Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Filleted Mignon: A New Recipe for Analysis and Recomposition

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Filleted Mignon: A New Recipe for Analysis and Recomposition

Article excerpt

[1] You will find, in the appendix to this paper, a rather bizarre setting of Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt, the famous poem from Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (score with audio). In a sense, I am the author of this setting. I put it together and I even wrote a few of the notes. But most of the material is not my own. The setting begins with the opening measures of Wolf's "Mignon II" from 1888. It then pivots to Schubert's first setting of the poem from 1815. It soon passes through several other Schubert settings and eventually finds itself in the world of Schumann's 1849 setting, only to turn back at the end to Wolf. The result, I would argue, is a unified composition. But more importantly, it is an analysis.(1) The first part of this paper discusses this project within the broad context of recomposition in general. The second part discusses the hybrid song in more detail, explaining specific choices and how they might comment on the settings of Schubert, Schumann and Wolf.

[2] The use of recomposition as an analytical tool is, of course, nothing new. Indeed, one could argue that it is essential to the very act of doing analysis. As Nicholas Cook writes, "To analyze a piece of music is to weigh alternatives, to judge how it would have been if the composer had done this instead of that-it is, in a sense, to recompose the music in a way that normal concert-hall listening is not" (1987, 232). This makes sense on a basic, intuitive level: any time that we sit at a piano with a given piece and isolate motivic ideas, compare different phrases, and generally muse upon various alternate possibilities for rhythm, meter, and tonal structure, we essentially recompose the music, even if we only rearrange the material in our own mind.(2) And some of our most popular analytical approaches-such as Schenkerian analysis-have an obvious re-compositional bent.(3)

[3] Nevertheless, though there are endless possibilities for analytical recomposition, the use of this strategy has been remarkably limited. The most common applications involve phrase structure. Theorists frequently highlight unusual metrical patterns, phrase groupings, or cadences by offering more conventional alternatives. But these recompositions are almost always immediately disparaged as something that only a lesser composer would have written. In other words, they only have value as a foil; they are useful for demonstrating a point, but are not intended to be heard as something creative or interesting in and of themselves (indeed, quite the opposite).(4)

[4] What I have attempted with my setting of Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt is different. Like most other forms of recomposition, my goal is to reflect upon the original source material-in this case the Mignons of Schubert, Schumann, and Wolf-but I hope to do this in a way that profitably bridges the divide between analysis and composition. In a sense, what I have created is an odd little medley. Rather than view each portrait of Mignon in isolation, I place them all on a single gallery wall, and, even further, fuse them as one unfixed image constantly changing before our eyes. (Table 1 displays all of the source settings.)(5) The approach might broadly be referred to as 'creative recomposition.' What I hope to produce is a situation where analytical decisions are literally composed out and brought to life through score and musical performance.

Table 1. The source settings

(The Schubert settings in italics were not used)

[5] This approach is somewhat similar to Hans Keller's "functional analyses," where he demonstrates unity in selected compositions by isolating and juxtaposing various musical fragments. He thus provides analytical observations entirely through score and performance. (See, for instance, Keller 1994: 129-38.) As he puts it: "You can, to be sure, express the application of this method in words and symbols. But preferably you simply play it . …

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