Music Theory


Music Theory Colloquium Series

All events are on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. in M 267 unless otherwise noted.
Spring 2017 Events

February 1
Workshop led by Mike Cheng-Yu Lee (Indiana University): "The Philosophical Basis of Lewin's Transformational Theories, Part I"
Materials available at the Music Theory Colloquium Canvas Site

Monday, February 6 (5:00 p.m., Sweeney Hall M015)
Justin London
(Carleton College), "What *Is* Musical Tempo?"
(Jacobs School of Music Lecture Series in affiliation with the Media School)

February 8
Workshop led by Mike Cheng-Yu Lee (Indiana University): "The Philosophical Basis of Lewin's Transformational Theories, Part II"
Materials available at the Music Theory Colloquium Canvas Site

February 22
Jessica Sommer (Indiana University), "'Grimes!': A Study of Melodic Quotation and Reference in the 'Mad' Scene of Peter Grimes"
Andrew Mead
(Indiana University), "Lost in His Labyrinth:  Multiple Modes of Recurrence in the Operas of Benjamin Britten"

March 22
Aaron Sunstein (Indiana University), "Troping Zeitoper Topically in Schoenberg’s Von Heute auf Morgen"

March 29
Nathan Lam (Indiana University), "Melodic and Harmonic Centricities in Diatonic Modes"

April 5
James Webster (Cornell University), "Haydn's Sonata Theory"

April 19
Ellie Hisama (Columbia University), "'A Complex Dissonant Veil of Sound': Influence and Independence in Ruth Crawford’s Chants for Women’s Chorus (1930)” 

Inspired by Eastern monastic chanting, Ruth Crawford’s Chants for Women’s Chorus (1930) display her commitment to manifesting in music a “spiritual ideal” informed by her study of Theosophy and Eastern thought and writings. Composed in Berlin where she held a Guggenheim Fellowship, Crawford’s Chants—her only work for chorus—were among her first compositions produced after months of intense studies with Charles Seeger in New York. Chant no. 1 (“To an Unkind God”) establishes a non-teleological stream of vocal strands sung to syllables invented by the composer, while Chant no. 2 (“To an Angel”) presents an ethereal hummed floating sound-world; Chant no. 3 (“To a Kind God”) closes the set with a passionately declaimed cluster of chromatic pitches, resulting in what she called “mass-pitch.” Together the three chants reveal the imprint of her teacher’s interest in aspects of dissonant counterpoint while they also establish her own increasingly independent compositional sensibility.

This paper explores the “complex dissonant veil of sound” of the Chants as Charles Seeger characterized them and focuses on aspects of voice leading and timbre. Drawing upon unpublished correspondence about the Chants between Crawford and Seeger in 1930 and 1931 and Crawford’s letters to conductor Gerald Reynolds, who commissioned the work, I explore the influence by Seeger on these works and Crawford’s own compositional decisions that reflect her growing confidence as a composer in forging her own voice. I further argue that the Chants present structural and aesthetic alliances with Crawford’s brilliantly experimental String Quartet 1931, composed the following year, and critically reflects upon her representation of “Oriental” sacred music through a vocabulary crafted from English and German syllables and the language of ultra-modernism.

Thursday, April 20 (11:15 a.m.—1:00 p.m., JS 415)
Ellie Hisama (Columbia University), Workshop: "Diversity and Inclusion in the Music Theory Classroom​”
Space is limited; workshop participants should RSVP to Marianne Kielian-Gilbert 

This workshop aims to assist graduate students in thinking about issues of diversity and inclusion in core music theory courses and in upper-level and graduate seminars. Engaging with a variety of music can greatly enrich learning experiences in music theory courses and open students as music theorists and performers to new repertories and analytical tools. In addition to examining specific musical works that might supplement canonical compositions covered in standard music theory textbooks, the workshop will explore a variety of pedagogical methods designed to reach students with a wide range of learning styles.

Thursday, April 20 (4:30 p.m., Sweeney Hall M 015)
Ellie Hisama (Columbia University), "'Blackness in a White Void': Music in the Film Installations of Isaac Julien"
(Five Friends Master Class Series Honoring Robert Samels)  

The British filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien is perhaps best known in the US for his films Looking for Langston (1989), a meditation on the poet Langston Hughes, and Young Soul Rebels (1991), a fictional narrative centered on the black British soul music that permeated Julien’s youth in 1970s London. This lecture considers the use of music and sound in two of Julien’s film installations in order to demonstrate how his sonic practices help to bind together disparate images across multiple visual narratives. Borrowing cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s description of Julien’s “visual imaginary,” I focus on two of Julien’s recent works, True North (2004), which reimagines the historic journey of African American explorer Matthew Henson who travelled with Robert Peary to the North Pole in 1909, and Ten Thousand Waves (2010), a virtuosic multiscreen presentation that sprung from the tragic deaths of Chinese migrant workers in Northern England. I consider how Julien casts a critical eye on transnational labor and the politics of immigration in his visual and sonic reflections on those constructed as racial Others.

April 26
Special Session on Beethoven, Piano Sonata, Op. 110
Mike Cheng-Yu Lee
(Indiana University)
Frank Samarotto (Indiana University)


Fall 2016 Events

September 7
Jessica Sommer
(Indiana University), “Music Making: An Embodied Process” 

Taking an approach through the concepts of embodied cognitive science, this paper addresses the process of music learning from practice through rehearsal to performance and beyond. Situated within the embodied cognitive literature, the study begins with a look at learning through the eyes of an ecological theory of perception and action, while taking into account recall, memory, and creativity. Learning is also inherently social, and includes aspects that are direct, indirect, and subliminal, based on interaction level. Learning, and further, performance, is based on perception and action physically, but also metaphorically. The metaphors used to both produce and analyze music may be based on embodied language that derives from practice and performance.

These theories of embodiment and learning, through physical and metaphorical action and language, are further applied to practice, rehearsal, and performance. Examples used include Benjamin Britten’s “Pan” from Six Metamorphoses after Ovid, and Francis Poulenc’s Trio for oboe, bassoon, and piano.

September 21
Leah Frederick
(Indiana University), “Generic (Mod-7) Voice-Leading Spaces" 

In the burgeoning field of geometric music theory, scholars have explored ways of spatially representing voice leadings between chords. The OPTIC spaces provide a way to examine all “classes” of n-note chords formed under various types of equivalence: octave, permutational, transpositional, inversional, and cardinality. Although it is possible to map diatonic progressions in these spaces, they often appear irregular since the spaces are constructed with the fundamental unit of a mod-12 semitone, rather than a mod-7 diatonic step. Outside of geometric music theory, the properties of diatonic structure have been studied more broadly: Clough has established framework for describing diatonic structure analogous to that of Forte’s set theory; Hook provides a more generalized, “generic,” version of this work to describe any seven-note scale. This paper employs these theories in order to explore the fundamental difference between mod-12 and mod-7 spaces: that is, whether the spaces are fundamentally discrete or continuous.

After reviewing the construction of these voice-leading spaces, this paper will present the mod-7 OPTIC-, OPTI-, OPT-, and OP-spaces of 2- and 3-note chords. Although these spaces are fundamentally discrete, they can be imagined as lattice points within a continuous space. This construction reveals that the chromatic (mod-12) and generic (mod-7) voice-leading lattices both derive from the same topological space. In fact, although the discrete versions of these lattices appear to be quite different, the topological space underlying each of these graphs depends solely on the number of notes in the chord and the particular OPTIC relations applied.

Note: The handout for this talk is available as a PDF at the Music Theory Colloquium Canvas site

October 5
Bryan Christian (University of Northern Colorado; Colorado State University), “Searching for the Unknown in Combination-Tone Class Set Analysis: A Closer Look at Claude Vivier’s Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele” 

Based in Montreal for most of his life, Claude Vivier (1948–83) was a Canadian-born composer whose advocates have posthumously proclaimed one of that country’s greatest composers. Despite composing in a wide range of styles, Vivier is most widely known for his late period which began with his work Lonely Child (1980). This work was considerably indebted to the spectral techniques of Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail. In an article published in Music Theory Online in 2014, I discussed how Vivier’s homophonic treatment of combination tones (generated from a melody and drone pitch) necessitated a new analytical tool: combination-tone class (CTC) set analysis. This analysis focused on Vivier’s work Bouchara (1981) and relied on the verification of the results with Vivier’s sketches. The present study addresses how to use CTC set analysis in the absence of such sketch evidence. Vivier’s final work, Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele (Do you believe in the Immortality of the Soul; 1983) provides a fascinating case study.

Glaubst du, which contains an eerie premonition of Vivier’s murder at the end of the score, is widely considered to be unfinished. The scarce sketch materials that do exist reveal no evidence that Vivier used his combination tone technique — what he called les couleurs — in Glaubst du. Indeed, many scholars, most notably Vivier’s late biographer Bob Gilmore, argue that Glaubst du is a significant departure from Vivier’s immediately preceding spectral works, likely due to the absence of microtonality. However, by adapting and generalizing CTC set analysis, my research shows that Vivier continued to construct his harmonic material in a spectrally informed manner. Given a test sonority, this study presents an algorithm for determining possible virtual generating dyads (VGD), which would be valid candidates for the tones that would produce combination tones that correspond to the test sonority. Although more than one VGD will exist for a sonority – in the same way that any collection of pitches would have more than one virtual fundamental – intimate knowledge of the internal structures of combination tone sonorities allows the analyst to select a best fitting VGD. Combining VGDs with CTC set analysis, we can deduce the algorithms that Vivier used to calculate the pitch material in Glaubst du. Thus, with this expanded CTC set tool I show that Vivier’s approach to constructing harmony in Glaubst du was not a departure from his spectral harmonic practice, but that it was an extension of this practice.

October 12
Nathan Beary Blustein (Indiana University), “Playwriting in Song: ‘Reprise Types’ in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd” 

Reprise pervades Sweeney’s score. Every character recalls passages from earlier songs, altering music and lyrics according to the dramatic circumstances that have motivated their (near-)repetition. Analysis of reprise in musical theatre traditionally revolves around the direct relationship between a song and its later recurrences at significant plot points. Yet many reprises in Sweeney also bear striking similarities to each other—not in the music that they recall, but how the recalled music functions within the formal, tonal, and motivic context of each new song. Seemingly disparate songs—-in setting, dramatic situation, and emotional stake—-can be linked when characters sing the same type of reprise. By analyzing and interpreting published scores, sound/video recordings of professional productions, and music/lyric sketches, I argue that these links (a) amplify, supplement, or even contradict the story of Sweeney as it develops on stage, and (b) refine our technical understanding of the sheer variety in Sondheim’s creative approaches to reprise.

First, I compare four songs throughout the show in which one of the star-crossed lovers—-the sailor Anthony and the Judge’s ward Johanna—-sings a brief reprise: “Ah, Miss” and “Kiss Me!”, which blossom into lyrical reprises that achieve tonal closure; and “Pretty Women” and “City on Fire!”, which are both disrupted by reprises of the same song. Next, I examine the two songs that Todd and Mrs. Lovett sing in the Act I finale: “Epiphany” and “A Little Priest.” Opposing forces seemingly guide this scene from all sides, but each song begins similarly, building up to a “corrected” reprise of a song from the opening of the act.

Monday, October 17 (4:05 p.m., MU 205)
Mike Cheng-Yu Lee (Indiana University), “Webern and 'Early Music'”
(Colloquium offered jointly by the Historical Performance Institute and the Department of Music Theory

We typically think of being involved with “Early Music” as researching and performing musics far enough back in time that their performance contexts and traditions have been lost to us. But how recent is too recent for “Early Music”? In this lecture-demonstration, I show that the approaches of Early Music, or perhaps more aptly Historical Performance, can inform the performance of 20th-century music. I provide different kinds of evidence that shed light on how Webern might have imagined the performance of his own works. I then contrast this evidence against a set of norms underlying the performance of his music that have taken shape since the postwar era. I will conclude the lecture by sharing my “historically informed” performance of the Variations, Op. 27.

October 26
Gretchen Horlacher
(Indiana University), “Movement in Music and Dance: A Neoclassical Collaboration for Orpheus” 

Imagine the opening of a ballet whose central character stands with his back to the audience, motionless, for more than two minutes. This is exactly what happens in the Stravinsky-Balanchine collaboration for Orpheus from 1948. The opening music also displays unusual qualities of stasis; the alliance between dance and music sets forth a neoclassical work whose scarce and idiosyncratic movement underlies its mournful and ritualistic theme.

The collaborations of composer Igor Stravinsky with choreographer George Balanchine are held as an exemplar of artistic collaboration, and their work together on the ballet Orpheus is documented as particularly close. I will describe how music and dance interrelate in the ballet’s most critical scene, as Orpheus attempts to lead Eurydice back to earth. In particular I will pay attention to the two artists’ manipulation of repetitive movement.

Monday, November 7 (5:00 p.m., Sweeney Lecture Hall, M 015)
Eric Clarke (Oxford University), “Music, Empathy, and Cultural Understanding”
(Five Friends Master Class Series Honoring Robert Samels)” 

There is increasing interest in music and empathy, with the ways in which music can draw listeners and active participants into forms of engagement with one another, and thereby promote mutual understanding. The idea of empathy originally arose in the context of visual art, to account for the ways in which observers can be drawn into the world of a work of art, but quickly developed into a more general psychological concept. The definition of empathy, however, remains controversial, and the frameworks that have been proposed to account for it range from neuroscience through psychology to sociology and cultural studies. This lecture explores the ways in which empathy might provide a fruitful way to explain how listeners engage with the “virtual worlds” that music affords, and the inter-cultural understanding that may or may not ensue.

Tuesday, November 8 (2:30–4:30 p.m., M 0340)
Eric Clarke (Oxford University), Workshop: “Music and Social Bonding: Issues and Methods”
Workshop participants will find materials at the Music Theory Colloquium Canvas site

November 9
Eric Clarke (Oxford University), "Music and Ecological Theory” 

What is the relationship between music perception and musical meaning? Is there anything in common between general principles of auditory perception and people’s enculturated engagement with music? There has at times been something of a gulf between research in the psychology of music and music theory—though bridged at different times and in various ways by a number of distinguished figures. In this talk I make the case for understanding music from the perspective of ecological perceptual theory (derived primarily from the work of the American psychologist James Gibson), and consider the strengths of such an approach for both music psychology and music theory, as well as the questions and challenges that it throws up.

December 7
Professional Development Session —
The Straight Dope about Music Theory Conferences: An Unscripted Conversation with the Faculty 

Join us for an informal, no-holds-barred conversation about music theory conferences. We'll talk about things like:

  • What academic conferences are and why we have them
  • When to get involved with conferences (and when not to)
  • What conferences to go to, and why
  • When it makes sense to think about submitting a paper proposal (and when it doesn’t)
  • What’s good about conferences and what’s not so good
  • Conferences: “professional” or “scholarly”?
  • How conferences in music theory differ from conferences in some other fields
  • How to organize things so that conferences enrich your scholarly life, instead of building a professional life out of conferences
  • What it’s healthy to actually do when you’re at conferences (and how not to make a jerk of yourself)

Previous years

2015–16 Colloquium Events

2014–15 Colloquium Events

2013–14 Colloquium Events

2012–13 Colloquium Events

2011–12 Colloquium Events

2010–11 Colloquium Events

2009–10 Colloquium Events

2008–09 Colloquium Events

2007–08 Colloquium Events