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Paper Session
Nov 12, 2021 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM(America/Chicago)
20211112T1000 20211112T1050 America/Chicago Topic Theory AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org
Accounting for Topic Theory's Intellectual Heritage: Between Absolutism and the New Musicology
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/12 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/12 16:50:00 UTC

This paper interprets the rise of topic theory during the last several decades as a reaction to criticisms of musical analysis. The New Musicology moment challenged analysis's involvement with musical autonomy (Wolff 1987), organicism (Street 1989), and structural processes (McClary 1986, 1991), primarily by unearthing their socio-political contexts (Savage 2010). Citing Lawrence Kramer's (1990) call to open "hermeneutic windows" between the structural and contextual dimensions of musical works, theorists increasingly analyzed topics as quilting points between form and meaning. As a consequence, topic theory navigates around the same binary that the theory-versus-criticism debates of the 1980s and 90s did, between music and the extramusical: the signature dichotomy of musical absolutism (Dahlhaus 1989). Narrating the intellectual history of topic theory helps to circumnavigate this impasse by reimagining absolute music as an exclusive metaphysics that comes to life whenever musicological discourse marks the boundary between music and its other.

If Leonard Ratner (1980) inspired the modern study of topics (McKay 2007), then it was his student Kofi Agawu (1991) who put topics on a collision course with semiotics and questioned their status as extramusical, describing topics as the "extroversive" complement to "introversive" analysis. Expanding the semiotic approach, Robert Hatten (1994) anchored the legitimacy of topics in the reconstruction of "stylistic competencies." Drawing from the correlationsim of Peter Kivy-an avowed proponent of Hanslick (Kivy 2000)-Hatten extrapolated minute analytical oppositions onto the disciplinary divide between structuralism and hermeneutics, causing Nicholas Cook (1996) to describe him as a "closet absolutist." Since then, the signifiers of topicality have proliferated beyond utility as authors have applied Hatten's flexible definition of topics beyond the common practice period (Echard 2017), to instrumental techniques (Monelle 2012), tonality (Johnson 2017), and even the act of performance (Samuels 2011). I argue that, in each of the accounts surveyed by this study, topics find their conceptual consistency not in a collection of essential properties (as in Frymoyer 2017), but in their linguistic identity as descriptive devices that make musical experience knowable (Kramer 2012). Seen as discursive entities, topics no longer assert their existence by invoking the absolutist ontology of "music itself."

Presenters
DP
Dylan Principi
Princeton University
Rethinking the Strict Style: Fugato as an Improvisatory Technique
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/12 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/12 16:50:00 UTC

The idea of fugato as an "improvisatory technique" may strike some as counterintuitive. It is certainly true that much ink spilled over counterpoint and fugue focuses on its rigidity and the great pains taken by students to learn this most particular of art forms. However, It has been persuasively argued by Rob Wegman and others that counterpoint emerged and was used in the Renaissance not as a rote exercise, but rather as a organic technique for both composition and extemporaneous improvisation. How, then, did we arrive at an understanding of fugue and fugato as the "strict" or "learned" styles? Johann Georg Sulzer was arguing against this perception as early as the 1790s when he wrote "Those who consider fugal movements antiquated pedantry reveal themselves to have very erroneous and incomplete understandings of this most essential of arts." Other contemporary treatises, such as those by Czerny, Türk, and Koch likewise note a connection between fugue and "free forms," or those that resemble improvised _fantasia_. 

This background establishes the improvisatory legacy that lies behind the Classical use of fugato – a legacy that has often been elided in favor of interpreting Classical and early Romantic use of fugue and fugato narrowly as a sort of historicizing topic, an academic nod to the archaic musical ideals of the Renaissance and Baroque. To consider fugal topics simply as a sort of musical period dress, however, accounts only for_when_ these instrumental genres proliferated and ignores much of _how_. After the Renaissance, improvised counterpoint found continued life at the keyboard, improvisation's most fertile ground in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Indeed, Friedrich Starke described Ludwig van Beethoven improvising in a fugal style when he heard him in 1812;  Johann Nepomuk Hummel is also reported to have performed fugal improvisations as late as 1830. "Improvisatory fugato" extends beyond the keyboard to composed music in other genres: Taking Beethoven's Piano Trio Op. 70, no. 2 and Violin Sonata Op. 96 as examples, we can regard the "learned style" as more than a retrospective homage-à-Bach: Fugato is understood both an invocation and evocation of its improvisatory roots.

Presenters
LT
Lucy Turner
Columbia University
Using Topic Theory Expand on Recent Neo-Riemannian Analyses of Film Music
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/12 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/12 16:50:00 UTC

Recently, neo-Riemannian theorists have studied how Hollywood film composers utilize chromatic triad transformations to evoke specific ideas and emotions. In film scores, where immediacy of expression is paramount, long-range formal structures are often replaced with short, evocative harmonic progressions, which neo-Riemannian theory is well-equipped to identify and analyze. Through repetitive use throughout the twentieth century, many non-diatonic progressions accrued extra-musical meanings that date back to Romantic-era genres that preceded cinema. Matthew Bribitzer-Stull traces the LP (or "Tarnhelm") transformation and its associations with evil and the uncanny from Hollywood's most iconic villains back to Wagner's _Das Rheingold_. Scott Murphy and Erik Heine have executed similar investigations of specific progressions that film composers use to connote particular ideas or emotions to trained listeners. Collectively, these studies suggest there exists a lexicon of harmonic gestures that bear extra-musical associations, and Frank Lehman postulates that triadic transformations constitute what he calls "harmonic style types." Clearly these devices are potent signifiers, but can a chord progression constitute a topic? What other musical signs do film composers use to direct audience members' interpretations of the images and characters they accompany? Furthermore, how do scholars analyze a progression that carries multiple associations?

Neo-Riemannian theory, alone, cannot answer these questions--nor was it designed to. In order to address these challenges, analysts need additional theoretical leverage to supplement their harmonic analyses, and topic theory provides an ideal complement to the neo-Riemannian approach championed by Bribitzer-Stull and others. My paper will present a new methodology that synthesizes these two frameworks and demonstrates the efficacy of this interdisciplinary approach by exploring a common transformation that has accrued many meanings over time. Murphy and Lehman have suggested that film composers use the far-fifth (or F) transformation to evoke a wide range of ideas from nature to venerability. Using topic theory to study the other musical gestures that work in tandem with this progression, I present four distinct _topoi_ reinforced by the F transformation and trace the lineage of these style types back to nineteenth-century opera and instrumental music.

Presenters
DO
Dan Obluda
Colorado State University
Colorado State University
Princeton University
Columbia University
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