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Shifting Meter

Samuel Ng (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music), Chair

Form and Hypermeter in the Songs of Kate Bush

David Forrest (Texas Tech University)

bio for David Forrest

David Forrest serves as the Associate Director for Academic Studies and Associate Professor of Music Theory at the Texas Tech University School of Music. He has presented research across Europe and the United States, predominantly on popular music, the music of Benjamin Britten, and the music of Kate Bush. Dr. Forrest’s work has been published in several journals including Music Theory Spectrum, Music Theory Online, Journal of Mathematics and Music, and College Music Symposium. He currently serves as President of the Texas Society for Music Theory.


Kate Bush’s unique songwriting has been examined and celebrated in terms of harmony, lyrics, vocal technique, and studio effects (Moy 2007; Cawood 2016; Forrest 2021). This paper examines how her songs make expressive use of hypermetric disruptions. These patterns foreshadow the temporal experimentation in her final two albums (Withers 2017). While small, temporary disruptions in hypermeter are common in popular songs, Bush songs employ these disruptions with much more frequency and variety than those of her contemporaries, placing her songs in dialogue with studies of expressive use of hypermetric disruptions, such as Cohn 1992. This paper examines hypermetric groupings in Bush’s most successful songs and categorizes the disruptions into three functions: extension, expansion, and truncation. This paper also explores how these disruptions contribute to both delineating and blurring formal boundaries as well as painting the given song’s narrative. 

To determine a song’s meter, this paper relies primarily on rhythmic ostinato, harmonic rhythm, and, following De Clercq 2016, absolute time. To determine hypermetric groups, this paper examines harmonic and melodic repetition, accompaniment patterns, texture and timbre changes, and harmonic and melodic phrasing. While, in many popular songs, these elements combine to show clear hypermetric patterns, Bush’s songs frequently set these elements at odds with each other. Therefore, this list is in prioritized order.

Supplementary Material(s)

Mixed Rhythms in Chopin’s Ballades and Scherzos

Soo Kyung Chung (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music)

bio for Soo Kyung Chung

Soo Kyung Chung is a PhD candidate in Music Theory at the University of Cincinnati, College- Conservatory of Music. She is currently writing a dissertation on large-scale form in Chopin’s Ballades regarding both Sonata Theory and phrase-rhythmic perspectives. She recently presented a paper, “Four-Rotation Sonata Form in Chopin’s First Ballade, op. 23,” at the European Music Analysis Conference.


Scholars of phrase rhythm have examined various relationships between hypermeasures and melodic groups. However, not all theoretically possible phrase-rhythmic patterns have received adequate attention. Drawing from Chopin’s Ballades and Scherzos, I illuminate in this paper some hitherto unexplored phrase-rhythmic types and their interaction with the more familiar types. 

The two most discussed phrase-rhythmic types in the existing literature are beginning- and end-accented rhythms, respectively denoted as 1–2–3–4 and 2–3–4–1 (Rothstein 2011, Ito 2013). Two other possible rotations, 3–4–1–2 and 4–1–2–3, have received some consideration as well (McKee 2004, Ng 2021). Additionally, when a phrase is extended, the resulting five-hyperbeat pattern 1–2–3–4–1 features both beginning-and end-accented characteristics at the same time, and Ng (2021) calls this “mixed rhythm.” 

I expand the possibilities for mixed rhythms beyond the 1–2–3–4–1 type to 2–3–4–1–2, 3–4–1–2–3, and 4–1–2–3–4, and argue that these four mixed rhythms play two crucial roles in Chopin’s form. Mixed rhythms either delineate thematic zones in conjunction with a cadence or give rise to irregular melodic groups. In the latter case, mixed rhythms interact with not only four-, but also three-, and even five-hyperbeat patterns without interfering with the prevailing quadruple hypermeter. In order to demonstrate the interplay between mixed rhythms and familiar phrase-rhythmic types, I propose what I call a “Pandora space,” which expands Ng’s cyclic space by interspersing the four mixed rhythms among the four-hyperbeat patterns. 

Supplementary Material(s)

Dancing with the Devil: Liszt’s Diabolical Metric Cycles

Robert L. Wells (University of Mary Washington)

bio for Robert L. Wells

Robert Wells is Assistant Professor of Music Theory, Director of Keyboard Studies, and director of the Indian Music Ensemble at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He earned Master’s degrees in Music Theory and Piano and his Ph.D. in Music Theory from Eastman. Robert has presented at conferences including the SMT Annual Meeting, Music Theory Southeast, “The Improvising Brain III,” and the Analytical Approaches to World Music conference. His work on metric conflict in Liszt and South Indian Carnatic music can be found in Music Theory Online and the Analytical Approaches to World Music journal.


While Franz Liszt’s progressive harmonic, formal, and thematic principles have received great scholarly attention, explorations of his idiosyncratic rhythmic/metric language have been relatively few. The metrically jarring opening to Totentanz and curious uses of hypermeter in Mephisto Waltz No. 1, however, suggest that Liszt’s metric language warrants deeper exploration. Specifically, in both pieces, initial metric tensions are but the start of a larger metric narrative involving cycles of heard downbeats against an underlying notated meter/hypermeter. As such, in the current presentation, I investigate how cycles of shifting heard “downbeats” shape Totentanz and the Mephisto Waltzes locally and globally. 

To accomplish these goals, I will expand upon Ng’s (2005; 2006) “hemiolic cycle,” which models leftward-shifting heard “downbeats” in triple meter. Because Liszt’s metric cycles are not limited to triple meter, I will generalize Ng’s hemiolic cycle using Wells’s (2017) GISB, a Lewinian generalized interval system that measures transformations within an idealized notated measure. The resulting “positive/negative n-cycles,” where n is the notated meter, will form a backdrop for analyses of these fiery Liszt works. In short, a positive/negative n-cycle is a progressive shift of the apparent “downbeat” by ±1 beat with respect to the notated measure. Through cycle-based analyses of Totentanz and Mephisto Waltzes 1-4, this presentation will provide new metric insights into Liszt’s virtuosic writing while providing new tools for metric analysis writ large.

Supplementary Material(s)