Sunday, 9:00–10:30 am

Form and Order: New Perspectives on Debussy, Ravel, and Webern

Chair: Peter Kaminsky, (University of Connecticut)

  • What’s in a Name: Reconsidering the ‘Hidden’ Sonata Forms of Debussy and Ravel
    Andrew Aziz (Eastman School of Music)
  • How is Webern’s Music Combinatorial?
    Brian Mosley (CUNY Graduate Center)
  • Program

    What’s in a Name: Reconsidering the ‘Hidden’ Sonata Forms of Debussy and Ravel

    This paper proposes alternative strategies to formal analysis in various works by Debussy and Ravel. While analysts have traditionally applied sonata concepts to compositions explicitly labeled as “Sonatas,” pieces with “subjective” titles—which often suggest ad hoc formal procedures—have eluded such treatment. In this paper, I posit that many works by Debussy and Ravel of this latter category can be viewed through the traditional sonata lens, facilitating a reconsideration of this genre in fin-de-sičcle French contexts. Part I of the paper considers previous theorists’ approaches—including theories of musical narrative and discontinuity—as well as my own adaptations of these approaches. I contribute two new concepts: the notion of “post-expositional breakthrough” and a formal paradigm called “resetting the formal compass” (RFC). Breakthroughs are the result of a formal discontinuity, in which a process suddenly ceases, only to be resumed following a point of “apotheosis” or Adorno’s Durchbruch. RFC is a narrative strategy that results from the music “losing its formal bearings,” veering away from any predictable backdrop; as a result, the music suddenly changes course, offering a blanket of sound that serves as a “memoryless” buffer. Part II provides original analyses of Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse and En blanc et noir (first caprice), both of which display post-expositional breakthroughs; Ravel’s Jeux d’eau and Gaspard de la nuit: Ondine offer examples of RFC. All four analyses establish alternative lenses that confirm the underlying influence of sonata structure.

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    How is Webern’s Music Combinatorial?

    In the Path to New Music, Webern, like Schoenberg before, spoke highly of “themes unfolding not only horizontally but also vertically” (34–5). These thoughts and others have prompted questions as to why Webern never adopted the combinatorial system (Whittall 1987). In this paper I suggest that Webern’s twelve-tone technique embraced some of the structural principles of combinatoriality, and that like Schoenberg, Webern did so as a means to creating a system that interacts with musical form. In my presentation I deconstruct Schoenbergian combinatoriality, as represented in David Lewin’s (1967b) analysis of the Violin Fantasy, to reveal two analogues in Webern’s twelve-tone technique. !ese analogues—paradigmatically-de"ned and chain-organized harmonic areas—are represented with musical spaces that capture formal possibilities and reflect structural and formal procedures at work in Webern’s Piano Variations, op. 27.

    Program