This October, I presented a paper at the 13th Biennial International Conference on Music Theory & Analysis in Belgrade, Serbia (abstract below). Mine was one of a diverse spectrum of papers delivered by music theorists and musicologists from around the world, which centered on this year’s conference theme: music and spatiality. In addition to attending several illuminating talks and partaking in interesting conversations, I also had a chance to take in some of the sites, sounds, and tastes of the beautiful city of Belgrade.
Abstract: “Exploring Musical Narrative Space in a Chopin Nocturne”
Within studies of music and narrative, the concept of agency and its role in musical discourse has been theorized from various standpoints (see Guck 1998, 2006; Maus 1998; Monahan 2013; Hatten 2018). However, the spaces themselves in which agency occurs—what one may describe as “musical worlds” as rendered and experienced by the listener—have yet to be explicitly accounted for in as much depth. As “narrative comprehension closely correlates with an understanding of the spatial organization of the storyworld” (Alber 2016, 187), further fleshing out a concept of narrative space would provide valuable insight into ways in which we engage with music. In this paper, I explore the concept of musical narrative space, drawing parallels to how one conceptualizes fictional worlds in literature, namely via the constructs of: spatial frame, setting, story space, and lived space (Alber 2016). Focusing on two constructs in particular—spatial frame and lived space—I propose ways in which these spaces may be (re)defined in music as determined by a range of musical elements and parameters. Borrowing the notion of diegetic space adapted from literary theory by film theorists to describe the spatio-temporal world of film,I then offer an approach to analysis, examining excerpts from Chopin’s Op. 48 no. 2 Nocturne in F-sharp minor through the lens of these constructs; in particular, I utilize the construct of spatial frames to trace the transformative path through narrative space of the opening “sighing”gesture of the piece, while I conceptualize the Nocturne’s lived space in terms of the latent musical worlds activated and experienced by the listener in the course of tracing this path.
Through exploring musical narrative space, I hope to open the door to new analytic perspectives that more readily attend to the experiential spaces of the listener.