[Smt-talk] Readings for Masters' Students

art samplaski agsvtp at hotmail.com
Sun Dec 4 13:32:05 PST 2011

Dear Deborah (and listees),

There've been a number of excellent suggestions for interesting
and/or important specific articles/books so far. However, I
think there's a danger of losing sight of the forest for the
trees by just generating a list of items A, B, C, ... (aleph-null), ...
Permit me suggest a slightly different (or at least anterior:)

If I understand the sense behind Deborah's question, I think
one should want to start with A) something to get an idea of
what do we actually -DO-, i.e., what are The Big Picture(tm)
questions that music theory tries to tackle? and 2) how to
get a "smorgasbord sampler" for an initial foray by newly-
minted grad students (and interested undergrads too!:).
Corollary to this is, give the students a sense of the major
research areas at present. After _that_, we can get into the
nitty-gritty of specific items with which to explore said areas.

As an example for Point A, I strongly recommend the first half
of David Huron's 2001 article in _Music Theory Online_, "What
Is a Musical Feature? Forte's Analysis of Brahms's Opus 51, No.
1, Revisited." That first half is __THE___ best discussion of
the sort of deep issues that Real Music Theory(r) wrestles
with (what is an important feature of a piece?) that I have
ever read--I made certain to recommend it to freshman as "This
is what we really do, not worry about writing 4-voice chord
progressions." (The 2nd half, arguing against an earlier analysis
by AF, is perfectly fine for getting down in the trenches for
some mano-a-mano arguments, but is unnecessary.:)

For Point 2's sampler platter, I heartily recommend Nicholas
Cook's 1987 book _A Guide to Musical Analysis_. The first
half is a discussion of the aims of various types of analysis,
and the second half talks thru applications of various systems
to different repertoires. I don't have a copy at hand so can't
quote exactly, but Cook's pragmatism in his preface is *very*
refreshing--statements to the effect of, "It's not whether
any given analytical system is true in some sense, but whether
it provides useful insights for any particular piece." It's a
wonderful overview of multiple approaches.

Now we can consider which approaches do we want to consider in
more detail for the students. Some of the usual suspects:

Schenker (duh)
Functional theory (both Riemann et al. and Berry's structural
Grundgestalt and Implication-Realization as 2 semi-contra
  Schenker methods
Schema theory
Pcset and later atonal approaches
Newer mathematically-grounded approaches
Empirically-informed approaches (in interest of full disclosure,
    yes, I do this and think it's extremely important:)
Methods to study rhythm
Attempts (however halting) to build Grand(er) Unified Theories,
    a la Epstein's _Beyond Orpheus_

I'm not going to generate a large list of personal favorite
items for each of these right now, to keep this post from
getting out of hand (not to mention that the keyboard at this
public terminal fails to register some 30% of my keystrokes,
grrr...). I *will* say that Leonard Meyer occurs to me multiple
times (_Emotion and Meaning..._, of course; _Explaining Music_
for schemas; and his work with Cooper for rhythm).:) I also
agree with Charles Smith that unfiltered Schenker straight
no chaser is almost certain to be too technical for one's
initial exposure. _MAYBE_ 1-2 of Schachter's articles from the
_Unfoldings_ collection to ease into it, or Rothstein's phrase-
rhythm book to hit 2 birds simultaneously... but I've a feeling
that a better entry would be simply to have them go through,
e.g., the Cadwallader/Gagne' text to *DO* some Schenkerian
analysis, followed by Matthew Brown's 2005 book to consider the
premises of the methodology. I recognize that some more orthodox
Schenkerian list-members might think ill of Brown's take on the
methodology; but as someone who thinks it should be treated as a
system of postulates (some of which can perhaps, or ought to, be
investigated for replacement by different ones) and derivations,
I find it at least a very clean attempt to lay things out.

Art Samplaski
Ithaca, NY

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