured object and we realize that although the piece is structured within itself it is also simultaneously floating/unstructured. Certainly the composition of a piece of music is not different from the analysis of a piece in the sense that the composer as well as the analyst must begin somewhere and that that "somewhere" can be at an infinate number of places. Certainly this also applys to the music itself and everything else for that matter.

[4] In other words, Polarities vs. No-polarities is afterall a polarity!


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