Translation Across Time

Photo by Dominic Hargreaves.

On Saturday, April 30, I will be presenting a short talk at Boston University as part of Enter Textuality: Shifting Perspectives through Editorial Studies, the 2016 graduate student conference in editorial studies. The title of my talk is “Translation Across Time: A Case of Semantic Drift in the Musical Lexicon.” The conference is organized by the BU Editorial Institute. Here is the abstract:

The words with which generations of Western musicians have chosen to describe even the most basic of musical phenomena form an intricate tangle of cognates, loanwords, and homonyms. Some performance traditions retain the antiquated terminologies with which they have always been associated, while others have kept pace with (and helped to shape) current usage. To prepare in modern English edition the writing of a French theorist from the Baroque therefore requires the translator to negotiate not only the lexical divide that separates one language from the other but also the historical divide that separates its author’s seventeenth-century usage from that which is most likely to be understood—in English or in French—by the musicians of today.

The translation of Denis Delair’s Traité d’Acompagnement pour le Theorbe, et le Clavessin (1690, rev. 1724) by Charlotte Mattax (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991) remains the only published edition of the text available in English. Although Mattax undertakes to modernize some of Delair’s theoretical language for the convenience of her readers, the editorial complications that result from this decision reveal some of the difficulties inherent to the business of translating words about music across multiple historical dimensions.

Maximalism and the Nineteenth-Century Orchestral Style

”In a successful academic career, the dissertation is eventually going to be the worst piece of scholarship you’ve ever produced.” This classic piece of advice already feels right, in some respects, but I am nevertheless proud to report that I successfully defended my dissertation yesterday afternoon. Only some minor revisions now lie ahead. Here is the abstract:

The historical development of a musical style (“stylistic development”) reflects the artistic dispositions and circumstances (“artistry”) of the composers who participate in it. This dissertation investigates the theory that similar kinds of artistry can encourage similar modes of stylistic development no matter the style, taking as a case study the pattern of gradual stylistic intensification (“maximalism”) found in nineteenth-century orchestral music.

Continue reading “Maximalism and the Nineteenth-Century Orchestral Style”

The Diegetic Music of Berg’s Lulu

I am happy to announce that the Journal of Musicological Research has published my very first peer-reviewed research article, entitled “The Diegetic Music of Berg’s Lulu: When Opera and Serialism Collide,” in their January 2016 issue. Please visit my research page to view the complete citation information.

Alban Berg set his only serialist opera, Lulu, in the tumultuous and often noisy present of interwar Europe. During several scenes, Berg uses diegetic techniques to supply his characters with music that is appropriate to the depicted location. To accommodate such episodes, Berg must reinterpret popular genres within the opera’s twelve-tone context while preserving enough of the styles to render them familiar to the listener. The diegetic music of Lulu therefore exposes an artistic conflict between Berg’s compositional autonomy and his dramaturgical commitment to the realistic musical representation of a non-serialist world.

Having first arrived at this topic as a student in one of his graduate seminars, I am indebted to Eric Chafe at Brandeis University for having introduced me to the world of Alban Berg as well as for having encouraged me to submit this article for publication. Additional thanks go to Lisa Zeidenberg at Brandeis University and to the staff of the Lewis Music Library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Permission to reproduce a portion of the opera’s vocal score was secured through an arrangement with the European American Music Distributors Company.

Keitel-Palisca Grant

I am delighted to be participating in the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society happening this weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. My sincere thanks to the AMS for sponsoring my attendance with a Keitel-Palisca professional travel grant.

Fun fact: Friday marks the birthday of Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, my university’s namesake, who was born in the city of Louisville way back in 1856!

Review of LaRue’s Guidelines for Style Analysis

LaRue, Jan. Guidelines for Style Analysis. Edited by Marian Green LaRue. Expanded Second Edition with Models for Style Analysis (CD Supplement, x, 85 pp). Michigan: Harmonie Park Press, 2011. xxviii, 286 pp.

Jan LaRue’s Guidelines for Style Analysis (Harmonie Park Press, 2011) reissues the classic introduction to a comprehensive method of stylistic analysis first published by its late author in 1970. This latest printing of Guidelines expands the 1992 second edition through the addition of a companion volume, Models for Style Analysis, included as a CD supplement. Although Models consists primarily of fifteen musical examples, the styles of which LaRue has analyzed in accordance with his prescribed method, its brief introductory chapter offers a revised “Cue Sheet” (pp. 3–5), the concise outline of stylistic possibilities that LaRue recommends the analyst use as a point of departure when undertaking to examine a musical work.

A glance at the cue sheet reveals the five broad categories into which LaRue groups the numerous parameters of musical style: sound, harmony, melody, rhythm, and growth (hence the “easily remembered” acronym, SHMRG). The investigation and evaluation of these categories forms the core of LaRue’s analytical method, and he devotes an entire chapter of Guidelines to each. While the first four categories in SHMRG are likely of obvious significance to any scholar, the fifth, growth, is one that LaRue conceives to encompass not only the unfolding of a piece through time but also the atemporal impression of form that such an unfolding leaves behind. As befits the character of a practical reference volume, LaRue’s prose is generally clear and matter-of-fact. To introduce the reader to potentially unfamiliar ideas such as this, however, he understands the value of a tasteful analogy:

At the same time that a piece moves forward, it creates a shape in our memories to which its later movement inevitably relates, just as the motion of a figure skater leaves a tracing of visible arabesques on the ice when the movement has passed far away. (p. 1)

This unconventional, but soundly argued, conceptual synthesis of musical development and musical structure surely ranks among the most progressive contributions of the book and therefore serves as a prominent reminder that beneath every prescriptive method of analysis lies a descriptive theory of style.

Continue reading “Review of LaRue’s Guidelines for Style Analysis”