Last Friday, William van Geest presented a paper at the 2019 South Central Society for Music Theory Conference. His paper was entitled, “The Chorale in North American Music Theory: A Model for Musical Structure?” (see abstract below). William also used the opportunity to sample the local fare and make acquaintance with local wildlife.
“The Chorale in North American Music Theory: A Model for Musical Structure?”
While music theorists widely acknowledge chorales’ privileged position in American music theory, no scholar has critically examined why they should enjoy this status. In this paper, I propose one possible reason: chorales’ resemblance to a model for musical structure popular among American music theorists. This resemblance depends, however, on specific definitions of both “chorale” and “musical structure.” Through a corpus study of leading undergraduate music-theory textbooks, I elucidate these conceptions: musical examples suggest that “chorale” is specifically a four-part homophonic harmonization for voice, and authors’ descriptions of basic musical principles suggest that “musical structure” is best represented as a “framework” with precisely these same features. By analyzing this account of “musical structure,” moreover, I highlight the contingency, abundance, and variety of claims embedded therein; and finally, by examining their visual and aural representation of chorales, I demonstrate how authors present chorales such that they optimally resemble this “musical structure.”