Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Music, Wandering and the Limit of Any Method: On Music's Sense: Second Movement

Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Music, Wandering and the Limit of Any Method: On Music's Sense: Second Movement

Article excerpt

1. The Issue where We Left It

In the previous article (Vestrucci, 2015) I aimed to demonstrate the a-conceptual nature of the extra-musical "sense" of music (that is, a sense not identical with the components and the elements of music). In general, the determination of this extra-musical "sense" is the fruit of a subjective attribution (in specific sentiments); yet this sentimental, subjective determination is questionable because it cannot claim a universal validity of its results: in other words it is impossible for any result to be legitimately considered as referring to the music (and not to subjective, empirical or historical elements). Nevertheless, the formalist exclusion of the extra-musical "sense" from the field of theoretical possibles is unsatisfactory, for it risks to reduce music to sound, and hence to lose the aesthetic specificity of music. Therefore both modes of determination of the music "sense" (whether extra-musical or not) contain a positive element: the subjective one aims to find what makes aesthetically relevant (that is, beautiful) this specific sound; the formalist one has the worth of warning against the illegitimate universalization of a subjective position. In light of this, the position I assumed in my previous article was a sort of mediation between the two approaches: a not-merely-formalist "sense" of music should be there because music is not just sound, and yet this "sense" should not be conceptualized directly but only analogically, that is, only indirectly via its artistic representations (that is, by a literary or cinematographic use of this music). For this reason if it is true that a not-merely-formalist sense of music is there, then this sense must always be in inverted commas, as conceptually inexpressible "sense."

In order to prove this thesis the best method was a reductio ad absurdum through the suspension of formalism's pars denstruens in order to conceptually determine a "sense" for the form of musical writing called Welle (2) in its artistic use as the soundtrack of some films. The Welle being the form of all compositions characterized by the repetition of the same musical atom of notes and rhythm in small harmonic modifications and the lack of any explicit melodic line, (3) its "sense" has been determined as aesthetic enchantment of pale and vacuous (that is, otherwise aesthetically void) everydayness.

The question now is to suspend the suspension of the formalism's pars denstruens, that is, to take back the formalist point of view and investigate the limits and the fallacies of this conceptual determination of the "sense" of a form of music. This operation would not only conclude the former reductio ad absurdum, but it would also present an important deepening of the formalist methodology itself. In fact, the previous determination of the "sense" of the Welle satisfied in a meaningful way the need for an extra-musical "sense" of (a form of) music; hence, by negating the theoretical cogency of this result, it should also be evaluated whether the gain of cogency and scientificity is worthier than the exclusion of the quest for a universal not-merely-formalistic "sense".

Given that the "sense" of the Welle form presupposed the logical and musicological consistency of this form of musical writing (in light of a synthesis between some baroque and some minimalist compositions), the first step is to further deepen this (supposed) formal commonality, by focusing on the harmonic structure of its examples (in Bach's and Glass' compositions). In doing so, it will be possible to appreciate the limits of their formal parallelism.

2. Bach and Glass in Comparison

As previously (4) I shall start with the Prelude in C major. The first four bars constitute a sort of prelude within the Prelude, a symbol of the subjacent principle of the whole structure as it will be fully developed: the structure of an itinerary starting with the tonic, proceeding away from the tonic, and then back to tonic. …

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