Simon on Polarity


[1] Melissa quotes some of Bent's polarities found within the field of theory and analysis: "music aesthetics vs. compositional theory, philosophical vs. technical, analyst vs. historian, descriptive vs. judicial, and objective vs. subjective." I would agree that these polarities are valid in a discussion of the relationship between theory and analysis but what do these polarities tells us of the music itself. An examination of them will lead one into a philosophic discussion of the role and place of theory and analysis as easily as a discussion of the work in question. Part of what this course is demonstrating to me is the debate on the purpose of analysis is as energetic as the analysis of the music itself.

[2] I enjoyed Teresa's essay on polarity, but would go even further in criticizing Levarie and Levy's view on the organic. The idea of growth and limitation has obvious potential as a method of explaining any aspect of composition or performance. Many of the other polarities we have discussed in class (vertical vs. horizontal, thick vs. thin, loud vs. quiet, angular vs. smooth) can be discussed in terms of growth and limitation. I would call your attention to the first page of Der Wegweiser. The vocal melody features a growth in rhythmic complexity in measures 15 to 19, which is limited and returns to the original pattern in measure 22. In particular note the introduction of the dotted 16th- 32nd pairs which are foreshadowed by the piano in measure 12. The range of the vocal melody also experiences a form of gradual expansion or growth. The first phrase introduces a range of a minor 3rd (g to b flat) with then expands up to a perfect fourth (g to c). This range remains constant until the final system of page one, were the chromatic alteration A flat is first heard before an overall expansion of range to a minor 6th (f sharp to d). This final expansion is heard in the same measure that introduces the dotted 16th- 32 pairs. This is a rather simplistic application of growth and limitation (in this case the limitation is marked by the return to the first phrase at measure 21), but does serve to illustrate that growth/limitation can provide some insight into what is distinctive about a particular work-what it is that will provide an interesting analysis.

[3] My objections to Levarie and Levy is in the need to link everything to some organic origin. Teresa does an excellent job of outlining the perceived biological link with the references to both God and Darwin, and I too found the exclusion of some musics to be offensive. (Apart from the hegemonic eurocentric view that it represents, their just plain wrong. Growth/limitation can be applied to Gamelon, Indian Classical and KISS as easlay as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms). If one invokes the organic of God, one implies predestination due to supernatural influence - the will of God. If one invokes the organic of Darwin, one implies the random nature of natural selection (however, the music business is completely Darwinian). Either way, organicism refuses to acknowledge that composition and performance are acts of will, and as such are guided by the choice of the individual. One can enter into a life time of discussion on the nature of will and choice (and now is not the time), however if we are self-aware and autonomous to some degree (and most would hope that we are) the compositional process as organic structure is undermined by the very nature of both the composer and the analyst, both of whom employ free will in their respective tasks.

[4] As a final note, Teresa rhetorically asks if any scholar would speak of monophonic music as having cadence. Two years ago I was involved in an experiment to see if cadence could be detected in a none western tuning system. Using a 19 tone equal temperament scale I was asked to try and detect cadence in a series of monophonic lines. The point was that our ears are culturally acclimatized to cadences that were codified in the common practice period. These codes did not appear out of thin air but were developed over time including the early monophonic plain chants in which I (for one) do hear the effect of cadence.


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