February 20, 9:00–10:30 EST
"Foundations, Form, and Flow: Analytical Approaches to 20th- and 21st-Century Music”
Ralph Lewis, "Revisiting the Music Box-Like Foundations of Rebecca Saunders' Compositions"
When the news broke in 2019 that composer Rebecca Saunders received the Ernst von Siemens Prize in recognition of her compositions, it was a rare moment for American musicians to discuss her music publicly. As Saunders’ music increasingly appears on US concert programs, revisiting the fundamental elements of her work and how they inform her most recent output will ideally support scholars, performers and new listeners as they encounter her music for the first time.
Throughout her career, the ways Saunders curates fundamental elements in her works have made her stand out amongst other European Post-Serial composers. She artfully sets critical parameters (including instrumentation, harmonic language, and timbral expression) into such narrow yet rewarding circumstances that the choices themselves almost intimate the totality of the resulting piece. This design-minded pre-compositional approach, as seen in pieces such as Blue and Gray, where Saunders employs two five-string basses in specific scordatura that support the overall harmonic choices, shows the extent that this approach can shape her works.
Drawing on my earlier research about Saunders’ approach, my presentation compares and contrasts these fundamental tendencies throughout her first two decades of compositional output and newer works that build specifically on those experiences and relationships, including how the earlier metaphorical music box-building has now at times given way to pieces for actual music boxes and how Saunders’ specificity feeds seamlessly into her ongoing series of collage pieces.
Rachel Gain, "The Recapitulation as Site of Formal Tension in Hindemith's Wind Sonatas"
In this paper, I demonstrate that Hindemith’s sonata forms share an underlying formal narrative, resulting from adjusted tonal expectations in his tonal syntax. Large-scale tension is created through deformations—tonal or otherwise—to the recapitulation of the primary theme, rather than through the traditional polarization of keys in the exposition. The tension created by recapitulation deformations is resolved outside of sonata space, thus requiring bespoke compositional solutions and producing unique structures. These include codas and additional movements which use primary theme material and the reversal of theme ordering to end with the originally disrupted primary theme in the tonic key.
Amy King, "Sounds of Poetry in Britten's 'Death, be not proud'"
In this paper, I demonstrate how examining the relationship of words and music in art song through poetic and musical traditions provides insight into musical structure and its constituents. I use linguistic tools with parallel music-analytic tools from Lerdahl and Jackendoff’s work (1983) to explore the relationship of text and music in Benjamin Britten’s setting of John Donne’s, “Death, be not proud.” I compare the poem’s rhythm, meter, and grouping with the same in Britten’s musical setting to place the two media in direct conversation. In the analysis of the poem, I discuss sonnet form and show how these elements create sonnet structure and explore the same in Britten’s setting. I also discuss how these elements influence semantics and artistic interpretation. Through this exploration of Britten and Donne’s relationship as composer and poet, I show that comparative analysis provides opportunity to explore how composers converse with the poets whose poems they set.
February 27, 10:30–12:00 EST
"Looking Forward, Looking Back: Musical and Cultural Influence from J. S. Bach to Wesley Willis”
Keir GoGwilt, "Studies on Westhoff: Practicing History and Futurity in the Work of J. S. Bach and Carolyn Chen"
In 2016, I commissioned, premiered, and recorded composer Carolyn Chen’s solo violin piece, “Study on Westhoff Partita in d minor.” Chen’s study dissects and re-assembles Johann Paul von Westhoff’s Partita (1695) over twenty-eight minutes. The elderly Westhoff wrote this Partita a few years prior to moving to the court of Weimar. These last years of his life overlapped with J.S. Bach’s early career as section violinist in the Weimar court orchestra.
I offer a transhistorical analysis of Westhoff’s D minor Partita, Chen’s study on the same Partita, and two movements – the C Major Fugue, and the D minor Chaconne – from Bach’s solo violin Sonatas and Partitas (1720). Westhoff’s music influenced the violin works of both Bach and Chen. However, while Bach’s compositional technique furthers Westhoff’s abstraction of “dance genres in a sonata manner” (Ledbetter, Unaccompanied Bach, 2010), Chen severs Westhoff’s writing from its historical forms and functions.
I argue that Chen’s anachronistic play with Westhoff’s materials evidence a very different relationship to history, futurity, and creativity than Bach’s. Bach was composing during the emergence of German literary culture, which “became the only network of shared concerns crossing barriers that divided one locality from another” (Celia Applegate, Bach in Berlin, 48). Bach’s work later became central to the similarly consolidating mission of 19th-century German music, most visibly represented by Mendelssohn’s 1829 performance of the St. Matthew Passion. By contrast, Chen’s music and writings reflect upon capitalist overproduction, at a time in which exponential population growth, looming ecological catastrophes, and global information networks challenge our understanding of human subjectivity in the present and future.
Courtney Nichols, "How the Womyn's Music Movement Shaped Rock n'Roll"
Because women have different life experiences than men, the influences for the participants of the Women’s Music Movement differ than those of the men in rock n’ roll. In this paper, drawing upon historical analysis of women musicians’ experience in rock music before and after the advent of the 1970s Women’s Music Movement and musical analysis of the topic’s explored in those women’s songs, I will argue that the Women’s Music Movement (1970-1994) and musical analysis of the topics explores in those women’s songs, I will argue that the Movement increased the number of women who participated as creators in the rock genre and likewise shaped the optics the musicians of the Movement wrote about.
Overall, rock n’ roll was a gendered male-perspective genre whose topics were often centered around sex, rebellion, and drug use. However in the 1970s, the Women’s Music Movement began to steadily increase in popularity as women desired songs that they could relate to. The musicians of this movement, including Meg Christian (b. 1946), Holly Near (b. 1949), Cris Williamson (b. 1947), and many others, sought to avoid stereotypical topics. For example, Meg Christian, as one of the founders of Olivia Records wanted to write songs about “our (women’s) life experiences” including the social, political, and economic inequality women experienced (Pollock 1987). Many of the artists involved in this movement were inspired by Second Wave Feminism and the Gay Rights Movement to use their music and voices and express the hardships of being gay and/or of being a woman.
Luke Hayden, "Exorcising Demons: Poverty and Crime in the Music of Wesley Willis"
African-American, Avant-Garde, Rock n’ Roll composer-performer and internationally acclaimed visual artist, Wesley Willis was very influential in the punk-rock and hardcore scenes in his native city of Chicago and nationally throughout his nearly 15 year career as a rock star and was signed to Alternative Tentacles and later to American Recordings. While he is most well known for his three-volume Greatest Hits album and his “hell ride” or beastiality songs, in this paper I will explore the ways that Wesley Willis depicts his life in inner-city Chicago and the themes of poverty, violence, and policing that are found spread across his more than forty albums.