Brandeis University Graduate Student Musicology Conference

{meaning and {music} and meaning}


Friday, May 5, 2017


Constructing Community: Jewish Response to Richard Strauss’ Salome in New York City, 1907–1934
Samantha Cooper, NYU

Numerous composers, including Richard Strauss, have musically fabricated Jewish identity for onstage performance. Scholars Matthew Boyden (1999), Sander L. Gilman (1993), Ruth HaCohen (2011), Karen Painter (2001), Anne L. Seshadri (2006), and Michael F. Vincent (2011) explain how Strauss stereotypes Jewish identity in the Salome “Jews’ Quintet.” For Gilman, Strauss crafted this depiction to appeal to anti-Semitic German and self-hating German-Jewish audiences. To date, no scholar has considered how American Jewish communities responded to Strauss’ identity constructions.

Salome, with its antiquated Jewish identity portrayal, was only the stimulus for the New York City Jewish community’s response. After the opera’s scandalous premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1907, the twenty-seven-year-long fight for the opera’s return became an absorbing community affair. Offering, attending, and performing in Salome were disorderly, self-exploratory modes for Jewish American identity formation. “Salomania” resonated at various cultural and class levels; wealthy opera house administrators, a poverty-stricken immigrant novelist, a vaudeville singer-songwriter, middle class operagoers, and world-class performers engaged Salome to Americanize, combat anti-Semitism and self-hatred, employ self-humor, and achieve greater social acceptance.

In this paper, I explore the Jewish self-representations that were generated by the reception of Strauss’ Salome. Utilizing archival findings, press coverage, Jewish histories, and musicology texts, I assess American Jewish response to their own onstage portrayals. This analysis reveals how racial and social struggles can underlie seemingly refined arts and culture events, and questions the ability of music to act as a lens into cultural self-perception.

Undoing Gendered Roles: Male Hysteria in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci
Liz Crisenbery, Duke University

Ruggero Leoncavallo’s verismo opera Pagliacci (1892) explores three nineteenth-century operatic clichés: love, jealously, and murder. At a glance, this opera appears to “undo” another woman, supporting Catherine Clément’s analysis of a genre that repeatedly portrays female death on stage. Upon closer examination, this operatic death appears to “undo” the man. Pagliaccio gets his revenge, but in doing so, he is overcome with madness. In the case of Pagliacci, the primo uomo plays the role of the hysteric, occupying a position traditionally held by the prima donna. What does this role reversal mean, and how might we approach it through a psychoanalytic lens?

Sigmund Freud’s fin-de-siècle training in male and female hysteria can be positioned as the precursor to psychoanalysis. However, male hysteria as explored by Freud’s mentor, Jean-Martin Charcot, is conspicuously absent from Freud’s Studies on Hysteria (1895). Similarly, the discourse of male madness has been overlooked by opera studies, which focus instead on female hysterics like Lucia and Salome. Shifting this paradigm to include male hysteria, I turn to feminist psychoanalytic discourse, drawing upon the work of Juliet Mitchell. Building upon this framework, I analyze musical themes, stage directions, and the libretto to inform my discussion of Canio’s male hysteria in Pagliacci. The musical symptoms of operatic male hysteria are read in conjunction with the narrative arc, giving hermeneutical weight to the dramatic action. Using Pagliacci as my case study, I assert that madness is not limited to women, expanding the discourse of operatic hysteria to include men.

Sunken IIs and Inwardness: Correspondences between Voice-Leading and Moments of Introspection in Three Pieces by Robert Schumann
Alexander Martin, CUNY

This paper investigates the hermeneutical implications of passages where V is prolonged by an apparent II chord. The seeming breach of tonal syntax creates a perceived ebb in tonal flow and gives us the impression that the dominant harmony has somehow turned inward. By analogy to origami, I call this family of dominant prolongation a dominant sink fold; the Oberquintteiler in such formations is a ↓II, or sunken II chord. Because of their special voice-leading properties and inward affect, ↓IIs possess a unique potential for creating text-music correspondences. I will examine the role of ↓IIs in three works by Robert Schumann, where they are meaningfully coordinated with moments of introspection and heightened subjectivity.

In “Der Nussbaum,” Mosen’s poetry concerns blossoms coquettishly gossiping about a young maiden’s impending marriage, but the focus shifts to the maiden’s inner world and sexual naiveté in stanza 4. Schumann’s G-major setting (op. 25/3) renders this stanza in A minor qua ↓II at the middleground level. Similarly, in Heine’s “Berg’ und Burgen,” the objective river scenery recedes before the subjective heartbreak of the poem’s protagonist. In op. 24/7, the climactic line Birgt sein Innres Tod und Nacht (“conceals [the river’s] inner death and night”) brings the music to a II: PAC that functions as a ↓II, elaborating a fourth-progression within the structural dominant.

The appearance of ↓II is especially provocative in Charakterstücke, where poetic content is adumbrated by title alone. In my final example, I argue that a ↓II lies at the expressive heart of Träumerei (op. 15/7).


An Enactive Approach to the Perception of Expression in Form Theory Analysis
Bree Guerra, University of Texas at Austin

This paper will investigate how Hepokoski and Darcy’s Sonata Theory and Caplin’s form-functional analyses could capture aspects of expression arising from the musical practices of a particular style through the lens of embodied musical perception. In order to relate form theories to the action-oriented framework of embodied cognition, I will draw from enactivism, a particular mode of thought in embodied cognition. The “functions” (Caplin) and “action zones” (H&D) underlying the two theories describe a powerful fusion of unfolding musical features, goals, predictions, and evaluations that suggest a musical parallel to the integration of perception and action at the center of the enactivist approach to perception and emotion.

By drawing on Krueger’s (2009) model of enactive musical experience, I first argue that a form theory’s ability to speak to music perception depends on the degree to which its analytically-suggested paths present the listener with affordances for musically motivated action, whether virtual or actual. I then employ this enactivist perspective to the contrasting formal interpretations of the exposition of Beethoven’s Sonata in A major, op. 2/2, i (TMB versus internal half-cadence-like gesture). The distinct expressive outcomes of both theories reveal how expectations across extended time spans can influence affective content and how expectations could manifest through aspects of embodied listening. Furthermore, form theories’ staging and evaluation of musical events lends insight into music’s ability to evoke prospective and retrospective emotions, which move beyond typical embodiment arguments concerning direct sonic analogues of body movement to enactively integrate effects of expectation on expression.

Late Style and Last Things in Brahms’ Op. 122 Chorale Preludes
Chad Fothergill, Temple University

In March 1902, Brahms’ longtime publisher advertised a posthumous edition of eleven chorale preludes, op. 122, billed as “the only musical legacy of the master.” While these preludes have endured as a staple of the organ repertoire, musicological literature has regarded them from a distance, referencing the collection as a whole yet excluding individual chorales from discussions of Brahms’ late style. This paper situates passages from the preludes within stylistic, cultural, and religious contexts established in recent Brahms studies by Beller-McKenna (2004), Notley (2007), and Berry (2014), as well as theories of “lateness” by Edward Said (2006) and “late self-fashioning” that Linda and Michael Hutcheon (2015) have identified in aging composers.

Like Brahms’ other late works, contrapuntal virtuosity (Nos. 1 and 5) and use of the C-L-A-R-A motif (No. 6) invite discussions of artifice, introspection, and enigmatic juxtaposition in the op. 122 collection—an exegetical (and very Lutheran) genre that was hardly the domain of a “respectable” nineteenth-century composer. Noteworthy, too, are the contrasting musical spaces (Nos. 7 and 11) constructed through dynamic contrast, manual changes, and registral shifts. Correlations between these sounded gestures and their implied texts suggest a clear demarcation between physical, earthly existence (forte) and a spiritual, heavenly realm (piano). Movements between these spaces may be read as attempts to navigate the gulf between them, a deliberate “untethering” from Brahms’ increasingly dystopian surroundings that offers insight into his personal theology.


Elaine Sisman
Columbia University

The Work of Titles

Scholars who have contributed to the theory of titles generally do not agree about the status of a generic title. Historicizing their claims—that titles “permit discourse” about the work (Fisher 1984), that they are always “aesthetically relevant factors” (Levinson 1985), that titles function to designate, describe, connote, and seduce (Genette 1988)—reveals situations that encourage certain kinds of communication between author and audience, but that prompt composers to cover their tracks. Thus, while John Hollander finds “Sonnet” a “completely redundant title,” on a spectrum that ends with “maximum informativeness” (1985), Anne Ferry suggests that such a “neutral” title may “insinuate” an interpretative stance (1996). Because composers also communicate meaning with verbal cues in the score, the nature of the musical paratext becomes highly complex. Philosopher Arnold Berleant concludes: “Instead of titles telling us what the music means, the music tells us what the titles mean.”

This talk reopens the questions of title and genre arising from two powerfully expressive works: Haydn’s Variations in F minor (1793), called “Sonate” and “Un piccolo divertimento” by the composer and “free Fantasy” by its first reviewer (1799), and the “Cavatina” movement of Beethoven’s quartet, op. 130 (1826). The work of these titles, I will demonstrate, points away from issues of multi-movement genres and opera, and towards a set of meaningful connections between Haydn and Beethoven that include Müller’s Kunstgalerie in Vienna with its mechanical music by Mozart, Beethoven’s funeral marches, the “Moonlight” sonata, verbal instructions in the Pastoral Symphony, and Haydn’s oratorio Die Jahreszeiten.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


“Living Within the Truth”: Formal Expressions of Dissent in Lutosławski’s Late Period
Nicholas Emmanuel, State University of New York at Buffalo

The years 1983 and 1988 frame an exceptionally fraught period in Witold Lutosławski’s life, both politically and musically. When martial law ended in Poland in July of 1983, he called upon fellow members of the Polish Composers’ Union to rally against the Communist party, and yet he himself withdrew from Polish musical life until 1989. And while he claimed on countless occasions that his music had nothing to do with his politics, this period coincides exactly with significant changes in Lutosławski’s compositional output, including his development of the “chain” technique.  Through a close reading of narrative and structural idiosyncrasies in Chain 3 (1986), this paper seeks to reconcile the seeming contradiction between his insistence on the responsibility of Polish composers to oppose political authority and his claims that his own music is absolutely apolitical.

Drawing on essays concerning forms of dissent in post-totalitarian states by Václav Havel, Czesław Miłosz, and others, I will contextualize Lutosławski’s contradictory positions within a broader framework of dissenting strategies. Rather than a simple matter of inconsistency, I suggest that Lutosławski was highly conscious of the bearing that external institutional forces can have on the aesthetic formation and reception of a work, and that his apolitical stance shielded against impositions of the former on the latter. Furthermore, I will argue that his critical view of such impositions—attempts at shaping and co-opting the meaning and value of works for ideological purposes—is actually reflected at a formal level in the employment of the “chain” technique.

The Equiton System of Notation as a Tool for Music Analysis
Elizabeth Hambleton, University of California, Santa Barbara

How might a music theorist’s analysis be affected by a different system of symbols? Writers such as Erhard Karkoschka and Kurt Stone have analyzed the changing notations in contemporary music and how they respond to the changing needs of composers and performers. Later, the Music Notation Modernization Association formed to provoke a notation revolution for the twenty-first century, developing a scoring system to achieve this goal (1999). In this presentation, I will focus on the semiotics of composer Rodney Fawcett’s notation system, Equiton (1958), and contrast it with traditional notation. Like Karkoschka and Stone, Fawcett found traditional notation encumbered by redundant and conflicting signs. His hope with Equiton was to reduce ambiguity and increase reading fluency to facilitate sight-reading and analysis—the notes and harmonies would leap off the page without as much conscious effort. Examining Fawcett’s choices to retain, modify, or replace notational signs illuminate traditional notation’s flaws and strengths.

Drawing on Stone’s and Karkoschka’s works and Nattiez’s and Cole’s musical semiotics, I evaluate the supposed effects of Fawcett’s notation on music analysis. Next, I apply the MNMA’s scoring system for notation systems to traditional notation and Equiton. Third, I will show analyses of sections of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565, in traditional notation and Equiton. Overall, this study aspires to provide a new perspective on notation’s influence on the reader. Theorists need to understand the inherent flaws and strengths in notation and how they affect our field.

Representations and Narratives of Stuttering in Popular Song from 1965 to Present
Kristi Hardman, CUNY

Stuttering—a communication disorder in which the flow of speech is disrupted by repetitions, prolongations, or abnormal stoppages of sounds—occurs in roughly 1% of the world’s population. The musical representation of stuttering has attracted some critical attention, including Goldmark (2006), who argues that Tin Pan Alley composers employed stuttering for comic effect, for example, to show the troubles of a young man trying to woo a potential mate. We find a surprising number of stuttering songs in recent popular music that have yet to be discussed in the literature. Using selected stuttering songs, this paper explores the representations and narratives of stuttering in popular songs since 1965.

Five primary representation categories are identified in these stuttering songs: humor, nervousness/weakness, unheroic behavior, inebriation and frustration/anger. These stuttering songs also feature instances of the three narratives of disability: overcoming, quest, and chaos/acceptance. But as this paper reveals, there is a propensity toward the chaos/acceptance narrative—which is closely associated with the sociocultural model of disability—in the lyrics. In these songs, a singer rarely attempts to overcome his stutter, as would be the case in a medical model of disability, but rather accepts it as part of his personal identity, a defining feature of the sociocultural model. Although the singer accepts his stutter, the instrumental accompaniment pushes the need for a cure, forcing the singer to comply with the straightforward rhythms of the instrumental musicians. The stutter must be cured rhythmically lest it cause the groove of the song to fall apart completely.

How New? Reading the Minimalist Dialectic in Earle Brown’s New Piece
Drake Andersen, CUNY

Although mid-century composers of indeterminate music like Earle Brown are typically folded into a lineage originating with John Cage, recent scholarship by art historian Branden Joseph has foregrounded the competing conceptions of indeterminacy circulating at the time. While Brown’s contact with Cage was pivotal in many respects, the deployment of indeterminacy in Brown’s 1971 composition New Piece more immediately resembles the perceptual and structural dynamics of minimalist visual art, especially as articulated by the minimalist sculptor Robert Morris in the 1960s.

In this paper, I will examine the extent to which New Piece may be read through Morris’ minimalist dialectic. Morris’ sculptures locate the work’s interest not in the relationships created by the artist, but rather, in the unpredictable—and therefore indeterminate—perceptual interactions between the perceiver and the object. Through a close reading of the score, its reception, and Brown’s own words, I will demonstrate how the indeterminate qualities of New Piece invite both listeners and performers to engage with the music in a way that aligns with Morris’ priorities.

Throughout this analysis, I will also address the limitations of such a comparison, which stem from the respective art forms’ different temporalities and agential arrangements, as well as peculiarities of Brown’s performance practice. I hope to present an alternative model for listening and ascertaining musical meaning, thereby unsettling Brown’s reception within the modernist and experimentalist traditions—a project that echoes Brown’s particular use of indeterminacy to produce a multiplicity of musical results and recapture an individual-centric, contingent musical practice.


Byron Almén
University of Texas at Austin

Narrative and the Personal Equation

In this paper, I cast a line from the research described in my book, A Theory of Musical Narrative, to more recent work concerned with the impact of an analyst or listener on transvaluation—on “perceived, imagined, or conceived” relationships that give rise to it and the ways in which it is delimited not only by elements of the system but also by the “teleology of the sign user” (James Jakób Liszka). I consider certain constructivist or social constructivist constraints on interpretation, in which emphasis is placed not on sensory data, the exercise of rational choice, various disciplinary discourses, or competing economic, political, or institutional narratives, but on competing manifestations of what in psychology has been called the “personal equation,” the interaction among which leads to divergent analytical and rhetorical stances that are to some irreducible degree non-compatible.

I consider how psychologists constituted the personal equation, tracing a path from late 18th-century borrowings from astronomical observation, through 19th-century experimental psychology, to the collaborative efforts of C. G. Jung and the Psychological Club of Zürich from 1914 to 1923, and demonstrating how these efforts represented a problematic nexus point in their attempt to situate the nascent discipline epistemologically—and paradoxically—as a science of the subjective (Sonu Shamdasani). I then apply categorical expressions of the personal equation as an orienting compass to examine competing narrative readings in relation to a disputed musical text and to individual acts of self-definition. These applications generate reflections about how we should approach the negotiation of subjectivity, objectivity, the individual, and the universal in music discourse.

SESSION 4: (In-)Absolute Music

An Ironic Comedy: Constructing a Musical Narrative for the Finale of Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 135
Peng Liu, University of Texas at Austin

Many scholars have offered an overly biographical or Romanticized interpretation of Beethoven’s last string quartet, op. 135, which, as K. M. Knittel (2006) cautions, can be problematic. Drawing on Robert Hatten’s concept of virtual subjectivity (forthcoming) and Almén’s theory of musical narrative (2008), this paper attempts to construct a musical narrative of an “ironic comedy” for the finale of op. 135.

I first argue that Beethoven’s finale displays inner struggles among three different, conflicting actorial roles that are embraced by a single subjectivity. Each actorial role represents different temporal moments wherein that subjectivity is situated—a struggling and tragic state in the virtual present (the Grave introduction), a comic and desired resolution over the previous tragedy, to be fulfilled in the virtual future (the primary theme), and a nostalgic longing for a carefree, childlike virtual past (the secondary theme). As the movement unfolds, the unmarked, affirmative, and comic primary theme—which at first seems to overcome the marked, indeterminate Grave section—is motivically transformed three times and destabilized by multiple intrusions of the Grave material and the recurring, irretrievable “past” realm. As a result, the primary theme undergoes a narrative transvaluation into a marked, negatively valued unit. Although the last four measures indicate a comic victory by forcefully asserting an ascending, comic, quasi-primary theme gesture, an overemphasis on thwarting that outcome suggests instead an ironic comedy, which features a strong emphasis on the initial hierarchy that is not fully overcome by a conquering transgressor.

Identity Crisis and Integration in Selected Early Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Piano Quintet (1905) and the Phantasy Quintet (1912)
Sacha Peiser, University of Connecticut

As an emerging composer at the height of the English Musical Renaissance, Ralph Vaughan Williams faced a difficult task: to create music that was categorically “British” despite his emulation of German romanticism as a student at the Royal College of Music. Two cyclic sonatas written nearly a decade apart, the Piano Quintet (1905) and the Phantasy Quintet (1912), address this conflict with differing results. Using work in Sonata Theory, the cyclic sonata, intertextuality, and narrative as a point of departure, I show how the earlier work failed to integrate Germanic and British idioms both structurally and stylistically, leading to a self-imposed publication embargo, while the latter succeeds at bridging the gap between seemingly disparate musical worlds. A series of lectures given while composing the Piano Quintet helps illuminate the goals Vaughan Williams set for himself in forging his unique compositional voice. Through a comparative analysis of these two works, we can better understand how he integrated his musical influences and passions on the way to becoming the English composer.

The Musical Uncanny and the Musical Symptom in the Finale of Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34.
Risa Okina, Temple University

This presentation will explore signs of the uncanny and the musical symptom in the Finale of Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor, op. 34. Specht called this quintet the “sinister wrestling and sombre piano quintet,” “mighty and wrathful,” and he writes, “Born of defiant melancholy … it belongs to the gloomiest and greatest music Brahms has ever written” (quoted in Drinker 1932: 26). Specht’s words describe the characteristics of this quintet vividly, suggesting a tragic narrative. However, I propose that this quintet is not merely tragic, but that it suggests a struggling and painful narrative in a psychological sense.

Freud defines the uncanny as “that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar” (Freud 1919: 1). The opening of this Finale exhibits the uncanny, because the music sounds anxious, creating an ominous atmosphere. I suggest that the opening uncanniness is derived from a musical persona’s traumatic experience in the first movement, in which the persona failed to transform the minor mode home key into the major one. Another idiosyncratic feature of this Finale is the massive coda—one hundred and fifty measures long—in which the music sounds out of control, like an emotional explosion. The paper also explores uncanny moments in the secondary theme. I will conclude this presentation by explaining how one can read the massive coda as a master signifier.

Not Only the Finale: Aesthetics of the Sublime in Mozart’s Symphony No. 41
Andrew Vagts, University of North Texas

Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 is described by A. Peter Brown, Ian Woodfield, and Elaine Sisman as a musical analog to the 18th-century sublime aesthetic. These writers project much of their discussions of the sublime onto the final movement, particularly noting its contrapuntal complexity. Sisman describes the five-part invertible counterpoint of the final movement’s coda by appealing to Kant’s mathematical sublime and the learned style of topic theory. However, the learned style can also be taken as a contrivance which points not to the sublime, but rather to “stile legato” and outdated compositional techniques. The philosophical works of Moses Mendelssohn and Johann Georg Sulzer—Mozart’s contemporaries—offer broader definitions of the sublime than Kant’s. Through consideration of these and other primary sources, I will explore elements of the sublime in the first three movements of Symphony No. 41 and discuss how these movements inform perceptions of the sublime in the final movement. Sulzer characterizes the sublime as “when admiration, awe, powerful longing, high courage, or also fear or terror are to be aroused.” Consider measure 80 of the first movement which contains . . . nothing. The abrupt contrast of the following forte is startling, and the C minor chord in measure 81 threatens to destabilize the exposition and problematizes the efficacy of the second theme area to return to the first. This moment is not only surprising, it is an aurally salient musical gesture that aligns itself with 18th-century definitions of the sublime.


James Hepokoski
Yale University

Gottheit, Silence, Life, and Death in Beethoven’s Heiliger Dankgesang

The central movement of Beethoven’s Quartet in A minor, op. 132 (the Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart), is one of his most compellingly individualized compositions, one that has elicited extraordinary effusions and confessions of spiritual solidarity from a wide range of writers. And perhaps with good reason: there seems little doubt that the 54-year-old composer, now in mid‑1825 and in seriously failing health, approached this task with the conviction that in such music he was dealing with ultimate matters, with existential limit situations, with the state of the human being in extremis. Grounded in hermeneutically oriented analysis, this talk steers clear of the traditional conversations about this movement—or rather, it takes them for granted as givens (the Lydian mode/“C major” conflict; the possible influence of Beethoven’s study of earlier music). Instead, I try to broaden those ongoing conversations by asking different questions about the movement’s structure (seemingly a straightforward A B A′ B′ A″—or is it?) and the potential topical or connotative content of its two contrasting thematic ideas (suggesting a prayer of supplication followed by a vigorous recovery of health). Toward the end of the talk I suggest that the heart of the matter lies in how we seek to construe the implications of what happens in the final (post‑B′) stretch of music, which diverges from the referential rhetorical pattern laid down in the opening A section. It is in this portion of the movement, especially, where the concepts indicated by this talk’s title can rise to the fore.