Obituary: Professor Anthony Pople ; Architect of a Novel `Tonalities Project' for Music Analysis
Adlington, Robert, The Independent (London, England)
HOW DO listeners to music make sense of what they hear? Those who work in the sub-discipline of musical research known as "music analysis" are typically driven by this most fundamental of questions.
It is only relatively occasionally, however, that the answers found by music analysts have the scope and clear-sightedness necessary to throw real light on musical experience. Anthony Pople confronted the challenge with unflinching passion and energy, and over the course of a brilliant career, now cut short, developed a theoretical approach to music that harnessed computer technology, cognitive science and cultural understanding to offer unparalleled insight into how music "works".
Pople's principal subjects of investigation were the "approachable" early 20th-century modernists so beloved of adventurous musicians and concert- goers today - particularly Scriabin, Stravinsky, Berg and Messiaen, but also Sibelius, Ravel, Vaughan Williams and Tippett. What fascinated Pople about this music was the way in which it negotiated with, but did not reject, the heritage of 19th-century harmony, with its recognisable key notes, chord structures and harmonic successions.
For Pople, all of this music partakes of an expanded system of "tonalities". The plural is important: earlier attempts to explain this repertoire had either underestimated its strong seams of tradition (by setting it crudely in opposition to 19th-century tonality) or, conversely, had neglected what sets it apart (by simply calling it "tonal"). Pople's work, whose various strands were eventually brought together as the "Tonalities Project", was explicitly intended to reflect (in his words) "the rich variety of the music itself".
Not content with elaborating his ideas in scholarly book and journal articles (of which there were many), Pople developed a uniquely sophisticated software package in which he sought to reconcile the flexibility of his analytical approach with the notorious inflexibility of computer processing.
Data corresponding to a musical score is fed into the programme via a spreadsheet; then, the operator engages in a "process of exchange" with the software, refining its settings in accordance with the "hunches" of musical intuition. The programme output may confirm a listener's introspective explanation of their experience, but it may equally suggest entirely new interpretations. Initially chary of disseminating a product that he felt was less than fully developed, in the last months of his life Pople prepared a version for wider use. The story of the Tonalities Project has only just begun.
The combined musical and technological expertise necessary for such an undertaking was one of many respects in which Pople proved himself a man of quite outstandingly diverse talents. As an undergraduate at Oxford (where he won an Open Scholarship to St John's …
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Publication information: Article title: Obituary: Professor Anthony Pople ; Architect of a Novel `Tonalities Project' for Music Analysis. Contributors: Adlington, Robert - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: October 16, 2003. Page number: 22. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.