Saturday, March 8, 2014
The Boston Conservatory
Samantha Bassler, "John Dowland and Constructions of Melancholy as Disability in Early Modern England"
In the past, scholars of early modern England considered John Dowland's lute songs as seventeenth-century examples of religious melancholy and the cult of melancholia. Recent scholarship on melancholy and music in early modern England argues that cultural thinking about melancholy evolved significantly throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, calling for a nuanced view of the relationship between early modern conceptions of melancholy and Dowland's lute songs. As Eubanks Winkler has shown, the early modern English conception of melancholy is complex; often intertwined with theories about madness, gender, and the supernatural. To navigate these complexities, I utilize disability studies and investigate melancholy as a narrative prosthesis in Dowland's lute songs, demonstrating constructions of the (ab)normal in the society of early modern England. The resulting analysis underscores how the able-bodied, or non-melancholic, benefit from the disabled melancholic as a foil. This will be the first study to apply narrative prosthesis and disability studies to Dowland’s lute songs, and one of the first to investigate early modern English music and melancholia as a social construct of disability in this period.
Illuminating the relationship between music, impairment, gender, and (dis)ability in early modern culture, narrative prosthesis provides a social model for melancholy, abnormality, and disability in early modern England, with its conflation of melancholy with madness, gender, and the supernatural. I examine sources from late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England, including early modern discussions of melancholia in literature, musical editions and manuscripts, treatises, and editions of Dowland’s lute songs, in order to contextualize melancholia within this cultural milieu. By exploring the connections of melancholy with other early modern maladies, and analysis of Dowland’s lute songs as narrative prosthesis, I show that Dowland’s own identification with melancholy, as manifested in his songs, constructs (dis)ability in early modern England.
Elina Hamilton, "A Tale of Two Walters: A New Biography of Walter "of Odington""
Since Charles Burney made a detailed description of the early fourteenth-century De speculatione musicae in his A General History of Music (1776), the author of this great English treatise has been attributed to a certain “Walter Odington.” Subsequent investigations into his biography showed that he was not only a great authority on music, but also a master within the then scientific field of alchemy and author of the equally great alchemical treatise, Ycocedron. Such a remarkable mind was praised by the sixteenth and seventeenth-century scholars Leland, Bale, and Dugdale who, in their monastic histories of Britain lauded him as being one who devoted multiple hours to his academic endeavors.
The biography of Walter, as reported in musicological texts, however, is puzzling: he was said to be active at Oxford from 1298-1361 and called “Walter from Evesham Abbey.” Although records can confirm both scientific and mathematical activities for a Walter at Oxford, the 63-year span of scholarly activities seems improbable, even for a great and noble scholar.
Prompted by the recent discovery of a new source (London, British Library Add. 56486a) for the music treatise which had not yet been studied, I reexamined all sources that claimed to be works of Walter Odington. My work has revealed that rather than one supposed polyglot scholar, there were two authors, Walter of Evesham Abbey, the music theorist, and Walter of the similarly named “Eynsham” Abbey, both Benedictine institutions and equidistant from the village of Odington. This Doppelmeister revelation allows us to provide a more accurate context for the dating, authorship, readership, and circulation of De speculatione musicae.
Adriana Ponce, “Memory, Trace, and Expressiveness in Chopin’s Nocturnes”
The Nocturnes are prime examples of Chopin’s unique style except, perhaps, in terms of their large-scale form. But if their overall organization is not very innovative, some of their formal procedures at the phrase level are. This paper will consider two such procedures, which are particularly idiosyncratic and ground the pieces on romantic conceptions of memory.
The first procedure is clear in Op. 55, No.1, Op. 9, no. 2 and Op. 37, no. 1, and concerns the relationship between its two opening phrases. Following a strongly self-enclosed first phrase, the second one establishes an antithetical point in almost every sense, only to shed progressively its contrasting traits, adopt those of the former phrase, and eventually converge on it. Continuity is thus created gradually, almost retroactively, through the recollection of the former phrase’s musical-affective qualities in the context of new material, as memory bridges the gap between an event in the past and one running its own course. The second procedure concerns the return of a motive in the opening of Op. 32, No. 1. The motive is so distinct and affectively charged that, when it comes back in a different context, the listener recognizes it, without being able to recover its full identity. Thus, both recognizable and highly de-familiarized by the new surrounding, it triggers a strong fleeting memory, one to which we respond affectively but whose ultimate object eludes us.
The Nocturnes’ dreamy character has traditionally been associated with their lyrical, broad and free-flowing cantabile lines. My interpretation offers a new source for the sense of pathos that characterizes their openings: memory as the true Romantic toposmemory as trace, memory that transcends its object, memory mediated by the highly expressive quality of Chopin’s thematic material, which renders it profoundly powerful and, at times, hopelessly unrecoverable.
David Schulenberg, C.P.E. Bach and the Metaphorical Voice
The significance of this rethinking of Bach extends beyond his biography. Modern focus on instrumental music at Berlin has obscured the leading role there of Italian opera, which echoes in Bach’s sonatas and concertos of the 1740s. His famous Program Trio of 1749—a metaphorical dialog between two violins—is only the most explicit instance of musical “duologuing” in works of Bach, Graun, and others that imbue instrumental music with a newly intense rhetoric. Ironically, Bach’s actual vocal music proves less dramatic than his instrumental writing, and in the new genre of lyrical oratorio he replaced dialog with narration (as in revisions of the Auferstehung). This reflected general trends that made the metaphorical, sublimated drama and rhetoric of instrumental music more attractive to northern European listeners than the real thing until the end of the century.
Morgan Rich, “Adorno, Berg, and Composition with Twelve Tones: Rereading Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music”
Initial impressions of Theodor Adorno’s conception of composition with twelve tones are based on the seminal Philosophy of New Music, thus making Adorno a staunch defender of Arnold Schoenberg and his music. This book alone would justify the view of Schoenberg’s centrality in Adorno’s music criticism, articulated by scholars such as Max Paddison, Lydia Goehr, Richard Leppert, and Susan Buck-Morss. As a polemical, yet historicizing, account of “new music” it is based on Adorno’s own intimate understanding of the musical works and styles he critiques. But to evaluate Adorno’s seminal text, and concurrently his conception of composition with twelve-tones, solely on Schoenberg’s compositional models however, limits our understanding of Adorno. As a composer and critic, well-versed in modernist aesthetics, Adorno chose to study composition not with Schoenberg, but with Alban Berg. With Berg, Adorno learned twelve-tone techniques quite different from those conceived by Schoenberg, especially because Berg was himself indebted to his own student Fritz Klein. Adorno’s compositional techniques and philosophical concepts of twelve-tone music align more closely with those of Berg and Klein than Schoenberg.
Beginning with Adorno’s conception of composition with twelve-tones, from as early as 1925-1926, I argue that Adorno’s understanding of twelve-tone compositions, as based on practical engagement with Berg’s music evidenced in his own compositions and writings, complicates our understanding of Adorno’s position on this subject and needs to be reassessed. First, I demonstrate that Adorno’s conceptions for the possibilities of twelve-tone compositions are strongly informed by Berg’s version of the technique. Second, by analyzing Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music in light of the Berg and Berg’s music we will see that Adorno’s view of twelve-tone composition allows for more nuance and play with compositional materials than previously understood. Throughout his study with Berg, which, I argue, greatly informed the Philosophy of New Music, Adorno concurrently worked out ideas for the book, but also a concept of negative dialectics as a way to understand twelve-tone composition and progress. Adorno found musical elements in Alban Berg’s works that helped him codify his thoughts for Philosophy of New Music and, eventually, Negative Dialectics.
Beth Abbate, “Esoteric Origins: Theosophical Images and Influences in Webern’s Op. 29”
By December 2, 1939, Webern was able to write to Hildegard Jone that the work which had begun in July 1938 as a “symphonic cycle for solo, chorus and orchestra” had become a three-movement “’Cantata.’” Seemingly he had followed his compositional habit of creating two or more very individual pieces from a shared twelve-tone matrix, then superimposing a unifying interpretation on the whole. The text of each movement is drawn from a different poem of Jone: the text of the second movement—composed first—describes the cyclical life of the maple tree, the brief text of the first depicts the lightning strike of the creative life-force “from the cloud of the Word,” and the text of the third refers to the no longer perceptible music of Apollo and his Graces. Yet, in his letter to Jone, Webern suggested that, for him, the images from all three texts were related: “Aren’t the ‘little wings’ and ‘Lightning and thunder’ answering the questions posed in the ‘Chariten’ verses…? Aren’t they saying what is implied by the latter, by the ‘sound’, the ‘word’, the ‘seal of the spectrum’?” In fact, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that all three texts combine or “syncretize” elements from three different philosophical viewpoints. Goethe’s theory of metamorphosis—central to Webern’s compositional thinking—is combined with Ferdinand Ebner’s theology of “the Word” and, subtly but significantly, with a variety of ideas from the contemporary Theosophical movement—including the particularly prominent ideas of the final unity of all religions, and the goal of the perfecting of humankind.
In this paper I first point out the philosophical origins and intersections of each text, after which I consider how Webern’s musical choices—of rows, textures, and forms—both highlight meanings of the text and promote their philosophical assumptions. Particular attention is given to the final “Charis” section of the last movement, in which the rows, textures, and complex formal structure resolve themselves into a state of unity and “perfection.”
Navid Bargrizan, “A New Opera Concept: An Identity Quest Mediated by Digital Media and Microtones in Manfred Stahnke’s Orpheus Kristall”
In his 2001 opera Orpheus Kristall, Manfred Stahnke presents an autistic Orpheus bewildered and lost within the complexity of a multimedia environment. This Orpheus, struggling with his own thoughts, seeks the truth amid his immediate world and its extension through the Internet. While reacting to the incoming sounds originating from the network, he attempts to express his memories of a traumatic event: the “[loss of] his Eurydice”. The sudden emergence of three imaginary Eurydice characters causes the hallucinating Orpheus to gradually get to know (to find) himself after having lost his sense of self-identity in the media-world. In this pioneer work, Stahnke extends the borders of live music on stage with the integration of the vast external world through the Internet as part of the performance medium, to comment on the foundation of our existence. Most important, Stahnke uses concepts of Differenztonharmonic (Difference tone harmony) as well as micro-glissando, which characterize Orpheus Kristall’s tone system, to establish the Orpheus’ inner-battle within his extended technological world. As I argue in this paper, the intricate structure of this opera, with its allegorical meanings, was only possible through Stanhke’s innovative approaches to microtonality.
On the basis of interviews I conducted with Manfred Stahnke in 2011, as well as his own article “Anmerkungen zur Orpheus”, where he explains much of his compositional procedures, I explore the allegorical representation of key contemporary existential issues within Orpheus Kristall, especially the correlation between Orpheus’ inner-battle and the non-fixed, fluid horizon of the endless tones in Stanhke’s microtonal system. Orpheus’ attempt to overcome the cold “kristall” (crystal) in his corrupted, non-functioning surroundings, I argue, is analogous to the composer’s desire to break through the limited scope of equal temperament. Through analysis of its musical, philosophical, and mythological dimensions, I demonstrate that Orpheus Kristall is a successful example of a twenty-first century multimedia art piece that draws upon mythology in order to address complex questions related to cultural and personal identity, while shedding light on the subtle amalgamation of the mythology, technology, and microtonality.