Music Theory Pedagogy Panel: "Analysis and Performance Across the Canon"

October 1, 2007

College Music Society 2005 Meeting, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

1. Kristin Wendland, "The Allure of Tango: Grafting Traditional Performance Practice and Style onto Art-Tangos"

2. Jocelyn Neal, "When Recollection is All We've Got: Analytical Exploration of 'Catchy' Songs"

3. Jinmi Huh Davidson, "The Creation of Miari by Lee Geon-Yong: The Role of Analysis in Contemporary Korean Music"

4. Eric McKee, "The Topic of the Sacred Hymn in Beethoven's Instrumental Music"

5. Matthew Shaftel and Christopher Swanson, "The Problem with Beautiful Singing"

A Response by Robert Hatten

These five essays explore often widely divergent aspects in the relatively new study of relationships between analysis and performance. Ryan McClelland's introduction to this emerging field, "Performance and Analysis Studies," adroitly implies a reversal in the hierarchical relationship between analyses—often conceived by theorists as primary—and performances, which inform analyses in ways that are rarely explicitly acknowledged.1 One of the leading scholars in this field, Nicholas Cook, also stresses the importance of performance in its interactions with analysis, drawing on arguments by Judith Butler and Lawrence Rosenwald to suggest that "performance should be seen as a source of signification in its own right," one which "does not simply 'express', 'project', or 'bring out' originary meaning."2 Cook expands the purview of performance by noting the "performative" character of analysis, which is best understood as "a promise: it is an action disguised as a statement of fact." Thus, analysis is considered by Cook as no more authoritative or originary than performance, with respect to the cultural work that it achieves.3

Cook further recommends a "shift from a text-based to a performance-based understanding of music,"4 and Jocelyn Neal exemplifies this shift in her emphasis on the role of performance in revealing the cultural meaning of a song. Her analysis of spontaneous group participation in singing a familiar tune highlights the ease with which metric ambiguity can be accommodated, as well as the playfulness that characterizes performances of popular songs. In her final example, a failed performance provides a clue to the hidden complexity of a country music tune, revealing the ideological underpinnings of its genre. In such cases, apparent simplicity may be a semiotic cue for authenticity, yet subtle complexities may go unnoticed by the untutored listener who later attempts to sing the song from memory. That complexity in turn suggests greater artistry, here translated into the higher status accorded a recorded performance by a superstar who captures those hidden complexities without disturbing the apparent simplicity of the surface.

While "impromptu, informal performances" certainly provide unique and compelling evidence of how—and what—listeners remember about a recorded performance, it should be noted that the superstar's recording remains available for subsequent consultation by fans who might want to go further into subtleties of intonation and gesture, for example. What is fascinating is how superstars' recordings take on more authority than a score (which, of course, may not always exist, and in any case would rarely be available to the listening fan in other than watered down popular arrangements).

Jinmi Davidson's essay further underlines the importance of performance, extending in her spectacular case study to collaboration and audience participation in the creative process, incorporation into the production process, and even inclusion as part of the critical reception of the music. The initial collaboration begins with a skilled performer (Jeon Gyeong-ok), whose mastery of vocal styles and their application to political protest songs is then embedded in a cultural movement featuring integration of art song and popular song. At this point, the communal participation of devoted fans, both trained and untrained, contributes to the evolution of a style and its multiple products, effectively turning the Romantic model of creativity (and performance) on its head. Now, there is no longer a single genius, a single work, or a single, authoritative recording of a performance. Furthermore, the community's reception is not merely critical, but also transformative; they have not only learned the songs but appropriated them to a distinct ideological end. What Davidson reveals is a stunning exemplification of Cook's thesis, only in this case the entire community has participated in the performance of cultural work.

Although this music was not written for a mass market, I wonder if its fate is to be marketed as "world music" and to be consumed as yet another species of the "characteristic." If so, it will have in turn been "re-appropriated" by those international listeners whose focus will inevitably shift to its presumed aesthetic value, as opposed to its original cultural meaning.

The "vibrant hybridism" that Davidson examines is also found in Kristin Wendland's presentation of unabashed appropriations of the tango by modernist Western composers. As Wendland demonstrates, characteristic features of the tango are grafted onto modernist styles by individual composers who appear far less concerned with cultural work than with aesthetic labor. In some of her examples one can hear the tango as a template, a trunk upon which modernist styles are grafted—not unlike Schoenberg's grafting of serial atonality onto the movements of a suite. Although characteristic rhythmic gestures alone would signify tango, clearly these composers have absorbed other features of what one might consider a tango topic, and Wendland presents a spectacular example in John Cage's "palimpsest"—an art-tango that overwrites another art-tango by Erik Satie.

I wonder what we might learn from the specifically performative aspects of tango, for example, the gestural rubati and accentuation that so evocatively embody dance gestures and their erotic significance. Here, an analysis of Ivar Mikhashoff's rubati in his recorded performances would be revealing. One rhythmic feature not captured in the piano arrangements of the originals (see Wendland's Example 1) is the march-like thumping on every eighth note, which suggests a quadruple 4/8 rather than the slow 2/4 that is notated.

Just as contemporary composers play topically with the tango, Beethoven is a master of allusion through his use of topics. Eric McKee provides an impressive body of intertextual evidence for his discovery and description of a topic which, like the tango, turns out to possess some rather specific cue features. This particular "sacred hymn" is harmonically marked by the progression I-V-vi in major, which might seem surprising if one considers the use of the progression for the deceptive cadence. But its placement at the beginning of a phrase alludes to a familiar Baroque descending-third sequence (as exemplified by the familiar Pachelbel canon): I-V-vi-iii-IV-I-(V-I). Thus, some of its significance may be due to its evocation of a venerable and perhaps authoritative earlier style. This sequence also gains liturgical association from its use in the threefold Amen. However, the sequence also appears in places where it does not carry spiritual associations, such as the finale of the Piano Sonata in G, op. 79, where it appears with alternating first inversions, a fast tempo, and a playful motive; or the more subtle opening of the Piano Sonata in E, op. 109, which Beethoven may originally have sketched as a bagatelle.5 These examples would take us far from McKee's topical boundaries, but note that they do not share the tempo or the root-position setting of McKee's examples, and thus those aspects are clearly part of the definition of the stylistic type.

McKee next attempts to motivate this harmonic cue by applying some of Mark Johnson's bodily-based image-schemata. Although the argument helps to explain the expressive opposition between I-V7-vi and I-V7-I, the same argument could apply equally well in differentiating the progression I-V7-viio7/vi and I-V7-I. Since the dissonant move to viio7/vi is not part of the definition of the sacred hymn topic, further specification of diatonic harmonic function (clearly, a stylistic criterion) might usefully supplement the image schematic argument, with its sole reliance on basic bodily analogies. McKee's suggestions for performing this progression are artistic and provide insight into the spiritual meaning of this emerging topic: "a slight subito drop in dynamics" and "a break in articulation" before the vi chord, to help mark gesturally the submediant as a realm one can only enter through "self-surrender."

The importance of bodily performance is also crucial to Matthew Shaftel's and Christopher Swanson's essay, which is the only one that focuses specifically on pedagogyhere, with reference to the undergraduate vocal student studying Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin. The conflict between an ideal physical employment of the voice (the bel canto of trained artistic vocal production) and those compromises necessitated by a particular song's text-motivated disjunctions (leaps, changing tessitura, etc.) is resolved, and often quite poetically, in the direction of the latter. For example, we learn that "the difficulty the singer has in finding a breath in the second half of the song ["Das Wandern"] supports the breathless enthusiasm of the character." While this is a compelling suggestion, one might also caution that text-expression not become an excuse for a young singer who lacks sufficient flexibility to sing both expressively and with beautiful tone.

Despite a number of helpful, specific suggestions (for memorization, as well as for performance), the authors' advice to the performers at times falls back on familiar generalizations. For example, how, if one knows the variations on the underlying strophic design in "Wohin," might one "be able to reflect the shifts in character implied therein"? Or, how might performers convey a phrase that is both an end and a beginning? Are there analytical observations that go beyond specific performance realizations in these cases? Are there perhaps also structures that need not, or should not, be underlined, as in an overly pedantic performance?6 Such questions may spur further refinements in the pedagogy of performance and analysis.

These essays suggest an array of approaches available to theorists and performers interested in artistic collaboration, or in other explorations of the interface between performance and analysis. Studies such as Shaftel's and Swanson's will increasingly influence the way performance is taught. Just as importantly, the essays by Neal, Davidson, Wendland, and McKee stand as models of the distinctive ways in which theory can be "performed," to the benefit of analyst as well as performer.

List of References

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Cook, Nicholas. "Analyzing Performance and Performing Analysis," in Rethinking Music, ed. Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 239-61.

________. "Music as Performance," in The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, ed. Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert, and Richard Middleton (New York and London: Routledge, 2003), 204-14.

Hatten, Robert S. Review-article, John Rink, ed., The Practice of Performance (Cambridge, 1995), Indiana Theory Review 17:1 (Spring, 1996), 87-117.

Kinderman, William. Beethoven. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

McClelland, Ryan. "Performance and Analysis Studies," Indiana Theory Review 24 (Spring/Fall, 2003), 95-106.

Rink, John, ed. The Practice of Performance: Studies in Musical Interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Rosenwald, Lawrence. "Theory, Text-setting, and Performance." Journal of Musicology 11 (1993), 52-65.

Rothstein, William. "Analysis and the Act of Performance," in Rink, ed., The Practice of Performance (Cambridge, 1995), 217-40.


1McClelland, "Performance and Analysis Studies" (a helpful list of references is appended to this article). See also the important collection of essays edited by Rink, The Practice of Performance, and the review by Hatten.

2Cook, "Analyzing Performance," 247; Butler, Gender Trouble, 25; Rosenwald, "Theory, Text-setting, and Performance," 62.

3Cook, "Analyzing Performance," 257.

4Cook, "Music as Performance," 205.

5Kinderman, Beethoven, 219.

6Rothstein, "Analysis and the Act of Performance," 218-19.

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