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Oxford Seminar in Music Theory & Analysis: Richard Cohn (Yale University)

October 20 @ 4:30 pm - 6:00 pm


Slow Pulses: Do they Exist? Are they Aesthetically Relevant? Can We Feel Them in the Gut?

Music psychologists have found robust evidence that isochronous segments slower than two seconds are processed differently from metric pulses, leading many music theorists to the view that they are aspects of a distinct system associated with phrase structure and form.  However, composers sometimes treat slow isochronous segments as if they were metric, subjecting them to large-scale hemiolas. Moreover, the large-scale ‘hemiola-like things’ often interact, either directly or by association, with small-scale hemiolas that are uncontroversially metric, suggesting that the composers are conceiving of them as if they were part of a single system of relations. I examine two examples, from Franck’s Les Djinns, and from the Scherzo of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. A weak conclusion is that, even if slow and fast isochronies are sequestered into two distinct systems, it is in our interest as listeners, performers and analysts to pretend (imagine) that they are fused into a single system, as these composers evidently did. (This follows from the assumption that artists are licensed to imagine structures that are beyond human capacities—what might it be like to fly like a bird?— and that listeners and analysts are licensed to accompany artists on the journey). More strongly, I offer several different inductive and deductive perspectives that will make analysts, etc., more comfortable with the proposition that slow pulses ‘actually are’ aspects of a metric system, in certain contexts.

About the speaker:

Richard Cohn is Battell Professor of the Theory of Music at Yale University. He has also taught in the Music Department at the University of Chicago. In 2004 he founded Oxford Studies in Music Theory, which he edited for Oxford University Press for ten years. He is currently Executive Editor of the Journal of Music Theory. Early articles of his focused on the music of Bartók and Schenkerian theory. Subsequent work made major contributions to the development of neo-Riemannian theory. His book Audacious Euphony: Chromatic Harmony and the Triad’s Second Nature was published by OUP in 2012. He is currently working on a general model of musical metre with applications for European, African and African-diasporic music. His articles have twice earned the Society for Music Theory’s Outstanding Publication Award.

Please click here to register for this event. Please note that places are limited and registration closes at 4pm on Tuesday 19 October.

About the series:

The Oxford Seminar in Music Theory & Analysis (OSiMTA) meets two or three times a term. Its convenors are Professor Jonathan Cross and Dr Sebastian Wedler.

Our conception of theory and analysis is critical, plural and interdisciplinary. In shaping the seminars, we aim to reflect the broad range of activity taking place under the heading of theory and analysis today, as well as to challenge boundaries, embracing not only ‘conventional’ practices, histories of theory and repertoires, but also new interdisciplinary approaches that engage with cultural studies, ethnomusicology, aesthetics and philosophy, psychology, politics, performance studies, popular music studies, and so on. Speakers include distinguished local, national and international scholars.

Most seminars are open to all, including the general public. Sessions will last 90 minutes and lively discussion is encouraged. They take place on Wednesday afternoons, beginning at 16.30 (currently via Zoom).

Regular updates, including sign-up details, will appear on the OSiMTA pages. You can also follow OSiMTA on Twitter. For further information email Jonathan.Cross@music.ox.ac.uk or Sebastian.Wedler@music.ox.ac.uk.


October 20
4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Category: