Saturday, 9:00 am–12:00 pm, W. L. Harkness 207

Early Twentieth-Century Modality/Tonality

Chair: James Baker (Brown University)

  • Bartók’s Polymodal Chromaticism and the Dasian System
    José António Martins (University of Chicago)

  • Debussy’s Diatonic Practice within the MI-Chromatic Space
    François de Médicis (Université de Montréal)

  • Sibelius’s ‘Modern Classicism’ and the Integration of Modality
    Les Black (Ithaca College)

  • The Meaning(s) of "Without": An Investigation of Liszt’s "Bagatelle ohne Tonart"
    David Carson Berry (Yale University)

  • Program


    Bartók's Polymodal Chromaticism and the Dasian System
    José António Martins (University of Chicago)

    A distinctive compositional signature for Bartók's contrapuntal style consists of the superposition of strands in different keys. In analytic approaches to this music, tonal theorists subsume the resultant chromaticism within a pitch-centered diatonic background, while atonal theorists cut across the diatonic strands to conceive pc cells or motives that move more properly in a chromatic 12 pc space. Both analytic approaches, however, obscure the individuality and coherence of perceivable diatonic strands reducing chromaticism into diatonicism or scattering diatonicism into chromaticism.

    This paper develops an alternative model for conceiving superposed diatonic spaces within a hybrid space combining diatonic and chromatic features. This model, called the Dasian system, retains the integrity of diatonic strands and allows for a non-reductive understanding of diatonic superpositions without appealing to pitch centers or specifying complete diatonic collections. The paper develops a theoretical framework for the Dasian system, explores its analytic potential for some Bartók pieces, and considers its generability to a larger framework of spaces and extensibility to other composers.

    Top

    Debussy's Diatonic Practice within the MI-Chromatic Space
    François de Médicis (Université de Montréal)

    As Richard Parks (1989) observed, Debussy wrote numerous pieces using prominent diatonic material, although often outside the bounds of functional tonality. Starting from the original analytical observation that many pieces from the composer's maturity (1894 onwards) exploit strongly contrasting diatonic sets as structural devices (i.e. sets that tend toward aggregate completion and minimal overlap), this paper explores Debussy's diatonic practice from the vantage point of MI-chromatic space (or circle of fifths). Spatial visualization is used as a complementary tool to familiar set-theoretical concepts (such as invariance properties revealed by ICV and IV, inclusion relations as expressed by genera) to analyze the following works of the middle period: La Danse de Puck, La Cathedrale Engloutie, La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin, and Brouillards. This mode of representation is convenient for quickly visualizing contrasting or overlapping relationships among diatonic sets within the chromatic universe. In musical contexts of shifting diatonic collections, the visual advantage reaches beyond mere practicality: this tool makes it possible to untangle the complex interaction of contrast, inclusion, and invariance relationships of sets as they progress within the chromatic space, as hardly any other means might do. And besides its visual appeal, this form of representation also spawns a conceptual shift, in which the diatonic scale is conceived not so much as a collection of discrete elements, but as a region on the MI-circle. Through its flexibility and suitability to Debussy's music, this tool brings new analytical insights into this repertoire, an achievement that still best establishes its merits.

    Top

    Sibelius’s “Modern Classicism”and the Integration of Modality
    Leslie Black (Ithaca College)

    The early symphonies of Sibelius are often characterized as nationalist works, due to the inclusion of modal melodies. As Sibelius emerged from this stage of his career, he spoke of a move to “modern Classicism.” The leaner orchestra and sharper forms found in the works from these years are obvious signs of a more classical style. However, a subtler manifestation of this trend may be perceived in the integration of the essence of modality into his music language, initiating a competition between modal and tonal structures. This conflict of scales unfolds over the course of complete works, evoking the type of organic, teleologic structures found in the harmonic and motivic dimensions of his later compositions. The end result of this process is a new tonal sound, close to conventional tonality but subtly altered through the interaction of tonal and modal. Examples from the Violin Concerto (1904) and Third Symphony (1907) will be presented.

    Top

    The Meaning(s) of "Without": An Investigation of Liszt's "Bagatelle ohne Tonart"
    David Carson Berry (Yale University)

    In this paper, the author addresses issues surrounding the interpretation of Franz Liszt's 1885 piano composition, "Bagatelle ohne Tonart"—a bagatelle declared to be "without tonality" or "without a key." In the first section, I consider how the Bagatelle fits within the framework of extant nineteenth-century musical thought; how its processes are supported by contemporaneously evolving theories of chromaticism. Partly through an analysis based on the practice of Gottfried Weber (1779–1839), I demonstrate that the Bagatelle is not a piece "without tonality" as much as it is one "without the fulfillment of the tonic." Its disposition is to maintain harmonic tension by avoiding anticipated resolutions; and by preserving a sense of ambiguity as to what the actual "missing" key is.

    In the second section, I address why Liszt was prompted to compose such a work. We know that he was a proponent of Zukunftsmusik ("music of the future"), but was composing "ohne Tonart" one of the premises of his view of music's future? To settle the debate, we must confirm that (1) within his notions of Zukunftsmusik, he also had definite ideas about a Zukunftsharmoniesystem; and (2) such a system comported with the processes exhibited by the Bagatelle. In this section's commentary, I demonstrate that the Bagatelle's traits are in accordance with theoretical views, to which Liszt subscribed, about music's future direction. Relevant theories of both Karl Friedrich Weitzmann (1808-80) and François-Joseph Fétis (1784-1871) are considered.

    Through both analytical and historical investigations, I try to foster a more meaningful understanding of not only the Bagatelle's processes and intentions, but also its place in the history of musical evolution. Also, I hope to unite seemingly different threads of nineteenth-century theory and analysis, which in fact contribute to an understanding of the same strand of musical evolution: the increasing attenuation of tonality to the point that a piece could be written "ohne Tonart."

    Top