Saturday morning, November 7, 10–10:50 CST

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Forces, Energy, and Balance

Sarah Marlowe (Eastman School of Music), Chair

A Performative Perspective of Voice Leading

Peter Franck (Western University)

Peter Franck is Associate Professor of Music Theory at Western University, Canada. His articles concerning the intersection of invertible counterpoint with Schenkerian theory and musical form appear in Music Theory Spectrum, Indiana Theory Review, Theory and Practice, Intégral and Intersections.


Recent research concerning embodied cognition and agency showcases how a performative perspective impacts music analysis: De Souza 2018 treats musical instruments as spaces through which performers may navigate and Klorman 2016 treats instruments within chamber works as characters between whom may engage in conversation. Both approaches make correspondences between actions of real performers or idealized instruments and abstract models, such as networks of fretboard shapes or formal functions. These correspondences demonstrate that a performative perspective involves an interface between physical actions and theoretical frameworks. Viewed this way, a performative perspective is neither entirely physically grounded nor abstractly oriented, but rather situated on a continuum between these poles. Such a context enables analysts to confer agency upon performers by making them obvious representatives of physicality. But the continuum along which the performative perspective resides enables any phenomenon—physical or abstract—to play such roles. Indeed, Schenker often imparts agency to abstract constructs. For instance, he writes, “The fundamental structure is always creating, always present and active” (Schenker 1979, 18). A performative perspective, thus, permits analysts to grant agency to any phenomenon they see fit, be it a performer, instrument, or linear progression, to name just a few. With this broad interpretation in mind, the paper explores how a performative perspective can enhance analysis by endowing voice-leading strands with agency. The paper first presents models adapted from cognitive linguistics for explaining meanings of concepts related to causation and then applies them to analyses of select works.

Bach’s Energetic Shapes

John Reef (Nazareth College)

John Reef teaches music theory at Nazareth College. His research interests include Bach and the Baroque period, Schenkerian theory and analysis, and theories of phrase rhythm; recently he has begun to study works by Harry T. Burleigh as well. He has been published in Music Theory Spectrum; was part of the editorial team for The Rite of Spring at 100, winner of the American Musicological Society’s Ruth A. Solie Award in 2018; and has an upcoming article and book review appearing in Music Theory Online and the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, respectively. In 2017–2019 he taught May-term classes at Shandong Normal University in Jinan, China.


A remarkable aspect of J. S. Bach’s music is his “energetic” shaping of melody and counterpoint within short (two- to four-measure) phrases. Through apparent enactments of various efforts, tensions, or motions within phrases, melodic/contrapuntal content may seem to resist, or even exceed, its “grouping” boundaries. To investigate such shaping, I situate inside Bach’s contrapuntal textures an imaginary musical “agency” that manipulates the voice leading, register, and tonal rhythm of prior units of tonal structure, on the one hand giving them distinction as groups, and on the other generating the energy by which they exceed their boundaries. Speculatively, I identify two essential ways in which this is accomplished. First, energetic tendencies may develop directly from the resolution of tonal and/or tonal-rhythmic tensions within a musical group and then manifest as “motivated” linear motion beyond that group. Second, they may develop through tensions left unresolved with in a group. These situations frequently involve gaps in register, as if representing an agential attempt to break free of an underlying linearity. Through analysis of selected generically favorable passages (e.g., from fugue expositions, dance suite movements, and/or concerto/aria ritornellos), I hope to expand our metaphorical understanding of musical motion and to develop the variety of narratives to which we appeal in our interpretations.

Balancing, Not Balance/Imbalance: The “Melodic Center of Mass” as a Time-Dependent, Continuous Substitute for Atemporal, Discrete Inversional Axes

Tobias Tschiedl (McGill University)


The embodied rhetorics accompanying transformational theory have often served to vindicate its mathematical apparatus (Lewin 1987; Attas 2009; Straus 2011a), yet rarely has attention been devoted to the question whether that fundamentally discrete apparatus is at all suited to capture the continuous motion implied in wording such as “gesture” and “dance.”

As an instance of this larger problem, I focus on the concept of inversional symmetry and its analytical application. In an examination of Straus’s (2011b) reading of inversional symmetry in Schoenberg and Webern in terms of “balance lost and regained,” I show that his twelve-tone-derived analytical toolbox itself presupposes a discrete and static opposition between balance and imbalance rather than a continuous and dynamic process of balancing. Consequently, such an analysis does not allow for a gradual going-in-and-out-of-balance, or for any finer-grained distinction between different asymmetric states.

To address these shortcomings, I introduce a computer-assisted procedure that interprets inversional axes as a special instance of a general feature of pitch distributions, which I call their melodic center of mass (MCM), in analogy to physical centers of mass. The MCM of melodies can be tracked through time by means of a moving-average algorithm.

Beyond its engagement with embodiment and temporality, this approach permits interpretations in terms of disability, musical forces, and concepts in technical timbre analysis. Most importantly, the critique of the discrete apparatus of post-tonal theory takes seriously the concern with music as “characteristic gesture,” “idealized dance,” or more broadly, as something meant to happen in time.