The Online Program of events for the 2023 AMS & SMT Joint Annual Meeting appears below. This program is subject to change. The final program will be published in early November.
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Text and Music
Text, Texture, and Timbre: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Art Song
University of Oregon
Collaborative pianists often begin studying an art song by looking at its text to understand its story. A vocalist, however, would also study the vowels and consonants of the poetry—that is, the phonemes—that create meaningful and expressive sound combinations. And, when meeting in rehearsal, different elements emerge as a result of collaboration: a wide variety of textures and timbres from the softest whispers to the most powerful climaxes.
What bearing does art-song performance have on art-song analysis? My paper addresses this question by transforming these performance-study methods into a music-analytical approach that allows us to study text, texture, and timbre in art song from a fully interdisciplinary perspective. First, I draw upon work by music theorist Stephen Rodgers and poet Robert Pinsky, who offer tools for understanding the sonic aspects of poetry, from harsh, plosive consonants to liquid [l]’s and from closed [u] vowels to open [a]’s. Second, I borrow Victoria Malawey’s terms for describing vocal timbres in popular song, especially her adjectives such as tense, lax, rough, breathy, warm, and bright. Finally, I employ Jennifer Beavers’s analytical tools for describing color in orchestral timbres, adapting them to the piano. Together, these three strategies build a new framework for analyzing the sound of art song.
Using this framework, I compare three songs by the Belgian-born British composer Poldowski (1879-1932): “Crepuscule,” “En sourdine,” and “Spleen,” with texts by the French poet Paul Verlaine. In my analysis, I observe how text, texture, and timbre express the dramatic arc of Verlaine’s poetry and Poldowski’s art songs. Ultimately, this project seeks better ways to explain the full expressive capability of art song beyond its notes and rhythms. These three elements - text, texture, and timbre - work together in art song to create musical trajectories from the softest lamento to the most powerful appasionato moments. My interdisciplinary approach combines analytical perspectives from poetry, popular song, and orchestral music, providing a particularly powerful set of tools for mapping these trajectories in new ways.
Paths Toward bII and Revelations of Loss in Brahms’s Songs
Eastman School of Music
The semantic value of chromaticism in Brahms’s music has been widely established (Webster 1978, 1979, Samarotto 2007, Klorman 2014). Yet the attention paid to bII has largely focused on its function in the sonatas and chamber works from the 1860s and 1890s (Wintle 1987, Smith 1998), thus neglecting its expressive role in Brahms’s songs. This paper argues that late-arriving tonicizations of bII in Brahms’s songs actualize revelations of loss in recurring poetic narratives. En route to bII, chromatic paths through bVI or bIII, and enharmonic reinterpretations of V7 and Ger 65 create tonal ambiguities that model “psychologically transformative moments” (Platt 2018) or “turning points” (Hühn 2005) in which the protagonist represses the pain of lost love, despite ultimately succumbing to it when bII is tonicized. Close analysis of “Die Mainacht” (op. 43 no. 2) and “An ein Veilchen” (op. 49 no. 2) will prepare an overview of further examples of this narrative type in Brahms’s Lieder: "Wie bist du, meine Königen" (op. 32 no. 9), “Vorüber” (op. 58 no. 7), and “Nachtigall” (op. 97 no. 1).
Chromatic events in the ABA1 forms of “Die Mainacht” and “An ein Veilchen” convey three poetic-narrative stages and foreshadow a tonicization of bII. In “Die Mainacht,” passage through bIII implies that the nightingale exacerbates the protagonist’s loneliness. A derailed cadence in bVI portrays the protagonist’s turn away from cooing doves who trigger painful memories of lost love. Brahms tonicizes Fb-major when the protagonist indulges the pain of loss, signified by a hot tear.
In “An ein Veilchen” an unresolved V/vi alludes to a melancholy message, embodied by tears that the protagonist wishes to hide in a violet. An unresolved V7/bII conveys the protagonist’s longing that the violet communicate his anguish to his lost beloved. Brahms tonicizes bII to underline the revealed message: having wept his life away, the protagonist longs for death.
Through close analyses of chromatic processes that foreshadow bII, this paper further aligns narratives in Brahms’s songs with “expressive genres” (Hatten 1994) and “narrative archetypes” (Almén 2008).
Singing Lyrics to Life: Melody and Lyrical Meaning in Recent Singer-Songwriter Music
University of Oregon
In popular song genres (and across song genres), melody plays a vital role in delivery of sung lyrics; it contributes an essential aspect of lyrics’ affect and meaning. Scholars in the field of popular music have historically preferred to focus on other aspects of lyrics’ relationship to its musical setting, such as rhythm, phonetics, and syntax. Less attention has been paid to lyrics’ relationship to one of its primary components: melody. Allan Moore (2016) discusses melodic contour types such as falling, rising, flat, and undulating, and David Temperley (2018) explores melodic contour as it relates to phrase structure and motive. However, melodic contour’s relationship to and inflection of lyrical meaning remains underexplored, especially the direct link between pitch contour of melody and pitch contour of speech intonation.
In my analyses, I study three primary ways in which melodic contour inflects lyrics, using examples from recent singer-songwriter music: through stress on melodic high or low points, through motivic/syntactic relationships, and through overall contour shape and character. For example, the first verses of Keaton Henson’s song, “Sweetheart, What Have You Done To Us” and Billie Eilish’s song “when the party’s over” both use questions in their lyrics, however the former utilizes falling melodic contours, whereas the latter uses rising melodic contours, each imparting a different affect and meaning. Together, these songs demonstrate how melody inflects lyrical meaning and affect at the intersection of music and language. Even in popular songs whose lyrics do not exist as pre-existing texts, melodic contour inflects our understanding of lyrical meaning, much as speech intonation does in spoken language.
The Energetics of Florence Price’s Caged Birds
Michigan State University
The image of the caged bird, as depicted in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy” (1899), has exerted a remarkable influence on Black American culture broadly and on Black female poets in particular. The image appears in Georgia Douglas Johnson’s poem “The Heart of a Woman” (1918); it inspired several works by Maya Angelou, including her poem “Caged Bird” (1983); and it returns in a veiled manner in Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” (2021).
The image was equally inspirational to Florence Price, who set both Dunbar’s poem and Johnson’s to song (1940s). Rae Linda Brown (2020) reads the latter setting as an autobiographical reflection of Price’s intersectional experience as a Black woman, and I make a similar argument for Price’s Dunbar setting. Namely, Price’s setting gives voice to a singing protagonist whose rhythms sympathetically enact the caged bird’s struggle for freedom, a protagonist we may in turn read as the Black female composer.
I frame this interpretation through E. T. Cone’s (1974; 1992) theory of persona and Yonatan Malin’s (2008) rhythm-based energetics, extending Malin’s energetics to include aspects of rhythm other than surface syncopation. In Price’s setting, rhythm is manipulated at several different levels, including: (1) durational syncopation, (2) syncopated stressed syllables, (3) large-scale syncopation between poetic form and musical form, and (4) a corresponding syncopation between phrase form, syntax, and rhyme. In the context of these manipulations, the song’s melodic climax seems not one of freedom gained but of painful acceptance of the protagonist’s lived experience.
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