[Smt-talk] Smt-talk Digest, Vol 37, Issue 5

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr
Wed Feb 8 12:39:00 PST 2012


Languages are tricky, as you know. "Argument", in French, has no polemic 
connotation, it merely refers to the pro and contra in a scholarly 
discussion; and that is how I understood it. Similarly, when I wrote "we 
are evaluating", I merely meant that our judgment probably took a bias 
determined by our theories. I keep doubting that our sensations could at 
first be totally disconnect from our later explicit observations, 
because I believe that our ideas are never totally independent of how we 
express them. [Concepts never are independent from their formulation; 
but that is another subject.]

I haven't been trained at the Paris Conservatoire either (nor even in 
France, although in French -- nobody is perfect). Your point about the 
Ab5 in the middle section in interesting (m. 21-22, if your edition has 
a repeat bar at m. 8, probably m. 29-30 if the repeat is fully written). 
I think that I could force my Schenkerian/Salzerian distance hearing to 
hear the G5 of m. 7 resolving on Ab4 in m. 22; but not without effort.

The question is not there, though. The initial question concerns the 
leading tone. Adapted to this particular case, it wonders whether G5 in 
m. 7 can be dubbed a "leading tone" when it does not resolve there as 
such. I hear it loaded with contradictory tensions, possibly partly 
explained by the resolution on Ab4 in m. 22 (a Schenkerian point of 
view, inducing a Schenkerian hearing), but nevertheless forcefully 
pulled down in m. 7 itself, in a downward movement that I cannot refrain 
from hearing as some kind of resolution. Can this complex of 
contradictory tensions be subsumed under the label "leading tone"? I 
don't think so.

The question eventually is one of tonal centricity, and may be expressed 
as follows: is tonal centricity given a priori, postulating a priori 
attractions as described by many 19th-century theorists (and by Yitzhak 
Sadaï's idea of a "tonal code"), or is it something that each tonal work 
builds anew, in an ever novel way (/semper idem, sed non eodem modo/)? 
Any simple answer to this question would be naive. For sure, the tonal 
habit creates expectations that may be taken for given a priori; but I 
believe it wise and cautious to keep in mind that this "given" is never 
compelling, that it can be (partly) contradicted by actual 
circumstances, by the wit of the composer.

I think that Brahms' op. 39#15 is a very good case in point.

Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 8/02/2012 17:47, Richard Cohn a écrit :
> Nicolas,
> No argument is involved here; I'm just reporting an aspect of my 
> experience of a piece, without demanding that it be an aspect of your 
> experience (how could I do so?). If this report helps to frame a 
> distinction between modes of hearing, and in so doing helps frame a 
> distinction in modes of theorizing (and their impact on modes of 
> hearing), that's potentially constructive, and worth exploring.
> When I first made this observation about the waltz, I don't think that 
> I was "evaluating it from the point of view of [my]  theory of 
> tonality," at least in the literal sense that such an evaluation might 
> be imagined. That is, I wasn't  using the theory of tonality (in my 
> right hand) as a manual that would tell me how to construct a coherent 
> hearing of the waltz (in my left hand). Rather, I was aware of  a 
> particular wistful sensation when I played that G5 in measure 7, and a 
> particular fulfillment at the Ab5 at the end. My "theory of tonality" 
> helped me convert those sensations to explicit observations, and 
> encouraged me to explore those observations in a particular framework. 
> What your response suggests (and I find the possibility fascinating) 
> is that my training was in some sense prompting my sensations; that 
> is, had I been trained at the Conservatoire de Paris, I never would 
> have found that G5 wistful to begin with.
> I don't think that my attunement to the relation between G5 in measure 
> 7 and Ab5 at the final  cadence necessarily involves "distance 
> hearing," in the Schenker/Salzer sense. If it were, then the Ab5's 
> that occur in the middle section of the waltz would be satisfactory. I 
> think that associative hearing is much more at work. My subconscious 
> process probably goes something like this: "I've been down this path 
> before.....last time this music occured, that high note wasn't quite 
> as high or stable as I would have liked it to be....he's going to give 
> me that note again and I'll have the same sensation.....ah, he gave me 
> the higher, more stable tone this time, what a relief." From this 
> perspective, it's not the shear number of measures, or the quantity of 
> time passed, that's at issue. What's involved is taking something that 
> is presented to me, and comparing it to something in my memory. Such 
> comparisons, in music as in life, can happen with short-term and 
> long-term memories alike.
> --Rick
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