Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz since 1945: Essays and Analytical Studies

By Schiano, Michael J. | Notes, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz since 1945: Essays and Analytical Studies


Schiano, Michael J., Notes


Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz since 1945: Essays and Analytical Studies. Edited by Elizabeth West Marvin and Richard Hermann. (Eastman Studies in Music.) Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 1995. [x, 449 p. ISBN 1-878822-42-X. $95.00.]

"And so, with that discussion of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, we conclude our course in the analysis of music of the twentieth century." Presumably, this statement is now heard less often, but it is not difficult to understand why it has persisted. There have been a number of obstacles to the fruitful discussion of music since 1945. Foremost is the appearance of music for which the traditional values of coherence, motivic consistency, and organic process are either peripheral or irrelevant. Since these properties are the tenets upon which most traditional analysis and criticism are based, the usual means of discussing the music intelligently have suddenly become frustrating, misleading, or inappropriate.

Moreover, even when the music is meant to cohere, in this Beethovenian sense, it may be based on highly complex systems, which take time to learn and often do not seem terribly relevant to the perception of the music. Finally, the less the coherence of a piece is dependent on pitch structure, the less applicable so much of our analytical arsenal seems to be.

Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz since 1945 is a collection of essays dedicated to the sensible analytical discussion of some of the music that is, in general, resistant to traditional analysis. In a sense, it is a snapshot of how we have dealt with the problem of talking about recent music. It assures us it is neither a history nor an exhaustive survey; rather, the editors "have chosen essays that break new ground with respect to the compositions that they address, the perspectives from which they are written, or the analytical methodologies that they introduce or extend" (p. 3). Although one might not call each essay groundbreaking, they comprise a diverse sampling of what appears to be promising analysis these days, and they do present a survey of the issues that seem to be pressing.

The book is divided into three sections, but they are not those suggested by the title. The first, "Compositional Poetics," is described by the editors as exploring "current cultural contexts for compositional thought" (p. 5).

Part 2 is entitled "Some Structuralist Approaches." These essays are concerned with demonstrating how the music exhibits a comprehensible, organic structure in the traditional sense, and we shall begin here. In some cases, the music in question is dominated by a familiar means of coherence, such as tonality or pitch structure. In others, the musical language is particularly nontraditional, and the essay must develop and present highly idiosyncratic analytical strategies in order to provide a basis for a fruitful discussion of the music. Fortunately, each author is remarkably lucid, and it is easy to imagine any of these essays as an introduction to new analytical methods for otherwise musically experienced readers.

In his essay concerning the music of Elliott Carter, Andrew Mead shows how Carter's registral manipulation of pitch classes can be seen as an alternative to the temporal manipulations characterized by serialism, demonstrating "a commonality with Schoenberg's practice" (p. 99). In doing so, however, Mead takes the opportunity to review the relation between the total chromatic and the diatonic set; by consistently using relatively recent terminology such as "row class," he spares the novice reader the confusion usually brought about by older terminology (such as the term "row" signifying the [at most] forty-eight set forms). Therefore, this essay not only takes the reader through certain complex means of pitch organization, but presents a worthwhile and clear account of the twelve-tone tradition as well.

The subject of Walter Everett's essay, side two of the Beatles's Abbey Road album, also lends itself to a somewhat traditional approach: here voice-leading graphs demonstrate the large-scale coherence of the song cycle. …

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