Jan 092009


To analyze Josquin is to confront, head on, the incommensur­ability between analytical systems and true artistic greatness.  There is a sense in which approaching him with modern tools of dissection is catching sand in a sieve; no tool of deeper analysis — of the sort favored by composers and theoreticians from the common practice period to the present — will ever yield an entirely satisfactory understanding of his music.  The analysis may indeed provide insight into the less fundamental levels of a works’ structure: motivic parsing may yield a facile understanding of the linear building blocks of a work, and the study of fugal techniques might explain, simply enough, the manner of their deployment. But all of this is on the surface. At the basic, “skeletal” level, an ordinary structural analysis turns up strangely blank. When we ask the most important question—the question of what gives the work meaning, direction, unity—the answer proves opaque.  The explanation why follows an obscure path outward, through questions that are technical, linguistic, and finally philosophical.

There are probably three fundamental paradigms through which the deeper structure of music can be approached.  These I will term, for the sake of this argument, the Schenkerian, the Schoenbergian, and the architectonic.  Each must be carefully turned over, its relevance to the music of the early Renaissance deciphered, and the rest, for the moment, thrown out.  From the remnants, and from a largely unguided study of the score of Josquin’s Missa L’Homme Armé Super Voces Musicales, I will attempt to construct a method which is technically and philosophically coherent with Josquin’s music.  This, hopefully, will itself provide further insight into the score.

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Dec 052008

In the literature on Schoenberg, there is surprisingly little material that deals comprehensively with his relation to the broader intel­lectual trends of fin-de-siècle Vienna.  We are provided with snap­shots, from this angle or that; the full picture remains elusive.

The contemporary interpretations we have of Schoenberg’s relation to his Viennese milieu fall, broadly speaking, into two categories.  These categories reflect two competing interpretations of his broader musical significance, which themselves correspond to two distinct and occasionally contradictory sides of Schoenberg’s nature.  These interpretations we may call the rational-technical, and the ethical-religious.  There are also, notably, a small number of works that attempt to synthesize these two approaches, but as of yet none do full justice to their subject. It is in this field—the consideration of Schoenberg in his sometimes paradoxical totality—that the richest work remains to be done.


The first school of interpretation, and that which was predominant for much of the mid-twentieth century, is the rational-technical.  This itself is intimately related to the school of technical analysis which tends to address itself exclusively to the linguistic and formal elements of Schoenberg’s musical language.

The rational-technical interpretation of Schoenberg might also be called the positivist interpretation.  Those who endorse this view of Schoenberg tend to see him, where they relate him to contemporary intellectual phenomena, predominantly in the light of the logical positivism of the Wiener Kreis, or Vienna Circle, a discussion group that grew up around the philosopher Moritz Schlick.  They also, concordantly, place considerable emphasis on Schoenberg’s relation to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the most important philosophical document of the period, and one by which the logical positivists set considerable store.

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Dec 012008

Hannah will be playing with violinist Robin Scott in Weill Hall, Sunday afternoon, December 14 at 3:00 PM. They are playing the Schubert “Duo” Sonata in A, D.574.

Shelley and I are planning to go.  If you are in New York, please come.  It should be a nice afternoon of music; on the same program with Hannah and Robin, Lisa Stepanova and Dina Nesterenko are playing the Beethoven Violin Sonata in G, Op. 96, and the Cha Dan Trio is playing the Beethoven Trio in G, Op. 1 no. 2. 

Unfortunately, it costs money — tickets are available here.


Update:  It was indeed a nice afternoon.  Here are the first two movements of the “Duo” — recorded a month or so earlier: