2 Reviews: Music Analysis Summer School 2010
The second SMA, IMR, Wiley-Blackwell Summer School in Music Analysis took place at the University of Durham on 20–24 September 2010, concluding with a symposium entitled ‘New Perspectives on Musical Form‘. The organisers were Michael Spitzer and Jo Buckley.
Please find below reviews of the event by Helen Thomas and Matthew Ward, which can also be found in Newsletter No. 35 (January 2011) (PDF).
By Helen Thomas
The SMA’s International Summer School aims to provide postgraduate participants with an advanced analytical toolkit for use in their research and teaching, and a forum for the exchange of ideas at an international level. It was launched last year in collaboration with the IMR and Wiley-Blackwell, the publishers of Music Analysis. Good news travels fast and this year 32 students from North America, Europe, the Middle-East, Asia and Australasia gathered in Durham for an intensive week of seminars and plenary sessions culminating in a symposium on ‘New Perspectives on Musical Form’.
The programme was led by five tutors (William Drabkin, Julian Horton, Adam Krims, Michael Spitzer, and Richard Widdess) and the spirit of William Caplin, denied access to the country at Heathrow by overzealous border officials. The quality of the teaching was outstanding, with master classes ranging from Schenkerian and neo-Riemannian theory to analysis of Indian rāgā, riff-based popular music and Emotional Theory as a basis for grounding hermeneutic interpretation. The opportunity to observe a range of advanced teaching styles was also greatly appreciated by the students.
A number of themes emerged across the week. The ethics of certainty and ambiguity in methodological approaches and as modes of valuing research outcomes surfaced on several occasions. The lack of cultural entrenchment evidenced by the group in discussion around this topic was edifying. This led to high quality debates on segmentation in Classical sonata form. The group also united around a general desire to present music theory in the academy as much more than the institutionalised study of sonic regulations. Ideas were proposed around the integration of theory into performance and composition practice as well as historical musicology – ideas that might form useful focal themes for future Summer Schools.
The highlights of the week, however, showed how theory for theory’s sake can be exhilarating and even revelatory. Julian Horton’s remarkable session on the Tristan Chord presented a view of its functionality that not only synthesised many other previously eminent theories but also made astounding music-dramatic sense. It was a privilege to hear the debut of this important work which demands publication. William Drabkin’s historically situated introduction to Schenker led, via a lucid introduction to the principles of the technique, to dynamic interpretations of works by Bach and Mozart. Michael Spitzer, covering for William Caplin, clearly articulated competing theories of sonata form and then melded these with persuasive heuristic readings of Beethoven. The vital role of theory and analysis in the field of ethnomusicology was evinced by Richard Widdess’s erudite introduction to hybrid rāgās. He showed how pitch-based techniques could make audible processes of integration and separation, thereby enriching our understanding of music from the north Indian classical tradition. Popular music is now a standard component of most undergraduate music courses and the seat of prior learning for many undergraduates faced with an introductory course to music theory and analysis. The challenge of adapting analytical methods to non-score based ‘texts’ and the discovery of formal functions in riff-based Rock music were entertainingly presented by Adam Krims.
The final day of the Summer School was devoted to a symposium of papers presented by the course tutors (Caplin’s paper was ably read and defended by his student Nathan Martin) and guest speakers Max Paddison and Shay Loya. It was a pity that more members of the wider community of music analysts did not attend – pressures of the new academic year notwithstanding. The papers opened up interesting discussion on broader issues of form in Romantic and contemporary repertoire.
The Summer School undoubtedly achieved – and in many ways exceeded – its main aims. In creating a phalanx of postgraduate music theorists who are better prepared for the intellectual and institutional battles ahead, it will strengthen the position of the discipline as a whole. Those who were lucky enough to take part will no doubt employ the intense training they have received and cherish the international connections that have been made. Special thanks go to SMA President, Michael Spitzer, for founding the Summer School and to Jo Buckley at Durham University for administering the course with panache.
By Matthew Ward
The second Music Analysis Summer School began with the dispiriting news that the keynote speaker, William Caplin, had been refused entry to the UK at the airport, causing the co-ordinator, Michael Spitzer, to describe the week as being like ‘Hamlet without the prince’. While Caplin’s absence from the school, as keynote and as tutor, was felt keenly by all present, nevertheless his work was a constant touchstone of theoretical solidity and utility, referenced almost as frequently as the ubiquitous Schenker in discussions of the analysis of common practice repertories. Caplin’s paper at the closing Symposium ‘New Perspectives on Musical Form’, interrogating the concept of ‘continuous exposition’ in sonata practice, was ably delivered – and defended – by Nathan Martin.
The Summer School convened in the imposing shadow of Durham Cathedral, with classes given by the professors on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, the plenary Symposium taking place on Friday, and a day-trip to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on Wednesday. The range of classes and plurality of analytical models employed reflected the varied experience, background and interest of those present. The tutors were Michael Spitzer, who stood in for Caplin to give two classes on musical form; William Drabkin on Schenkerian analysis; Julian Horton on harmony; Adam Krims on popular music, and Richard Widdess on ethnomusicology. These classes were supplemented by set score analysis and by two plenary discussions, on which more below. This was a truly international meeting of musicians, with participants drawn from as far across the globe as Hong Kong and New Zealand – indeed, a striking feature of the week was the small number of students from British universities, surprising given the proximity of the venue and the calibre of the tutoring staff. Discussion in the classes was prolonged, lively and almost always passionate. Specialist music theorists found themselves in the company of composers, jazz musicians, medievalists and rock music scholars, ensuring that nothing was taken for granted, and no assumption or assertion left unchallenged. As a result of this, the analytical insights gained from these classes were both hard won and satisfyingly grounded, whilst at the same time opening up beyond the theoretical systems employed to wider musicological and even hermeneutic horizons.
Highlights for this participant included a clear and critical re-introduction to Schenkerian analysis by Drabkin, which managed to cater for both seasoned Schenkerians and those who had merely ‘dabbled’; Widdess’s introduction to North Indian rāgā and its analysis seemed to enthral the entire class; and Spitzer’s multivalent and cross-disciplinary analysis of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata op. 110 was both convincing and fascinating. It was generally agreed, however, that Horton’s analysis of the Tristan Einleitung was a masterclass not only in harmonic analysis but pedagogy, and one hopes that his stunning insights into the harmonic process of that famous piece will not remain forever in the classroom! Krims’s introduction to popular music analysis was informative but might perhaps have been more advanced, although it was within this class that the most involved discussion of music ontology and its cultural contingency took place. In general, the classes were excellent and all the participants seemed to enjoy them and to take away valuable food for thought.
This discussion was perhaps most wide-ranging over the dinner table and at drinks both in accommodation at St Chad’s College and the ‘Shakespeare’ pub, but it was most involved in the plenary discussions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. At both plenaries, Spitzer put forward a topic for discussion which then led to an often heated debate for around an hour. The first topic for discussion was ‘Music Theory is Useless’. Such a statement could not but provoke a spirited debate, although it soon emerged that what was in contention was in fact the definition of ‘music theory’ as such. Transatlantic disciplinary differences soon emerged, as American music theorists defended the institutional and conceptual separation of music theory from musicology and European musicologists, but particularly the British, argued for a more integrative approach to musicology which opens up inquiry to multi-disciplinary and even theoretically promiscuous approaches. Spitzer and others sought to defend analysis for analysis’s sake, but some felt that this was to cut off analysis from the lived reality of musical practice, both contemporaneously and historically, and that theorists had some responsibility to connect their work to broader musicological discourse, including cultural studies, history, performance and composition. It was generally agreed that while analysis can be satisfying in isolation, it often appears distant and hermetically-sealed, proving unattractive to students and the general public, a situation which should be addressed without losing any of the discipline involved in practising music theory. With this in mind, the topic of the second plenary was ‘Music Theory is Unteachable’. As will be imagined, this drew forth some plaintive cries of agreement and heart-breaking anecdotes about the ignorance and indifference of undergraduate students in theory and analysis from across the globe. The disciplinary question arose again as to how music theory needs to be (re-)integrated with the teaching of aural skills, composition, history and indeed performance, and the most sustained debate was upon this latter point. The session ended with what seemed to be a general disillusionment about the state not of music theory as such, which thrives in its privileged institutional form in the United States, but of the ossified performance tradition of the canon in the conservatories of the West, and its effect upon the public image and understanding of the music which analysis makes its primary concern.
This note of slight dismay sounded on Thursday evening was answered by the International Symposium on Friday. Here the rich and varied applications of music theory were made clear in a series of papers which were inspiring in the breadth of their subject matter and the clarity of their presentation. Drabkin’s paper on his completion of Haydn’s last string quartet from the sketches was a marvellous demonstration of how theory can be put into practice in a positively creative and publicly engaging way. This was followed by Horton’s paper in which he put forth examples of the way in which Caplin’s theory of Classical form can by extended and modified in order to analyse nineteenth-century sonata repertories; he then introduced the Symposium to a database-in-progress which will provide a searchable resource of these repertories in the schematised analytical form of this new method, something which may prove to be of invaluable help to analysts and historians alike. Caplin’s paper followed after coffee, read by Martin, and was well-received by all present; it demonstrated once again that the flexibility of his syntactical model of understanding Classical form provides more convincing ways of hearing and understanding sonata than perhaps any other. The tutorial staff were joined in this Symposium by Max Paddison and Shay Loya. After lunch Paddison’s paper on Adorno’s theory postulating a ‘musique informelle’ in the 1950s as the only credible form of a musical avant-garde again opened the question of the relationship between theory and composition. He was followed by Spitzer, whose controversial paper introduced a putatively empirical basis for the analysis of music in terms of narratives of emotional trajectory. His persuasive and frankly programmatic reading of the first movement of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’ met with both admiration and scepticism, and proved to be the paper which provided most food for thought for the concluding round table. Spitzer’s cognitive approach was matched by Widdess’s paper on a stick-dance for the dead from Bhaktapur, Nepal. Widdess showed how the musical structures and rhetoric of the music of this processional dance manifested underlying cultural models and modes of cognition common across not only Nepalese culture but Hindu-Buddhist culture more generally, and enmeshed and resonated with architecture, topography and cosmology. Finally, Loya gave a whirlwind tour of Liszt’s late Csárdás macabre as an example of real intercultural dialogue in the late nineteenth century. His analysis of Liszt’s fusion of sonata form and Hungarian dance forms chimed most strongly with Horton’s earlier discussion of the plurality and complexity of nineteenth-century sonata forms, and demonstrated yet another method of engagement with this endlessly fascinating repertory.
The Summer School and Symposium were, in this reviewer’s opinion, a great success. This was due in no small part to the efficiency and good humour of the administrator, Jo Buckley, who made sure the entire event ran smoothly and that everyone was comfortable and happy. Discussion of the classes and the debates sparked by them continued late into the night, and the constantly friendly atmosphere and general eagerness to share knowledge and to learn is a great testimony to the vibrancy of musicological discourse across the academic world. We may have in general given up the desire to build all-encompassing, unbending and ossified edifices of theory, but the communal spirit of enquiry and exchange that this event fostered is a sign of great things to come, and because of that we can be hopeful for the future.