[Smt-talk] List-servs & inversions

Dave Headlam dheadlam at esm.rochester.edu
Tue Apr 23 04:05:17 PDT 2013

Drawn in by Charles' references to "humour" and "loony" (Buffalo is 
close to the promised land, after all), but mindful of the perils of 
email ( what I call the "Alanis" conundrum), and hoping that my past 
utterances provide some protection, I offer the following:

1.  Olii -- a little over-the-top (I have experience here . . . ), 
apologize and move on
2.  Greg -- respectfully, get over it --
3.  Charles -- you are our Gandolf (scary thought!) -- the "thousands of 
years ago" ref is priceless -- kids, read the lit, "It's all been done 
before" (I've said this already!)
4.  Romans -- please take your numerals back -- your time has come and 
gone --
5.  Colleagues -- read Wallace Berry before using the word "function" - 
esp. ch2 (my favorite! - harmony = texture)

Dave Headlam

On 4/22/13 3:09 PM, Charles J. Smith wrote:
> In the recent Proctor/Väisälä exchange, we see the perils of trying to 
> have real discussions about serious and important topics by list-serv. 
> Perhaps this is a medium that has outlived its usefulness? It 
> certainly is a pale shadow of what it was a decade or so ago, but that 
> version (SMT Listserv 1.0?) was in some ways even more irritating. So 
> did it ever have any usefulness? Well, not a whole lot perhaps, but 
> there have fairly regularly been posts (a couple every month) that I 
> print up and file, as something worth thinking about. They are usually 
> the postings about particular configurations in particular pieces, but 
> that might just be my particular take on things. It might be 
> interesting to find out how many of the younger generation of 
> self-described music theorists are subscribed; my sense is that the 
> numbers are dwindling, for a variety of reasons.
> This last exchange puzzles me, however. I know Olii slightly (we 
> shared a ferry ride from Talinn to Helsinki a few years ago); he 
> reminded me that we had had a listserv run-in quite a while back, so I 
> dug up and reread those posts and it was indeed an interesting 
> disagreement about what counts as a "chordal" sonority in chromatic 
> music. He is a smart guy and had a point; he didn't make me mad with 
> his disagreement, and I hope I didn't enrage him either. Perhaps we 
> both learned something from the exchange? What's the old saying?---I 
> learn more from listening than from talking...
> Gregory is, as most of know (or should know) is one of the deepest 
> thinkers about music out there. Someone whose every utterance is worth 
> careful scrutiny, no matter how loony it might sound on the surface, 
> if only because of all the brilliant things he has already said, in so 
> many contexts on so many different subjects. So if he states that 
> "inversion is overrated in classical music", I  am intrigued to try to 
> figure out what he meant. It is a statement that opens some 
> interesting doors, at least for me.
> My own theoretical and pedagogical inclinations have of late been to 
> mistrust Roman numerals (i.e. the whole apparatus of roots and 
> inversions) more and more. This is a long story, which will soon be 
> presented more fully in some other venue, but tonal functionality 
> seems to me to be better captured by describing the functions of 
> chords and their bass scale-steps, with figured-bass symbols brought 
> in when one needs to know something about the particular 
> chord-quality, whether there are sevenths that need resolving, and so 
> forth---and RNs hardly at all. (It was quite gratifying a few years 
> ago to find out that this approach to harmony, in use at Buffalo for 
> years, decades even, was independently arrived at by Ian Quinn at 
> Yale---another of those thinkers who is always worth a careful 
> listen.) In other words, of the three established historical 
> approaches to harmony---function theory, thorough bass, and 
> fundamental bass---the first two are the more useful, and the third is 
> only brought in for relatively minor questions. (...no double meaning 
> intended...humour and irony being so treacherous to attempt in email...)
> So I'd be interested in discussing with Gregory a take on his remarks 
> that might well be completely opposite from what he intended: namely 
> that there is little need to talk about the inversions of functional 
> chords because there is little theoretical need for the constant 
> reference to chord-roots in functional harmony. Put simply, if we 
> don't know or care what the root of a chord is, then we can hardly 
> talk about its inversion. On the other hand, I'd be hard-pressed to 
> justify the jettisoning of figured bass symbols---and this is perhaps 
> what Olii was saying. Once we have characterized a chord as, say, a 
> Dominant over ^2, the figured bass is essential for differentiating 
> between variants of that basic chord-type: a 6/4, a 6/3, a 6/4/3, and 
> a 6/5/3. They all share a certain basic functional behaviour; the 
> differences between them are less crucial matters of melodic support 
> and voice-leading.
> What are roots and RNs useful for? That's another question, with 
> somewhat surprising answers, for another time.
> In the meantime, I recognize that this is a controversial approach to 
> functional harmony. If you think the basic approach is absurd, well, 
> fine...no need to waste bandwidth sharing your opinion. It probably is 
> absurd---Schluss, Amen! enough said. If you have a constructive 
> suggestion, I welcome it. And I particularly invite Gregory to remain 
> on the list and share his thoughts: have I completely missed the point 
> of his remark? Very likely...I learned a long time ago that I'm not in 
> his league. But the list-serv will be the poorer for his absence, even 
> if all he chooses to do is read in silence...
> Best wishes to all,
> Charles
>> I knew people would choose to miscast my remarks. I should know 
>> better by now that lists like these have sunk bit by bit to the level 
>> of comments on political blogs. I give up. Goodbye list.
>> ________________________________________
>> From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org 
>> <mailto:smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org> 
>> [smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] on behalf of Olli 
>> Väisälä [ovaisala at siba.fi]
>> Sent: Sunday, April 21, 2013 2:35 AM
>> To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org 
>> <mailto:smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org>
>> Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] ABSENCE OF LEAD SHEET
>> Gregory Proctor wrote:
>>> Since I have been teaching graduate students primarily in the past
>>> few years, I find myself using lead sheet notation more and more.
>>> It is especially helpful in reminding them that what "inversion" a
>>> chord is in is usually insignificant compared to its nature (triad,
>>> added sixth, seventh)
>> and
>>> I meant to assert thaqt our notation is silly and that inversion is
>>> overrated in classical music.
>> "Inversion is overrated in classical music." What interesting
>> assertions we encounter in this e-mail list!
>> Indeed. Just think of all those stupid classical composers who
>> bothered themselves with those overrated inversions and bass lines
>> (if the composers of the ludicrous figured-bass tradition even
>> realized they were writing "inversions"). Just imagine what a
>> marvellous repertoire they MIGHT have created, if they only had had
>> the wisdom presented above.
>> Olli Väisälä
>> Sibelius Academy
>> University of the Arts, Helsinki
>> ovaisala at siba.fi <mailto:ovaisala at siba.fi>
>> _______________________________________________
>> Smt-talk mailing list
>> Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
>> http://lists.societymusictheory.org/listinfo.cgi/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org
>> _______________________________________________
>> Smt-talk mailing list
>> Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
>> http://lists.societymusictheory.org/listinfo.cgi/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org
> ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
> Charles J. Smith
> Slee Chair of Music Theory & Director of Graduate Studies
> Department of Music, 220 Baird Hall
> University at Buffalo
> Buffalo, NY 14260
> U.S.A.
> 716-645-0639 [academic office]
> 716-645-3824 [fax]
> cjsmith at buffalo.edu <mailto:cjsmith at buffalo.edu>
> _______________________________________________
> Smt-talk mailing list
> Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
> http://lists.societymusictheory.org/listinfo.cgi/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org

Dave Headlam
Professor of Music Theory
Eastman School of Music 585-274-1568
Joint Professor of Electrical and Computer
  Engineering    University of Rochester
david.headlam at rochester.edu

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.societymusictheory.org/pipermail/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org/attachments/20130423/febb1907/attachment-0004.htm>

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list