[Smt-talk] Simplicity [was II6/4]

Charles J. Smith cjsmith at buffalo.edu
Wed Sep 4 09:41:18 PDT 2013

In the immortal words of Nelson Goodman (paraphrased no doubt by the vagaries of memory, since my copy of the source is elsewhere):

***There's nothing simple about simplicity.***

I would advise all who invoke it to take care. Simplicity is like a neurotic, somewhat crazy dogÑone that you think you know, but who can turn around and bite you without warning. Just take care, that's all.

Many many years ago, working on a Michigan dissertation about philosophical perspectives one can take on analysis, I had planned a chapter on simplicity, but gave it up. It was far too difficult.


> Comment to Eytan:
>> But then, you might as well hear II prolonged already in the theme!
>> I think there is something genuinely na•ve about this piece. I prefer a
>> simpler reading.
> In an earlier posting (replying to Vasili Byros), I already pointed out the possibility to hear the prolonged II in the theme ("Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman"). But I also noted that this is by no means unequivocally supported in its simple (Å naive) circumstances. I called the theme inherently ambiguous and cited features in the variations that support the prolongation of II, actualizing the potential in the theme, so to speak.
> I would thus suggest that in the naivete of the theme, prolongational hierarchy may indeed be shallow (or meaningless), but in Mozart's art, as in the variations, deeper hierarchy tends to arise.
> Incidentally, Schenker did not intend his theory as a general theory of tonality (as some recent authors have suggested) but of "masterworks." I think he may well have been on the right track in that the hierarchy of structural levels is indeed a resource mainly exploited in a certain kind of "art music."
> Then a word about simplicity of readings. Regarding hierarchical depth, it is indeed simpler to read the tonic in m. 6 as a genuine I. With respect to meter, however, it is simpler to read a prolongation of II in mm. 5Ð7. The former criterion may, indeed, be more significant if there is reason to assume that the music is of a "naive" type incapable of sustaining any deeper prolongational hierarchy. But in that case there is not much reason to apply the concept of prolongation (or structural levels) in the first place. But once we take the possibility of prolongation in earnest, I do not think metric strength should ever be dismissed as a criterion of hierarchy unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. It is, indeed, so much *simpler* to hear a passing figure connect two metrically strong points than weak ones.
> Olli VŠisŠlŠ
> Sibelius Academy
> University of the Arts Helsinki
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Prof. Charles J. Smith
Slee Chair of Music Theory & Director of Graduate Studies
Office: 410 Baird Hall
Director, Slee Institute for Tonal Harmony (420 Baird)

Mail address:
Music Department, 220 Baird Hall, University at Buffalo
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