[Smt-talk] Geno- and phenotype musical structures

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr
Fri Jan 18 13:14:40 PST 2013

Le 18/01/2013 18:02, Victor grauer a écrit :
>> Linear continuity and goal directedness ain't at all the same thing! 
>> I would consider goal directedness (teleology) as a defining 
>> characteristic of "modality". Linear continuity may well be a much 
>> wider phenomenon.
> But goal directedness is surely an important element in Schenkerian 
> analysis, no?
For sure: Schenker's theory is a theory of tonality. Yet, in an earlier 
message, you had written: "the sort of linear continuities emphasized by 
analysts like Schenker are hardly universal", without mentioning goal 
directedness, and that is what puzzled me.
> [...] the continual stimmtauch obliterates, for the listener at least, 
> these lines as linear continuities, producing a resultant not unlike 
> the African examples I discuss elsewhere. This in turn produces a 
> static effect dominated by the continual repetition of the 
> simultaneity F-C, which makes it very difficult for the listener to 
> hear the work linearly and produces, due also to the "maddening" 
> repetition, a confusing and somewhat trancelike effect not unlike that 
> of certain minimalist works today. I don't know what Schenker would 
> make of this, but I don't think he'd approve.
There are several points here:
– The continual stimmtauch obliterates linear continuities... I am not 
certain of that. It really depends on what one listens to, and we should 
beware of believing too much what we read in the score. Stimmtauch is 
perceptible only if the voices themselves are perceived as having 
distinct timbres; this may not be the case.
– The static effect, on the other hand, the "maddening" repetition, 
indeed has a confusing, trancelike effect. But this may not be linked 
with the linear (dis)continuity. I sympathize with your project to 
discover an Ur-music, but you must try and define it for what is most 
essential in it: trance, perhaps, but discontinuity?
– Schenker is concerned with the "structural" value of music. In a 
minimalist work, the structural value (which, by definition, excludes 
repetition) also is minimal... This is not a value judgment, it merely 
amounts to saying that value, in this case, does not reside in the 
structure, but probably in the repetition.
> I'm not sure what you mean by "continuous overall situations."
I meant overall situations that could be heard as linearly continuous, 
even if that was not how they were performed. But my formulation indeed 
was very poor.
> One might speculate that this sort of thing could be the historical 
> prototype of the Schenkerian "urlinie." (I'm tempted to place a 
> "smiley" emoticon after that statement, but perhaps it's not so funny 
> after all.)
It all depends on what you call "Urlinie". Schenker's original idea of 
the "original line" is very much linked with his idea of continuity, of 
"fluency". This, as a matter of fact, is not really, or not exclusively, 
his own idea: it belongs to the history of counterpoint theory, in 
Europe, and probably to much earlier ideas. I hardly could figure out 
how "music" (or any artistic expression, for that matter) could have 
been conceived without some idea of "continuity". But I recognize that I 
am getting old and that my imagination may be narrower that before... 
Schenker's final idea of the Urlinie as a Fundamental line is a very 
powerful idea, but indeed remote from that of repetitive music.
> Nevertheless, my principal point was that this type of musical 
> organization seems fundamentally anti-Schenkerian, both in its 
> tendency to substitute a resultant for an interplay of independent 
> lines and its lack of goal-oriented motion, which gives the impression 
> of tonal staticism rather than movement, as assumed by Schenker.
While I can agree about tonal staticism vs movement, I invite you to 
reconsider your opinion about Schenker with respect to resultant vs 
independent lines. Many of the Schenkerian analytic devices are meant to 
track a resultant continuity behind, say, compound melody, lines between 
voices, unfoldings, octave transfers, voice exchanges, etc. etc. 
Schenker of course believed that much if not all of this could be 
justified by harmonic considerations. Yet I trust that there is 
something more fundamental behind many of his ideas.
The point that I want to make is not extremely important, after all. It 
merely is that I felt your initial anti-Schenkerian "attack" (your 
message of 14 January: "For example, the sort of linear continuities 
emphasized by analysts like Schenker are hardly universal and can hardly 
be taken as standards of "excellence" outside a relatively narrow 
historical framework, within which such a standard developed as a 
tradition") needed further attention. There is very little in Schenker 
that is universal: to be universal never was his intention, on the 
contrary. But one should not reject the baby with the water: some of his 
ideas were as universally musical as can be.


Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

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