[Smt-talk] Theorists and Scientists

Donna Doyle donnadoyle at att.net
Mon Jul 9 09:05:57 PDT 2012

As someone who has always felt whole only when physically doing music  
yet who craves to think about and understand the
object of my affection (having received As in a HS MIT physics course  
[the PSSC project--anyone remember?]), I am heartened
to read these responses that so eloquently support doing theory.  
Perhaps the current "Analysis for Performers" courses
will also help alleviate its degradation. Surely, we must unceasingly  
work at leveling the hump in the road between
these two tracks or our wrangling will throw the stagecoach over.

BTW, re music pedagogy: Has there been any more sought-after and  
celebrated teacher/composition-midwife than N Boulanger,
who, insisting on her inadequacies as performer/composer, gave up  
actively doing music in early adulthood? (And, of course,
suffered from attacks because of it.)

Donna Doyle

Aaron Copland School of Music
Queens College
65-30 Kissena Blvd.
Flushing, NY  11367

tele: 718-997-3819
fax:  718-997-3849
email: donna.doyle at qc.cuny.edu
email: donnadoyle at att.net

On Jul 9, 2012, at 3:40 AM, Nicolas Meeùs wrote:

> I will second this. I myself decided, a long time ago, to become a  
> professional theorist. I abandoned any desire to become a composer  
> or a performer. This truly was a conscious decision, and one I never  
> regretted.
> Recent postings in this thread took a ridiculous turn. If by "pure"  
> theorist, we are to understand one who knows nothing of music, the  
> debate is pointless. I shiver at the idea of what a "pure" composer  
> would be: one who knows nothing of theory? who disdains theory? At  
> any rate, musicians disdaining theory and theorists are more common  
> than theorists disdaining music and musicians, as some of the recent  
> messages evidenced.
> One aspect that these exchanges did not enough consider is the  
> complex relation between theorizing about music and teaching theory.  
> It is too easy, and once again pointless, to answer questions about  
> the scientific character of theories by considerations of pedagogy.  
> Theorizing and teaching are complementary activities, but not  
> necessarily performed by the same persons.
> Even the question whether theory is a science is pointless and  
> arises from confusion about what a science is. This had been  
> debated, mainly between Yizhak Sadaï and myself, after the first  
> European Music Analysis Conference in 1989, which I had concluded  
> with a few words about the state of music analysis. Some of the  
> debate is published in *Analyse musicale* XVIII, January 1990. Sadaï  
> claimed among others that Schenker considered music analysis an art,  
> not a science (I doubt Schenker ever said that, but never mind). We  
> discussed music analysis, but the discussion concerns music theory  
> as well.
>     Sadaï had said at the conference: "A true science of music  
> should answer the requirements of musical sensibility, on the one  
> hand, and to those of reason, on the other hand. Such a science  
> therefore should arise within a narrow and intimate relation between  
> observer and observed, between hearer and what is given to be heard.  
> In other words, it could only arise from a methodology that  
> considers its object as inseparable from the subject perceiving it.  
> Such an idea could be adopted only at the price of abandoning a deep  
> phantasm of present-day music analysis: that of becoming a true  
> science, that is, of behaving as exact sciences". And, writing to  
> the journal, he quoted analyses by Boulez, "much more revealing,  
> although carrying nothing 'scientific', on the contrary vigorously  
> reflecting the (artistic!) intuition of a great musician and a great  
> analyst". He added "How could one refrain from opposing analyses by  
> Boulez or Rosen, on the one hand, that I [Sadaï] would qualify  
> 'musical' and 'artistic', undoubtedly revealing and instructing, to  
> 'formalized' analyses that too often represent nothing else than a  
> set of truths unable to open on anything else than themselves".
>     I answered that if Sadaï had in mind to oppose a truly artistic  
> approach to a pseudo scientific attitude and if I opposed a truly  
> scientific approach to a pseudo artistic one, we were probably  
> saying the same thing. What I had said at the Conference (if I  
> believed my notes) was that "I do not believe that music analysis is  
> an art – or at least, if it is an art, it must take the form of a  
> science. It is a science about an art." And I repeated in the  
> journal: "Music analysis cannot be an art because its productions  
> cannot take the definitive, absolute character of the work of art;  
> it must be scientific because its productions, as any work of  
> science, must at all times remain open to refutation, to  
> 'falsification'. This in no way prevents music analysis (or any  
> other science, for that matter) to rely widely on intuition and  
> sensibility. There is, in truth, no antinomy between true science  
> and authentic art; but we have nothing to do with artistic  
> pretentiousness, nor with scientific affectedness".
> Almost 25 years later, after a long career as music theorist, I see  
> no point to be changed in this.
> Nicolas Meeùs
> Université Paris-Sorbonne
> Le 9/07/2012 05:01, Sheehan, Paul a écrit :
>> Dear Readers,
>> I have a wish:  that a couple of months pass during which time I  
>> would not see contributions to smt-talk (that is, the Society for  
>> _Music Theory_'s talk list) from those harboring contempt for  
>> "theorists".  I would like to hear some other voices.  By flogging  
>> the poor, dead horse of (let us be frank) theorists-are-inferior-to- 
>> composers, such contributors betray the fact that they feel  
>> threatened by the very existence of "theorists"--of people who  
>> think about music in a deep, meaningful way and about how to  
>> explain it to undergraduates, graduate students, "the public", and  
>> their peers.  Seems to me like a service rendered for composers  
>> might be better left alone by those it serves!
>> I am interested in new contributors to this thread and others along  
>> these lines.  Are some who have remained silent listening?
>> Dr. Paul Sheehan
>> Instructor, Music Department
>> Nassau Community College (SUNY)
>> One Education Drive
>> Garden City, New York 11530
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