Past Seminars: Abstracts

Academic Year 2018-19

Julian Horton (University of Durham), ‘Rethinking Sonata Failure: Structure and Process in Mendelssohn’s Overture Die schöne Melusine‘ (13 February 2019)


Richard Widdess (SOAS, London), ‘Analysis in real time: listeners’ perceptions of Indian music’

How do listeners make sense of unfamiliar music at first hearing, without conscious awareness of its structure or cultural meaning? Further exposure normally leads to increased familiarity and acceptance, but does not depend on gaining explicit knowledge of structure. This capacity to absorb musical languages informally presumably underlies cross-cultural musical exchanges across history, including the international reach of Indian classical music since the 1960s, the rise of other ‘World Music’ genres, and the global spread of Western musical styles.

It appears that listeners are cognitively able to perceive some of the inherent structural features of unfamiliar music, at least implicitly, in real time. Martin Rohrmeier, Tudor Popescu, and myself are investigating processes of implicit learning and segmentation with the help of the sitarist Dharambir Singh. How far are listeners unfamiliar with Indian music able to distinguish the different melodic grammar of two rāgas? Can they detect the hierarchical phrase-structure of the music? In investigating these questions we aimed to avoid the bias towards Western musical genres, and the reliance on artificially generated test materials, conventional in music psychology research. (21 November 2018)


Leah Broad (Christ Church, Oxford), ‘Purely “Incidental”? Analysing Theatre Music’

Music and sound have a profound effect on the way that theatre moves and engages its audience, but we have only a partial understanding of how this achieved. Perhaps because ‘dramatic works typically receive the least recognition or respect’ in musicology, as Eric Saylor puts it, incidental music has been the focus of very little analytical attention. But this is a genre with musical, theatrical, and historical significance. As a popular medium, theatre has wielded significant influence over public attitudes towards events and ideas, and incidental scores have reached audiences of thousands, sometimes millions. But without an analytically informed approach to incidental music, we have a limited understanding of how audiences would have understood any given production.

This paper explores some of the analytical problems and possibilities posed by incidental music. I focus on a single collaboration, looking at Ture Rangström’s music for a 1926 production of August Strindberg’s Till Damaskus (III), directed by Per Lindberg. This comprises nearly an hour of music, including Preludes, Entr’actes, melodrama, and underscoring, so demonstrates many of the challenges that incidental music presents. (7 November 2018)


Peter H. Smith (University of Notre Dame), The “Type-2” Sonata Form in the Nineteenth Century: A Case Study from Mendelssohn’s Octet’ 

This lecture explores musical and theoretical issues raised by a particular type of parallel form that has been interpreted in two strikingly contradictory ways – either as a bi-rotational ‘type-2’ sonata form or as a sonata form with a reversed recapitulation. Insights drawn from Hepokoski & Darcy’s sonata theory, Caplin’s theory of formal functions, and Schenkerian concepts of tonal content argue in favour of a type-2 interpretation of nineteenth-century manifestations. A movement distinguished by its supple form/content synergies serves as a case study: the Andante from Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings in E-flat major, op. 20. Analysis of the Andante demonstrates some of the ways these theories may prove mutually reinforcing, even when they marshal different criteria and model out-of-phase relationships between, say, formal boundaries and Schenkerian tonal pillars. Throughout, the emphasis is on dynamic interactions between a type-2 movement’s generic formal characteristics and its compositional idiosyncrasies. (17 October 2018)