Back to Schedule for Joint Sessions

Session 3-2
Pre-Compositional Aspects of Musical Poietics

Jonathan Dunsby (University of Reading), Organizer


The way that music comes to be composed, realized or presented is a field of research of incontestable importance. If we ask why there should have been a distinction between "musicology" and "theory" in the closing years of the 20th century, we will find that these categories do not really intersect with the "historical" and the "systematic" pan-musicological model identified by Adler a century before. Adler's visionary model anticipated Saussure and others in the human sciences by some three decades, but we now see that those fixed attitudes were breaking down in the closing decades of the 1900s. For music, joint meetings became possible and then fashionable. The contributors here are all musical scholars who have persistently resisted institutional labels. The logic of these papers is twofold. First, specifics (Tatlow, Siegele) are weighed against conspectus (Dunsby, Nattiez). In this way we pursue our project of avoiding, all told, positivism and indiscipline. Secondly, here we hover-and who does not hover? - between the structural (Tatlow, Dunsby) and the semantic (Siegele, Nattiez). For an exceptional occasion, we have looked above all to offer wholly exceptional epistemological consistency, so that these are not researchers merely talking on similar things from vastly different perspectives, or researchers merely committed to a particular ideology scattering it wherever it may fall culturally, but people who from different perspectives can unite in research on studying the production of music, broadly defined, but within a distinct perspective that might be called creativity in the modern world. This leaves open certain questions, that are the mark of history and culture: what actually is the line between Bach and Ligeti, for all that they may seem rather close; and what actually is the line between Western and African canonicity, which superficially viewed are so different? The overall outcome of this session will be a learning curve on those questions.


Numerical Ordering in Bach's Church Cantatas
Ruth Tatlow (University of Reading)

Did Bach draw up a detailed ground plan when composing church cantatas, stipulating the number of bars in the work, and did it bear any relationship to the numerical value of the biblical text? In Bach and the Riddle of the Number Alphabet (Cambridge, 1991) I was able to show that the German natural order number alphabet (A=1 - Z=24) was used by poets in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century for generating ideas. Did Bach adapt the technique to music and use the number alphabet as a source of invention? Did he use it systematically in his works? The central purpose of Bach's church cantatas was to express in music the biblical text expounded in the sermon. Of his 200 extant church cantatas, 78 quote a biblical verse verbatim. Did he base these church cantatas literally on the biblical text? Given the fundamental significance of the biblical verse, the analyst has unusually clear conditions within which to examine any numerical correlation that might indicate Bach's pre-compositional choices. Whether positive or negative, the results of this experiment provide important evidence towards the solution of the riddle of the number alphabet.


Pre-Compositional Procedures in György Ligeti's Aventures & Nouvelles Aventures
Ulrich Siegele (University of Tübingen)

In Aventures & Nouvelles Aventures (1962-65) for three voices and seven instrumentalists, György Ligeti aimed to strip human emotions and behaviour of their motivation, and to set them in absolute form. The compositional process is documented in three sketches, two verbal (published by Erkki Salmenhaara) and one graphic (as yet unpublished). These sketches demonstrate how Ligeti realized compositionally this novel conception. Initially, he established a set of particular "emotions" and "figures," which he then he divided into five classes. Finally he established a sequence of elements within each class. The result is a formal plan in five layers, executed partly through variation and partly through superimposition. The duration of individual elements specifies the total duration of each layer, the number of sections and therefore their overall duration varying from layer to layer. In fact this formal pre-ordering of each layer has a recognizable relationship to the classes of emotions and figures they represent. The sketch of the formal plan uses serial procedures, which interact with the classes to make them even more differentiated. These numerological techniques have their roots in the experience of serial music, and they express a specifically semantic goal.


Text as Pre-Compositional Determinant: A Case Study From Goethe
Jonathan Dunsby (University of Reading)

It is well known that there are some two dozen nineteenth-century musical settings of Goethe's poem "Kennst du das Land?" in at least four languages. There is a certain dissertation literature on some of these settings. The settings offer a direct comparison not merely of different poietic approaches in the nineteenth-century, but of how a text can act in different ways as a pre-compositional determinant. Already in the early history of this song-text Goethe was accusing Beethoven of having misunderstood his poem, and much of the subsequent critique has been at a semantic level - for example, Laurence Kramer's acute comments on the "expressive doubling" in the poem. In this paper, poietic "facts" confronting any composer will be considered at the level of grammar: what has it meant that each verse of this poem begins in the interrogative, or that in the whole poem an adverb of place ("dahin") appears no less than six times; and how is even the fundamental syntagmatic contraints of German word order a significant compositional fact? These questions will be discussed with reference to settings over more than a century, showing how "Kennst du das Land?" has formed a narrative network in the Lied: the historical methologies of Georgiades and Goehr are called in evidence.


Models Behind the Surface of African Musics
Jean-Jacques Nattiez (University of Montreal)

Processes of composition, invention and so-called improvisation are quite difficult to understand in music of the oral tradition. Significant progress has been made by Simha Arom (1985), who demonstrated from which underlying modelÐand the native informants are aware of this - the actual music is derived. In this presentation I will show how the awareness of this model results from a dialectic between the inductive and the external aspects of poietic inquiry in my tripartite model of semiology. Taking Arom's work as a starting point, and basing this demonstration on my researches on the Mbaga dance (Wedding dance) of the Baganda people (Uganda), I shall show how a generative grammar of poietic constraints can be constructed and how the models have to be connected with a semantic dimension in order to access real cultural meaning, as should be required by any genuine ethnomusicological approach.

Back to Schedule for Joint Sessions