MSN/LancMAC 2011: Rebecca Thumpston’s Review
The closing days of July brought together a diverse range of scholars and students for the Seventh International Conference on Music Since 1900 and the Lancaster University Music Analysis Conference. Held in the newly-opened Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts in Lancaster University, the conference opened with a plenary session, ‘Marking Time: On Contemporary Music and Historical Analysis’. This was a complex and intriguing discussion by members of the RMA Music and Philosophy Study Group, exploring issues of temporality in the analysis of contemporary music. It was followed by the first of the parallel sessions. As a member of the technical support team, I was scheduled to assist in ‘Form and Temporality’, in which resonances were apparent with the plenary session. Anne Hyland (University of Cambridge) focused on sudden, dramatic outbursts in Schubert’s First Movement Sonata Forms. Explaining her argument in relation to the String Quartet in A minor D804, the Octet D803, and the Piano Sonata in B-flat major D960, Hyland argued for a move away from a unidirectional understanding of Schubert’s music, instead allowing the music a sense of interiority – recalling its own past and creating its own future. Ben Curry (Cardiff University) explored issues of metaphor in sonata theory through the lens of Pierce’s theory of valency, and Matthew Riley (University of Birmingham) extended William E. Caplin’s theory of formal functions to examine Haydn recapitulations. Day one came to a close with a piano recital given by Martin Roscoe; the highlight for me was Roscoe’s serenely beautiful rendition of Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude from Liszt’s Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses.
Day two began with ‘Cross-Currents in the Twentieth Century’. Simon Debrulais (Oxford University) examined Hindemith’s compositional rules, questioning how the composer’s music relates to his theory, and Arnulf Christian Mattes (University of Oslo) explored possible cinematic influences on Schoenberg’s String Trio, Op. 45, presenting the audience with the composer’s time chart for the work. Concluding the session, Sarah Reichardt (University of Oklahoma) presented analyses of a number of Shostakovich String Quartets, dissecting the various senses of rebirth, restart, and homecoming in recapitulatory passages. An interesting question from Nicholas Reyland followed, questioning exactly whose subjectivity, whose transcendence, and whose agency is invoked in these moments. The day continued with a plenary session focusing on metaphor, in which Helen Thomas (Lancaster University) deconstructed the programme note for the evening’s forthcoming concert. Next was ‘Music and the Screen (1)’, prior to the first of two Keynote presentations, given by Henry Klumpenhouwer (University of Alberta). Employing an unconventional format, Klumpenhouwer gave three short presentations, each pertaining to a different analytical topic: K-net relations in the context of Three Miniatures by Webern, David Lewin’s essay on Schubert’s song ‘Morgengruss’, and a final treat (a ‘bonbon’ in his words) in the form of a more easily digestible analysis of the opening measures of the scherzo movement from Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony. This richly complex talk led to lively discussion which continued over dinner, followed by the thrilling, and much-anticipated, performance from the RedArch Duo.
Back-to-back parallel sessions began Saturday morning. In ‘Interpreting Myths and Desires’, Kenneth Smith (Durham and Keele) used Lacanian theories to frame analyses of two songs – At Sea and Serenity – by Ives. He demonstrated how a Lacanian conception of desire can be used to develop an understanding of the songs’ harmonic language. Next, Suzie Wilkins (University of Sussex) interrogated the way in which composer-myths have influenced the reception of Mahler’s Symphonies, before the final speaker, Benjamin K. Davies (Conservatori del Liceu, Barcelona), presented a close analytical reading of the harmonic syntax of Janáček’s Second String Quartet. This led well into the penultimate parallel session, ‘Analytical Strategies’, where the opening paper, given by Courtenay L. Harter (Rhodes College), focused on analysis of Prokofiev’s music from the 1920s. Klaas Coulembier (University of Leuven) and Mark Hutchinson (University of York) explored the more recent music of Mahnkopf and Saariaho respectively. Focusing on the 1991 chamber work Solar, Hutchinson interrogated Saariaho’s comments about ‘gravity’ controlling the work’s harmonic structure. He further developed the notion of gravity to frame an analysis of the multiple polar oppositions inherent within the work, serving to keep it in orbit, so to speak. These three richly complex papers led to animated discussion in question time. Nicholas Ross’s lecture recital was next in the programme. Examining Golden Sections in solo piano works by Debussy, Ross treated those who arrived early to an impromptu performance of the works under scrutiny. Following a second ‘Music and Screen’ session, the day came to a close with the Keynote presentation from Philip Bohlman (University of Chicago). Speaking from an ethnographic perspective and focusing on the concept of ‘aporia’, Bohlman demonstrated the breadth of disciplinary approaches that can feed fruitfully into discussion of music, such as insights gained through reflection on the Japanese spatial concept of ‘ma’.
Sunday began with the final parallel session: a stimulating quartet of papers given by Martha Sprigge (University of Chicago), Ivana Medíc (University of Manchester), Lisa Jakelski (Eastman School of Music) and Bogumiła Mika (University of Silesia), focusing on music since 1969. Closing the conference, Jenny Doctor (University of York), Peter Elsdon (University of Hull) and Björn Heile (University of Glasgow) discussed audiovisual recordings of jazz, treating the remaining conference delegates to archive footage of jazz performances. As my first LancMAC/MSN conference, this was a stimulating and thought-provoking experience.