Edward Elgar, Modernist

Article excerpt

TWENTIETH-CENTURY STUDIES Edward Elgar, Modernist. By J. P. E. Harper-Scott. (Music in the 20th Century.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. [xiii, 255 p. ISBN-10: 0-5218-6200-0; ISBN-13: 978-0-5218-6200-4. $90.00] Illustrations, bibliographical reference, index.

In Edward Elgar, Modernist, J. P. E. Harper-Scott advances the provocative if questionable thesis that Elgar's music can be best understood through a combination of Schenkerian analysis and Heideggerian philosophy. Harper-Scott thus joins the trend of modifying the more technical methods of Schenkerian analysis with a more subjective approach to musical meaning. Here, however, the seeming incongruity of Heinrich Schenker and Martin Heidegger as well as the specificity of Elgar's First Symphony and Falstaff raise questions whether invoking Heideggerian philosophy is a justifiable expansion of Schenkerian theory or just an expedient, and whether claims to broader applications are valid. Schenkerian theory loses not only the aesthetics but also the syntax of the Ursatz, its harmonic-contrapuntal framework, and therefore the value of Schenkerian analysis for Elgar's music is debatable. But it is precisely these points that make Harper-Scott's book worthwhile reading for Elgarians, Schenkerians, and musicologists in general.

Harper-Scott begins by outlining the aims of his study and the modernist characteristics of Elgar's music. In chapter 2, he discusses the problem that Schenkerian analysis poses for Elgar's music, namely that Schenker's Ursatz is based on Beethoven's heroic goal-oriented style. He then reformulates Schenker's Ursatz in relation to Heidegger's Augenblick, which Harper-Scott defines as "the moment" that changes our perception of ourselves, and that determines the future in light of the past and present, hence a turning point. Chapter 3 presents an analysis of Elgar's First Symphony that draws on the work of James Hepokoski as well as Schenker and Heidegger, and that features the "immuring" and "immured" tonics of A-flat and D respectively, a static Kopfton, and a single four-movement Ursatz. In chapter 4, Harper-Scott examines Elgar's symphonic study Falstaff and builds on Hepokoski's premise that symphonic poems must be interpreted through the interconnection of text (music) and paratext (non-musical image). The drama of Falstaff, Hal, and the Kingship of England plays out through their associated keys of C, E-flat, and E, respectively, which Harper-Scott analyzes through a combination of Schenker's and Hepokoski's methods, especially the "nonresolving recapitulation deformation" and "rotational structure."

Focusing on Heidegger in chapter 5, Harper-Scott formulates his theory of musical hermeneutics, comparing and contrasting it with that of Lawrence Kramer. Harper-Scott's concept of music's mimetic nature derives from the quest narrative in literature. Chapter 6 "examines a possible existential meaning of the temporal unfolding of the First Symphony and Falstaff, characterizing it as a kind of failed quest narrative which rejects the Beethovenian paradigm while-and this is a typically modernist move-ostensibly but disingenuously repeating it" (p. 6). Finally, chapter 7 interprets Elgar's modernism as a commentary on man's nature and future.

To elaborate on the overview above, in Harper-Scott's "Heideggerian refinement of Schenker's theory," which is also the title of chapter 2, Schenker is essentially no longer Schenker. Harper-Scott asserts, "Without acknowledging it [the Augenblick], the analyst cannot properly account for the 'purely musical' parts of the work (its grammar and structural logic)" (p. 64). For example, in his analysis of the First Symphony, "By incorporating the Augenblick into Schenker's phenomenology, the analytical method can be made to accommodate duotonal (and other unorthodox) structures" (p. 66). In a sense, the Augenblick becomes a substitute for the Ursatz, and Harper-Scott discards the foundations of Schenker's theory for a more poetic idea and a more subjective analysis. …