[Smt-talk] Addendum on Bach

J. Kent Williams JKWILLIA jkwillia at uncg.edu
Fri Jan 22 12:42:37 PST 2010

Dmitri wrote:

"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."

In this regard I've found Meyer's concept of a hierarchy of constraints 
(Style and Music, Ch. 1) useful in explaining conventions and 
"transgressions" to students: 

Laws -  transcultural constraints; universals
Rules -  intercultural, not universal
Major style periods can be distinguished by differences in rules
The most familiar rules are those of counterpoint and harmony (voice 
leading, dissonance treatment, chord formation, harmonic progression)
Rules specify:
        Permissible means - scale and chord types, duration range, metric 
framework, timbres, etc.
        Relational possibilities among materials
Kinds of rules
                dependency rules - describe how one parameter depends upon 
                contextual rules - describe contexts in which events may 
or may not occur.
                syntactic rules - describe syntax or hierarchical 
structure of a primary parameter (pitch or time)

Compositional choices made with the limits established by rules; they are 
methods of realizing or instantiating rules. As such, they are indefinite 
in number.
Most style changes in Western art music, especially those within a major 
epoch, result from composers devising new strategies for the realization 
of existing rules.
Novel strategies are continually being devised, but only a small fraction 
become part of ongoing, traditional practice of a style. Those that do 
survive must possess properties such as symmetry and coherence, stability, 
and a degree of redundancy.

J. Kent Williams,  Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Composition, Ethnomusicology, Musicology and Theory Department
School of Music, UNCG
Greensboro, NC 27402-6170
Phone: (336) 334-5468 Fax: 334-5497
E-mail: jkwillia at uncg.edu
Web: www.uncg.edu/~jkwillia/
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