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Studio B • Sunday morning, 10:30–12:00

Copland and Bernstein

Michael Buchler (Florida State University), Chair

Anthony Bushard (University of Nebraska, Lincoln)

“What the Image Allows”: Thomas Newman, Aaron Copland, and a Question of Triads

Thomas Posen (McGill University)

Playing it “Cool”: Serialism and Fugue on Broadway

Abstracts

“What the Image Allows”: Thomas Newman, Aaron Copland, and a Question of Triads

Anthony Bushard (University of Nebraska, Lincoln)

Aaron Copland’s music has continued to provide material for scores ranging from Apollo 13 to The Martian that evoke “wide open spaces,” the “American Dream,” and mankind’s exploration of the self and our existence. Yet, films like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road—scored by Thomas Newman—do not extol the benefits of life in modern society and, instead, examine the isolation and anxiety inherent in the films’ communities.

Contrary to the optimism often perceived in Copland’s dramatic music, his complex piano works can project introspection, anxiety, and isolation. Amidst intense dissonance and dense polyphonic activity in the Variations, Sonata, and Fantasy, Copland tends to ease the volatility with searching melodies, sparse textures, and registral extremes often accompanied by static, open-voiced triads that encourage more focused listening. Similarly, Newman’s piano-dominated, triadic scoring for more intimate suburban settings acts as an audiovisual “zoom” lens that invites viewers to look more closely at suburbia’s troubling realities.

While Copland sought “the note that cost,” Newman prized “what the image allows.” For example, in American Beauty’s iconic “plastic bag” sequence, cinematographer Conrad Hall’s arresting, tripartite framing of Ricky-Jane-bag allowed Newman to respond musically with “Newman triads”: consecutive parallel perfect fifths supporting a widely-spaced melody comprised primarily of corresponding chordal thirds. In this paper, I will examine how “Newman triads” have helped create some of cinema’s most compelling audiovisual alliances by channeling a sense of Copland’s urban loneliness to convey similar feelings and emotions while underscoring suburban narratives, thus reinterpreting conventional appropriation of the Copland trope.

Playing it “Cool”: Serialism and Fugue on Broadway

Thomas Posen (McGill University)

In addition to fugues being rare in Broadway musicals, Bernstein’s “Cool Fugue” from West Side Story (1957) is anything but typical. It might seem surprising to recognize that, in a work intended to sell tickets in the popular sphere, Bernstein included not only a fugue, but a serial fugue. In this paper, I use set-theoretic and transformational tools to show how Bernstein’s “Cool Fugue” from West Side Story (1957) not only opens with a twelve-tone row, but is also structured according to twelve-tone serial principles in its entirety. I analyze aspects of the row and interpret the relationship of subject and answer components by shifting axes of inversion that cause wedging. I formalize these relationships with Klumpenhouwer Networks and show how the networks share positive network isography with set class 3-5 (016), a set class that many of the important motives and even Leitmotivs share.

In the process of analysis, I comment on the phenomenology of even and odd indexes of inversion as they relate to the Transposition Hyperoperator <Tn>. Finally, to show the cyclical serial organization of the fugue, I use Hook’s Uniform Triadic Transformations to model the group of alternating subject and answer components. I show how the serial process interacts with—and helps define—the unfolding fugal process. Although some scholars suggest that Bernstein reinforced pejorative myths of twelve-tone music as a fad of the postwar period, he too “fooled with serialism” and his own serial pieces sometimes made it into places we might least expect.