[Smt-talk] Fwd: Addendum on Bach 2

Donna Doyle donnadoyle at att.net
Fri Jan 22 17:32:56 PST 2010

Perhaps I should've been explicit below: what I mean to say is that  
each period in European music history had its common practice.
Didn't composers in the 17th c consider modal practice their 'common'  
one? I think we refer to the tonal as "the common practice period"
not because it lasted longest, which, as you point out, it didn't, and  
not necessarily because we believe it trumps the others, but because
it's the most recent, it's what we're coming from. Besides, the tonal  
period gave us a language and a multitude of masterpieces that
continue to delight and intrigue us.

Re "etcetera": Some composers tried to establish a common language for  
the 20th c. Will someone do it for the 21st?
Is it possible? Desirable?

All best,
Donna Doyle

(not sent from my iPhone, upon which it's nearly impossible to type)

Begin forwarded message:

> From: Donna Doyle <donnadoyle at att.net>
> Date: January 22, 2010 4:51:39 PM EST
> To: Richard Hermann <harhar at unm.edu>
> Cc: smt-talk smt <smt-talk at societymusictheory.org>
> Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Addendum on Bach
> 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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