Paper Previews: Newton and Lupo on Thompson and Nono!

Date(s) - 03/11/2016
4:30 pm - 5:30 pm

Elebash Recital Hall


Musico-Poetic Phrasing in Four Saints in Three Acts 

Elizabeth Newton

In the modernist opera Four Saints in Three Acts, scholars note a dissonance between Gertrude Stein’s bizarre prose-poetry libretto, which defies linear narrative, and Virgil Thomson’s score, comprising plain carols and hymns. This paper engages music theory and prosody to dissect the relationship between Stein’s syntactical idiosyncrasies and their subsequent musical setting by Thomson. According to the composer, setting Stein’s text required that it first be “mapped into meaningful word-groups.” Apparently, Thomson strove to tidy Stein’s unruly lines, but this paper argues that words and music resist alignment — linguistic and musical divisions undermine one another. Though the opera involves generic musical conventions, when considered at the level of the line, Thomson’s score amplifies rather than resolves the “fragmentary continuity” and chaos of its text. “Act 1” serves as a case study of the work’s syntactic, sonic, and melodic phrasing, during which analytical categories such as cadence, contour, repetition, and rhyme are blurred. By inhabiting visual, aural, and idealized modes of textual involvement, the paper demonstrates that the meeting of words and sounds in Four Saints produces no simple “third space” of musico-poetics, but a fluid continuum of intersections that troubles the border between music and language, in practice and theory. Through focused structural engagement, this paper enriches broader understandings of musico-literary impulses in modernist art.


Non-linearity, Lineage, and Social Engagement in Luigi Nono’s Risonanze erranti: Liederzyklus a Massimo Cacciari

Michael Lupo

Luigi Nono incorporated motivic and textual material from Guillaume de Machaut’s Lay de plour, Johannes Ockeghem’s Malheur me bat, and Josquin des Prez’s Adieu mes amours into his electroacoustic work Risonanze erranti: Liederzyklus a Massimo Cacciari (1986–87) in remembrance of the time he and Bruno Maderna spent analyzing early music. These chansons provide Nono with precompositional material, but they are also audible to varying degrees as “echoes” throughout the piece. As interpolations, these echoes are irregularly recurring, fermata-framed blocks of sound that frequently undergo electronic spatialization. Nono’s treatment of the echoes blurs the distinction between form and content while simultaneously encouraging novel modes of listening.

The following essay provides an examination of the architectural and extra-musical associations embedded inRisonanze’s echoes. Focus here will be limited to what emerges from an analysis of three relationships: that of the echoes treated as a non-contiguous unit, that of a given echo and its surrounding sonic material, and that of an echo and its relationship with its chanson source. Conceptualizing the piece in terms of these relationships facilitates a consideration of the echo blocks on their own, as well as their relationship to one another and to the past. My analysis draws on Jonathan D. Kramer’s The Time of Music, which takes as foundational the perspective that temporality rests in the subjective perception of the auditor. Specifically, his notion of moment time helps to account for the discernment of connectivity within a non-linear structure.

I conclude by situating the compositional techniques described above within the broader context of Nono’s approach to social engagement in the 1980s. By composing music that encouraged auditors to form constellations of meaning within the framework of space and non-linear time, Nono enlists the act of memory, which is essential in making connections between disparate historical moments. The idea of history as non-linear moments connected in individual subjectivity offers Nono a method—one highly inspired by the writings of Gramsci, Marcuse, Benjamin, and Cacciari—for the social liberation of individual perception.




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