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 livedspace (Alber 2016). Focusing on two constructs in particular—spatial frameand 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.
Recently, SMR member Elizabeth McLain, in conjunction with Michael Saffle (Virginia Tech), had an article published in Fontes Artis Musicae entitled “Edward MacDowell’s Letters to Templeton Strong in the Library of Congress” (see abstract below). Congratulations, Elizabeth!
Abstract: The letters Edward MacDowell addressed to Templeton Strong between 1886 and 1904 comprise one of the most interesting series of documents in late nineteenth-century American musical history. Strong donated their correspondence to the Library of Congress in 1930, but the letters were unavailable for examination for the next fifty years and are still incompletely referenced in the secondary literature. The letters discuss the return of MacDowell and his wife Marian to the United States in 1888, their early adventures in Boston during 1888 to 1890, MacDowell’s often contentious opinions of his fellow composers (including Chadwick and Foote), his professional struggles and successes, and his hobbies (especially photography). They also reveal much about their author’s character. For decades, MacDowell was widely considered the “perfect” American composer: handsome, virtuous, and successful. To some extent, the letters contradict this legend, and to some extent, they confirm or modify it. They also reveal similarities between the experiences of a turn-of-the-last century professional musician and those of today’s performers, composers, and teachers.
Recently, SMR Forum, in conjunction with the Musicology Department’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative, convened the first meeting of what is to be a monthly Student-Faculty Reading group. The goal of this group is for students and faculty to come together and discuss recently published books and articles that are of interest across SMR’s constituent disciplines (ethnomusicology, historical musicology, and music theory). At this meeting, participants discussed selections from Rachel Mundy’s Animal Musicalities: Birds, Beasts, and Evolutionary Listening (2018)—and as a bonus, the author herself participated electronically. We are already eagerly anticipating the next meeting!
This summer, theorist Anna Rose Nelson was awarded a one-month stipend from the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel, Switzerland to conduct research pertaining to her dissertation on miniature forms in modernist compositions. While she was there, she spent the bulk of her time carefully analyzing the sketch material available for Brian Ferneyhough’s Sonatas for String Quartet (1967), which was conceived in five large movements but exists in published form as 24 short “fragments.” Thanks to help from Dr. Simon Obert, she was also lucky enough to study sketches for Anton Webern’s Sechs Bagatellen (1911/1913) and a small book the composer kept with a record of the items in his library, complete with two preserved four-leaf clovers!
On Friday afternoon, SMR hosted its traditional beginning-of-the-year General Assembly. We heard reports on past events from each of the committees, ate yummy sandwiches, had a lot of laughs, and brainstormed exciting new ideas for the academic year. Be sure to stay tuned for more!
Last weekend, the fall meeting of AMS Midwest Chapter took place at Wayne State University in Detroit. SMR member Nee Chucherdwatanasak participated on panel on a Saturday afternoon to present her paper, “Live from Orchestra Hall: The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Concert Livestreaming” (see below for abstract), which examined the DSO’s webcast series and its impact on the digital strategies of other American orchestras.
Abstract: “Live from Orchestra Hall: The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Concert Livestreaming”
To ensure their vitality in the twenty-first century,
several American orchestras have adopted digital technology to attract
audiences, particularly by livestreaming concerts. While many orchestras
livestream their concerts only occasionally, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra
(DSO) offers free, regular HD webcasts—Live from Orchestra Hall—virtually
every week throughout the concert season. How does the DSO’s webcast series
operate? In what ways does it contribute to the organization? And given how
critical this digital strategy has been to the DSO’s turnaround after its
near-disastrous strike in 2010–11, why have other orchestras not adopted this
This paper examines the DSO webcast series, the first—and so
far, the only—free, regular classical concert livestreaming service in the
United States. My research combines an archival approach, based on local
newspaper coverage and DSO material, with an ethnographic study including
interviews with the administrative executives, staff, and musicians about the
impetus, strategy, and impact of the orchestra’s webcast series. Helping the
DSO to prevail in the new century, the Live from Orchestra Hall series
has brought about innovative changes without compromising the organization’s
artistic goals. Although the webcast strategy brings no direct financial profit
to the orchestra, its long-term, indirect benefits to the DSO’s image and
revenues could be influential.