Friday, September 15, 2017

Mini-Conference: Latest Research on Beethoven's Fifth and Eighth Symphonies (BU)


Fall Chapter Meeting (University of New Hampshire, September 23, 2017)

University of New Hampshire (Durham, NH)
Saturday, September 23, 2017

Campus Maps/Directions

(Abstracts and bios posted as they become available)


10:00-10:30 Refreshments and Registration

10:30  Welcome

10:35   The Perceptual Origin of the Sublime in György Ligeti's Violin Concerto (Daniel Fox, Graduate Center, CUNY)

This paper positions the sublime in György Ligeti’s Violin Concerto in relation to three reference points: 1) Jerome Carroll’s argument for a conception of the sublime in art “as a navigation of the boundaries of representation and meaning,” 2) Max Paddison’s suggestion that, in art, the sublime is a moment of political resistance that can lead to a rearrangement of the symbolic order, and 3) the recent call by Peter Edwards for a renewed consideration of the influence of Adorno’s conception of musique informelle and historical thinking on Ligeti’s works.

This paper uses these three points of reference to argue that the Violin Concerto is an essay on the internal structure of the sublime and its role in aesthetics. My arguments build upon Eric Drott’s analysis of the conditions of the possibility for the fluctuating perceptibility of vocal lines that lead to the ‘crisis of the figure’ in Ligeti’s Requiem.

With its “derivational logic,” Ligeti’s Violin Concerto furthers our understanding of the sublime in music in two ways: (1) It points us toward the origin of the sublime by denying our imaginations “the power of forms” through the presentation of a psychoacoustic atom of perceptual ambivalence that lies at the interstices of categories of human auditory streaming. This perceptual ambivalence is a minor sublime, but also an “eternal” one. Drawing on Baudelaire’s arguments, we can identify how the “eternal” and the “fashionable” qualities each create the possibility of the other. (2) The concerto performs the political opportunity of escape offered by the sublime through a reordering of the aesthetic apparatus, grappling with the twentieth-century controversy over tuning and pitch systems through a kind of historical and critical recapitulation.

Daniel Fox is a graduate student in composition at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. His research and compositional interests revolve around materiality. His writing has appeared in Perspectives of New Music, Hyperallergic, and Van Magazine. His compositions have been performed by Either/Or, the Momenta Quartet, Contemporaneous, Miranda Cuckson, and Imri Talgam. He holds a PhD in mathematics and has published in Transactions of the American Mathematical Society and Communications in Analysis and Geometry. More information is available at

11:15   Who Tells Your Story? Dispatches from the Hamilton: An American Musical Moment (Jason McCool, Boston University) 

The torrent of adulation and cultural focus bestowed upon Hamilton: An American Musical is unprecedented in recent American music. This "Hamilton moment" interweaves urgent discussions on representation with a new public and artistically-embodied consciousness of massive demographic shifts and attitudes about race. Simultaneously, Hamilton builds bridges between the culturally disparate genres of hip hop and musical theatre.

Hamilton's resonance is partially attributable to the digital, shareable nature of its cast recording, the first work of American political art to fully leverage the viral potential of social media. And yet, a majority of its fans haven't actually seen the show, which urges questions about what Hamilton actually is: a recording? a musical? a meme? a movement?
America has never birthed a popular work of art so intricately tied to one Presidential administration and the themes which undergirded it (a genesis captured for posterity on viral video), nor a recent artwork of overt political appeal which has found its way past the corporate censors of Broadway and contemporary pop. And yet, given America’s long history of exploring race via the Broadway stage, the newest thing about Hamilton may be its oldness. The embrace of such an ambitious, hybrid artwork within celebrity culture complicates the notion of impermeable boundaries between art and commerce. Finally, as the nation lurches into a political landscape predicated on a starkly contrasting tone and policies actively disenfranchising the very minorities the show celebrates, Hamilton has shifted from an act of celebration to one of political resistance and defiance.

This paper considers Hamilton in the context of America's continual search for self-identity via culture, using the legacies of American musical theatre and hip hop as stereophonic sounding boards to listen to an artwork that articulates the very nature of freedom via a re-imagined, re-articulated, re-claimed American past.

 Jason McCool comes from a long line line of people who have been asked "is that your real last name?" Currently a PhD candidate in Musicology at Boston University and writing a dissertation on Hamilton: An American Musical, he holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music (jazz trumpet performance) and the University of Maryland, College Park (historical musicology), where he composed a thesis on pianist Keith Jarrett. Jason has contributed reviews for the Boston Musical Intelligencer, PinkLine Project, and Berklee Jazz Perspectives, has taught courses at Montgomery College, Dean College, and Boston University, and has presented papers at Boston University, UNC-Asheville, Harvard University, and Maynooth University in Ireland. He is an actor and director and a member of Actors' Equity, an alumnus of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and was invited to be a member of the Mass Creative Leadership Council. Jason is the Arts & Culture Liaison for AERONAUT Brewery in Somerville, MA, for which he was recently featured as a guest on WGBH's Boston Public Radio, and for which he is launching a new concert series in Oct. 2017 including the performance of Beethoven 5th Symphony in a brewery. Follow him @coolmcjazz or drop by

11:55-1:50 Lunch Break

1:50-2:10 Business Meeting

2:10 The Force of Empathy in Ashley Fure's The Force of Things (2016): Installation-Opera as Posthuman Ecocriticism (Andrew Chung, Yale University)

Ashley Fure’s 2016 opera-installation, The Force of Things(hereafter, TFT) premiered at the 2016 Darmstadt Summer CoursesTFT draws on object theater and sound sculpture, exploring the animacy of non-human matter. Speakers emitting infrasound excite interacting sympathetic vibrations in silicone“hides,” paper, and metal objects—staging dramatic arcs that cannot be reduced to human drives and agency, and exploring the vibrancy of matter. Fure describes her opera-installation as “a narrative radically decentered from the lives of humans.” Here, I analyze the premiere of TFT alongside interviews with the composer, arguing that it has strong parallels with contemporary posthumanist philosophy and that itsposthumanism is fundamentally an ecocritical one.

TFT upscales her previous Etudes from the Anthropocene(2016). TFT’s ecocritique occurs not primarily through representing the Anthropocenic environment, but by making an intervention grounded in a process of empathy. Fure seeks to provoke empathetic connections with [vibrating] materials that have a vitality and strangeness to them.” argue that TFTinstantiates a version of what perceptual psychologists callanimacy attribution: sonic vibration sets inanimate objects into motion such that we perceive something resemblingenchantment and ensoulment by sound. This sonic enchantment utilizes a performative logic to incite forms of empathy for the nonhuman that we might draw on to inspire greater care for other vibrational events—speculatively including the mournful groans of calving glaciers melting, or sickly exhalations of methane bubbling up from warming oceans.

My analysis has broader implications for how ecocritical readings of works can be genuinely critical and critically efficacious: not simply by representing or disclosing ecocritical messages, but also by performatively enacting conditions by which we can imagine and rehearse empathetic practices to promote more liveable, sustainable conditions.

Andrew Chung is a PhD candidate at Yale University where he is completing a dissertation theorizing musical meaning in 21st-century experimental and avant-garde works under the supervision of Patrick McCreless. His interests include semiotics, linguistics, transformational analysis, exploring the connections between music and continental philosophy, and the ethics of music making. He has presented papers both locally and abroad on topics ranging from chordal harmony Gesualdo's late works to the use of music as violence.

2:50 When isochronous and non-isochronous meters meet: Hemiola and Phrase Form in a Brazilian Samba-Jazz Recording (Stephen Guerra, Yale University)

Detailed engagements with familiar-but-different repertoires can inspire richer understandings of everyday concepts in music. Here, a detailed study of the 1963 recording of samba-jazz standard “Samba triste,”[1] composed and performed solo by Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell (1937-2000), exposes a novel musical problem, whose creative solution expands current metric theory.
Samba-jazz normatively creates the following expectations for the cultural insider: (1) a theme and variations performance involving a (2) fixed scheme of regular and even chord changes comprising (3) a form of (usually) 32 bars traditionally conceived of as being in duple meter (e.g. 2/4), where (4) all beats relate by powers of 2. In his first variation, Baden plucks a continuous three-sixteenth-note arpeggio pattern across more than half of the form, giving the initial impression of metric modulation to triple meter (e.g. 6/16 or 9/16). The impression proves unstable; Baden’s chord changes are uneven. He is still trying to follow the half-note changes of the form now using changes based on a dotted-eighth note. As Baden dynamically encounters the impossibility that neither multiples nor powers of 3 equal powers of 2, he patterns regularly uneven meters.
My analysis of “Samba triste” addresses three questions: How can we as listeners learn to metrically attune to the specific arpeggio passage? How does this local metric interpretation fit into a metric interpretation encompassing Baden’s entire first variation? How does the latter metric interpretation interact with our understanding and perception of the phrase form of the theme behind the variations? Answers to these questions inspire the theorization of metric-rhythmic hybrids—“metric grooves”—and further generalization of hemiola.

[1] Powell, Baden. 1963. Baden Powell à vontade. Elenco.

Stephen Guerra is a teacher, music theorist, and regularly-scheduled NYC guitarist. A Yale University PhD candidate, Stephen is wrapping up a dissertation on meter, hemiola, and the music of the late Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell. Both the MacMillan Foundation and the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies have generously supported his research. Stephen has taught music at Temple and Yale Universities and regularly gives concert-workshops in Brazilian music. Stephen’s career has spanned business, the sciences, and the humanities, and he holds Master of Philosophy and Master of Arts degrees from Yale University, a Bachelor of Music degree from Temple University, and a Bachelor of Applied Science from the University of Pennsylvania.

3:30 Uphill and Down: Mahler's Cycling Trips Through the Austrian Landscape (Brent Wetters, Brown University)

Recent work on Gustav Mahler (Peattie, 2002, 2015) has shown ways in which his symphonies, especially the third, reflect the urban and country soundscapes where Mahler wandered. Mahler’s activities as a cyclist are less well known, and the sonic landscape is much different when traversed by bicycle. From 1894 onwards Mahler rode alone and with first Natalie Bauer-Lechner and later Alma. I ask what insights these activities offer to our understanding of Mahler’s music.

The programmatic content of Gustav Mahler's symphonies has been a matter of controversy. Mahler applied programs to his first three symphonies, which he subsequently withdrew to avoid “misunderstandings.” By the time he completed his Fifth Symphony, Mahler had given up writing programs altogether, but his challenge to Richard Batka indicate that he had one in mind: “I want to see who can make a program for my Fifth!”

 In my presentation, I contend that a decisive cycling event occurred just before he started working on the symphony and acted as an inspirational germ. He celebrated the completion of his fourth symphony by riding his bicycle from his summer home in Maiernigg up the formidable Loiblpass on the border of what is now Slovenia, a celebration that nearly killed him; thinking he had reached the summit, he suddenly realized the real peak was still some distance away. While not portrayed directly in the manner of a narrative, I argue that this event nevertheless dictated much of the symphony’s topographical landscape. The broken climax in the second movement is made good with a glorious summit when the same chorale returns to conclude the finale, enacting the topography of Mahler’s bicycle ride: a failed summit accomplished after a long detour.

Brent Wetters teaches music courses at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Providence College. He holds degrees in composition from University of Michigan, the Ghent Conservatory, and Wesleyan University. He received a doctorate in musicology from Brown University in 2012, with a dissertation on the Darmstadt Summer Courses, with particular emphasis on Bruno Maderna. His article on Maderna’s Hyperion was published in Nineteenth-Century Music, and another on Maderna’s Portrait of Erasmus was published in the Cambridge Opera Journal. He is currently preparing a volume of essays on Glenn Gould’s Idea of North.

4:10 Refreshments