Saturday morning, November 7, 11–11:50 CST
Seth Monahan (Yale School of Music), Chair
Structural Self-Reflection as Formal Determinant: Pure Memory and Mahler’s Symphony no. 5
Emma Soldaat received her BMus from Mount Allison University in 2017, and her MA in Music Theory from the University of Toronto in 2019, where she began her PhD in Music Theory under the supervision of Dr. Steven Vande Moortele in 2019. Her research focuses on the use of memory as a formal function in Mahler’s symphonies, through the perspectives of philosophy and literary theory. She has presented her work at MUSCAN, the Western University Graduate Symposium on Music, and the McGill Graduate Music Conference. Emma is also active within U of T’s graduate community, serving as President of the U of T Music Graduate Students' Association since 2019, co-chair of the University of Toronto Graduate Music Conference in 2019-2020, and graduate roundtable co-coordinator in 2018-19.
Mahler’s symphonies frequently progress in a manner that negates the traditional directionality of symphonic form, allowing for multiple temporalities within a single work or movement (Johnson 2014, 2017; Monahan 2015; Samuels 2011). As Johnson (2017) notes, Mahler’s forms incorporate moments of “structural self-reflection,” where the music halts forward progression and gives way to a static passage. In this paper, I argue that one such moment of reflexivity—in the Scherzo of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony—is more than a break from the symphony’s formal flow. Using Bergson’s concept of “pure memory,” I show how this reflexive space expands the Scherzo’s possible future actions from linear and pre-determined to open and free-associative.
The movement begins as a typical five-part scherzo with two contrasting trios. Its formal boundaries become blurred, however, in the latter half of the piece. A moment of reflexivity appears midway through the second trio, acting as an invocation of pure memory that halts the work’s flow; after this point, the relatively routine linear progression of the scherzo is denied. The second trio is expanded significantly, and a development is introduced that incorporates musical material from the refrain and both trios. These sections appear as a non-linear jumble of motives, as the return of each section is densely permeated with other sections’ material. Viewing pure memory as a constitutive component of the Scherzo’s form allows for musical progression that exists outside of linear temporality, while providing a means of perceiving structural coherence amid such seemingly chaotic instances of motivic density.
The “Rondo” and the “Burleske” in Mahler’s Rondo-Burleske
Sam Reenan is Lecturer in Music at Hamilton College and a Ph.D. candidate in music theory at the Eastman School of Music. He holds the M.A. in music theory from Eastman and degrees in music theory and biological sciences from the University of Connecticut. A recipient of Eastman’s 2017–18 Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, he has taught throughout the Eastman curriculum. Sam is co-author of two articles: a 2016 exploration of seventh-chord voice-leading transformations, published in Music Theory Online, and a forthcoming article in the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy. His dissertation examines genre, large-scale form, and narrative in early modernist Germanic works described as “maximalist.”
Titles speak volumes. For Eric Drott, titles serve “a ‘rhetorical’ or communicative function, in addition to a taxonomic one” (2013, 4). Gustav Mahler’s label for the third movement of his Ninth Symphony, “Rondo-Burleske,” establishes the work’s semantic and interpretive context, prompting the analyst to evaluate whether the movement is a rondo at all. Its title summons generic and formal expectations, yet Mahler’s Rondo-Burleske is unlike any rondo before it. The most challenging interpretive issues concern the “rondo theme” itself and the long passage of suspended music at the heart of the movement. In this paper, I will approach a large-scale formal analysis in the spirit of James Webster’s (2009) “multivalent analysis.” I balance formal function and Sonata Theory, while foregrounding genre and the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin in an account of the movement as a unique formal hybrid distinct from standard sonata-rondo prototypes.
As a burlesque, the movement reflects several parodic tendencies. In terms of genre, the rondo eschews the normative light symphonic finale; rhetorically, the movement is more chaos than order, incongruous with its formulaic precedents. Perhaps of greatest significance is the movement’s paradoxical relation to the symphony as a whole: in formal layout and motivic content, it is eerily similar to the Adagio finale. While neither movement is expressly in rondo form, each is in dialogue with it. I envision the Rondo-Burleske as a functional finale, while the Adagio follows as a transcendent postlude, rectifying the false logic of its antecedent.