Upon stepping onto the platform at Lancaster train station the day before the official commencement of the LancMAC/MSN conference, I met an American scholar (who had seen me poring over some scores on the way there) who asked: ‘are you speaking at MAC or MSN?’ The question (answered simply by ‘yes’) flagged up a potential issue for the meeting: how does one incorporate two established conferences into a single productive event which encourages exchange and interaction between the specialists in each field, and yet keeps both camps individually happy? The conference chairman, Edward Venn, and his troop of organisers and assistants did an impeccable job on this front, creating ‘cross-currents’ between MAC and MSN by arranging the conference sessions around themes and genres (‘jazz’, ‘music and the screen’, ‘form and tonality’, ‘music and place’) or geography (‘music in France and Spain’), which facilitated discussion of music of almost any century. There were more than 150 delegates from four different continents, and about 140 papers. Many of these delegates had travelled long distances to be in attendance, and were rewarded with what was an efficient, professional and, above all, most welcoming conference. Discussions on computational systems, metaphor and meaning, composition, historiography, cultural theory, modes of identity, and questions of performance practice mingled easily with more traditional applications of tonal theory and harmonic analysis. Indeed, this methodological and ideological eclecticism was, for this reviewer, the strongest cohering force behind much of the proceedings, and this review focuses on three sessions of particular interest which illustrate this.
A centrepiece of the first full day was the lively plenary session on metaphor comprised of six probing engagements with the concept from the perspective of performance, analysis, theory, philosophy and linguistics. Paul Archibold’s contribution focused on metaphors of physicality associated with playing in or experiencing a musical performance, and this set the stage aptly for Christopher Redgate’s examination of the ‘living metaphor’ inherent in the titles of his improvised Transcendental Etudes, which act essentially as guidelines for the performer. Redgate’s use of metaphor as the instigator of the creation of a musical idea – rather than as a tool for its explanation – formed a common thread with Michael Spitzer’s paper, which was founded on Ricoeur’s idea of metaphor as a creative act. Spitzer discussed the metaphor of nostalgia in Schubert’s music via an exploration of the use and manipulation of time in the Lieder. He argued that in this music, the frequent use of repetition and return of earlier material within a largely forward trajectory signals a moment of nostalgia or ‘distal reflection’, in which present anguish is heightened by reflecting on past joy. This was superbly illustrated in his readings of ‘Morgengruß’ (following David Lewin ), and ‘Trockne Blumen’ from Die schöne Müllerin.
In the same session, Joshua Banks Mailman and Anthony Gritten investigated the ramifications of the ubiquity of ‘structure’ and ‘problem solving’ as metaphors in analytical parlance. Mailman reasoned that the architectural approach to form inherent in the metaphor ‘structure’ (which is fundamental to our thinking about music), does not take into account the inherent duality of metaphor, nor its role as vessel for modelling the diversity of flux (or change) in dynamic form. Taking this duality into account, he suggested that the traditional dichotomy of temporal time (the time-moving metaphor) and spatial time (the subject- or ego-moving metaphor) could more appropriately be understood as a spatio-temporal reciprocity, which permits a more fluid approach to the notion of musical structure. Helen Thomas of the home institution, whose work framed the session, took her starting point from linguistics, and her paper offered a fitting amalgamation of the ideas of metaphor as both an intra-musical entity and also as a tool, or vessel, for its understanding.
David Bretherton opened Saturday’s parallel session on form and tonality with a detailed rehabilitation of Schenker’s ‘Essay on a New Theory of Form’ (Der freie Satz ), which has been partially neglected save for its comments on sonata form. Bretherton presented a careful outline of Schenker’s developing theories of from, focusing, in particular, on the correlation between voice-leading structure and architectural form therein, and Schenker’s comments on (or neglect of) certain composers and formal types. This was followed by Ya-Hui Cheng’s broadly Schenkerian account of the dramatic transformation of the central character in Puccini’s eponymously titled Turandot, which incorporated structural augmented chords and Chinese pentatonicism. Despite the fact that Puccini never completed the music for the opera, Cheng demonstrated that the nascent stages of this transformation are detectable in the existing music. The final paper in this session, from Julian Horton, sparked a considerable amount of interest and debate. Horton presented a refined and convincing reading of the mediant ritornello second-theme presentation in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, which Tovey memorably referred to as an ‘error’. Using analysis as a springboard for an investigation of the notion of canon formation, and its (circular) relationship to theory, Horton challenged the validity of any theory which is circumscribed by sample repertoire (in this case, Mozart’s concerti), and its attendant historical boundaries. Taking into account that Mozart’s concerti were not disseminated until the 1820s, and thus were a negligible model for Beethoven, Horton offered instead a comprehensive overview and categorisation of the modulating ritornello in the post-classical piano concerto, taking examples from Moscheles, Bennett, Henselt and Cramer.
Saturday’s ‘computational approaches to music analysis’ was another thought-provoking and varied session, headed by Alan Marsden’s marvellous exposition of a complex and comprehensive computational system for unveiling the fundamental commonalities between a theme and its subsequent variations in variation form. This system, which he applied to Mozart’s variations for piano, isolates similarities and patterns in voice leading (much in the manner of Schenkerian analysis), and produces empirical data which, it was suggested in the question session, could be used to reappraise our existing theories for analysing variations. Keith Potter and Marcus Pearse staged an impressive, and fast-moving double act, with Potter presenting a semiotic reading of Debussy’s Syrinx (after Nattiez), and Pearse relating this to the results of their computational analysis. Their basic principle, that a computer program ‘learns’ the fundamentals of (in this case) Western musical culture, such as pitch and duration, and is then trained to predict human responses to the music provoked a heated debate on whether what we expect in a piece of music really is based on what we have already heard. Mailman, in his second contribution to the conference, continued his theory of form from flux, rather than form as architecture, in a formal analysis of the first movement of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Quartet of 1931.
There were many more individual papers which remain high points of the conference for this reviewer, especially those by René Rusch, Courtney L. Harter, Emma Gallon, and Neil Newton, but space does not permit a full engagement with them here (keep eyes peeled for future issues of Music Analysis or Twentieth-century Music). Their breadth reflects the richness and diversity of the conference, as did the two keynote lectures. Even Henry Klumpenhouwer’s fascinating address consisted of three individual topics which he maintained, when probed by Charles Wilson from the floor, did not have an underlying coherence (a remark which surely would have incited a storm of controversy at an analysis conference a decade ago). Philip Bohlman’s stirring lecture analysed the borders between the known and the unknowable, which he explored via three case studies, dealing with the binary metaphors of fullness/emptiness, time/timelessness, and life/death respectively. Temporality was therefore central to the ontological borders depicted in this lecture, as it had been for so many of the papers at the conference. Bohlman left his audience entranced with his final remark that ‘analysis enables us to enter the border zones together’, a provocative ending to a conference situated on the border (now largely obsolete?) between music analysis and music since 1900.