Thursday 12:45-2:15 ET
Robert Hatten (University of Texas at Austin), Chair
Black Narratives in the White Racial Frame: Dialogue, Persistence, and Structure in Florence Price’s Piano Sonata in E Minor
This paper considers tonal narrative, and its relationship to what Ewell (2020) describes as music’s “white racial frame,” in Florence Price’s Piano Sonata in E Minor (1932). While Brown (1997) describes the sonata as being “in the Romantic tradition,” Price’s harmonic language is often subtly idiosyncratic to the Romantic style. This paper highlights one of these idiosyncrasies, which I have termed non-harmonic persistence: cases wherein inflections of locally non-harmonic pitches—particularly܁ć—undermine conventional tonal hierarchies by treating its relation to Ć as hierarchically undefined (c.f. Harrison 1994; Doll 2017).
Traditionally, tonal narrative strategies often invoke the concept of “heroic overcoming” (Straus 2011), which manifests through normalizing traditional tonal structures while treating elements outside those structures—such as these idiosyncratic, anti-hierarchic, uses of ć —as problems to be subdued (Almén 2008). Such narratives centralize eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European values, a “white worldview [encompassing] persisting. . .racial prejudices, ideologies, interpretations and narratives” (Feagin  2013). Rather than interpreting Price’s harmonic idiosyncrasies within this framework, I propose instead that the resistance to structural integration demonstrated by ć reflects a non-Eurocentric narrative consistent with Price’s personal experiences: an outsider searching for an equal place within a hierarchy designed to exclude all but certain privileged elements.
Ultimately, dismantling music’s white racial frame involves considering different narratives; adopting dialogic models of tonal narrative (Hepokoski and Darcy 2006) decentralizes traditional Eurocentric ideologies, and engages the cultural contexts in which a non-white composer lived as a framework for reflection on how idiosyncratic styles interact with conventional tonal structures.
“Like a Piece of Woven Material”: Unity and Organicism in Elizabeth Maconchy's String Quartet No. 11
Dame Elizabeth Maconchy (1907–1994) is a hugely neglected figure in twentieth-century British music. A student of Vaughan Williams, Maconchy was lauded in Britain throughout her long and productive career as a unique voice in British music. And yet, her music has received very little scholarly attention even amongst scholars of British music, and she is virtually unknown in North America. My goal in this paper is to introduce other scholars to Maconchy’s music and to begin an analytical investigation of her style. Toward this end, this paper provides an analysis of Maconchy’s String Quartet No. 11, a work which Blunnie (2010) calls “the pinnacle of Maconchy’s late style.”
Perhaps the most commonly noted characteristic of Maconchy’s music is its economy, integration, and cohesiveness. Maconchy herself notes this about her music and describes her eleventh quartet as “perhaps the most completely integrated of my quartets” (Maconchy 1989). Taking Maconchy’s comments as a point of departure, my analysis explores the ways in which Maconchy achieves this “completely integrated” structure through her use of inter-movement quotation and developing variation of a small set of motives. Though the eleventh quartet is perhaps the most extreme example of this kind of construction, Maconchy’s concern for unity in this quartet and the techniques by which she achieves it are emblematic of much of her output. It is thus my hope that this paper will engender better understanding not only of this particular quartet but also her unique and compelling musical language as a whole.
A Timbral-Motivic Analysis of Obermüller’s different forms of phosphorus for Solo English Horn
Jaqueline Leclair’s 2020 album, Music for English Horn Alone, represents a landmark for the versatile—but often underestimated—English horn. The album includes the premiere of Karola Obermüller’s different forms of phosphorus. I offer a timbral-motivic analysis of this piece, arguing that formal understanding is best achieved by considering timbre as a primary parameter.
Obermüller’s genius in different forms of phosphorus comes in part from her elegant mastery of motivic narrative. Although the motives include melodic and rhythmic content, their distinct perceptual characters emerge from timbral properties, sometimes evinced by variation of other properties. Four principal motives are woven together to create a musical narrative of coalescence, each dominating one large-scale formal section. The pedal motive is a harmonically rich, sustained tone which explores timbral variation through manipulation of vibrato and microtonality, while the multiphonic motive contributes texture. The singing motive manifests in two versions, keening and plangent, primarily differentiated by registral effects on timbre. The drip-drop motive, characterized by crisp articulation and short durations, interacts with the “extreme reverb” to produce rich, densely layered overtones. These motives begin as apparently separate entities but struggle for integration throughout, culminating in a climactic, energetic stream spiraling out into the ether, leaving the impression that these motivic processes, and their momentum, endure beyond our listening.
Finally, I address how this timbral-motivic approach can be applied to other works, including multi-instrumental music, and I reflect on the piece/analysis in a wider context as they confront three types of underrepresentation within music theory.