[Smt-talk] Addendum on Bach

Donna Doyle donnadoyle at att.net
Fri Jan 22 13:51:39 PST 2010

Dear List:
Was not modal music the common practice of its time and were not both  
modal and tonal practiced until modal fell into disuse? My questions:  
Will we ever again have a common practice? Should we?

Donna Doyle
Queens College-CUNY

sent from my iPhone

On Jan 22, 2010, at 3:09 PM, Richard Hermann <harhar at unm.edu> wrote:

> Dear SMT-Listers,
> Around 30 years ago Robert Cogan made an interesting comment on  
> "Common-Practice" music in that by that yardstick, common-practice  
> would be better applied to modal music as it has been around a lot  
> longer. Why should "norms" of one period trump those of other  
> periods/practices? On what specific grounds should one specific  
> period/practice be made paramount?  As the king of siam said in a  
> musical along time ago: "etcetera, etcetera, etcetera...."
> Best,
> Richard Hermann, Prof. of Music
> University of New Mexico
> On Jan 22, 2010, at 12:58 PM, Dmitri Tymoczko wrote:
>> On Jan 22, 2010, at 11:46 AM, Steven Rosenhaus wrote:
>>> I have found that while following rules can make for some  
>>> exquisite music, it can also result in G*d-awfully boring stuff.  
>>> When I teach the craft of composition I make sure the students  
>>> understand that what they are learning are not hard and fast  
>>> "rules" but practices, and that learning them is like knowing  
>>> where the walls are in an unlit room; much easier to push/break  
>>> down those walls (or just find the light switch and/or door, to  
>>> further the metaphor) if you know where those walls are.
>> While Stephen Jablonsky wrote:
>>> Using the words "normal" or "usual" when referring to the output  
>>> of great composers is quite amusing. It is only the second rate  
>>> composers who stick to the predictable or the probable.
>> Two points:
>> 1) It is important to distinguish the project of defining a  
>> harmonic grammar from that of doing analysis.  The activities are  
>> as different as linguistics and literary criticism.  Great authors  
>> play with grammatical rules, but this doesn't show that grammatical  
>> rules don't exist, or aren't important.
>> 	The problem here is that music theory comprises many different  
>> activities -- analogues to linguistics, psychology, literary  
>> criticism, etc.  What defines our field is the subject matter, not  
>> the style of thinking.  So when someone like me starts talking  
>> about grammar, others are always going to talk about how irrelevant  
>> that is to what they do.  This is a reminder that we all do very  
>> different things.
>> 2) Interestingly (or perhaps predictably) enough, I've always been  
>> surprised by how *infrequently* great composers violate some of the  
>> musical conventions that defined their style.  In this respect, I  
>> think, they were very different from contemporary artists, weaned  
>> on modernism and the violation of norms.
>> For instance, there are very, very few clear root position V-IV  
>> progressions in the music -- despite the fact that this progression  
>> sounds good.  Likewise, there are hardly any sonata-form movements  
>> in major with the second theme in the relative minor, or in the  
>> supertonic.  (Yes, I know a few.)  Or pieces in Lydian.  Or  
>> parallel fifths.  Or pieces in 5/4.  Really, the list could go on  
>> and on.
>> In large part, I think this is because these composers did not  
>> think of  the principles of their musical style as being arbitrary  
>> and conventional, but rather as being rooted in something much  
>> deeper.  In this respect I would think that theory played a huge  
>> role in defining for them the limits of the acceptable.
>> When I imagine myself projected back in time, and composing in the  
>> 18th- or 19th-century style, I always imagine exploring all these  
>> relatively obvious alternatives.  And I always tell my students:  
>> "these composers were very different from us.  The things we think  
>> of as natural, like mixolydian mode or VI-VII-i or V-IV-I  
>> progressions, were not at all natural to them."  I think it is very  
>> hard to understand how they distinguished between norms that were  
>> not to be trifled with, and norms that could be violated.
>> The great classical composers were, of course, very inventive.   
>> They broke rules.  But it's equally important that they preserved  
>> rules and didn't even think about breaking with them.  This is how  
>> some of the conventions survived for so long.
>> DT
>> Dmitri Tymoczko
>> Associate Professor of Music
>> 310 Woolworth Center
>> Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
>> (609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)
>> http://music.princeton.edu/~dmitri
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