Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Beethoven’s Turks

by Neal Zaslaw
Reflecting on recent events in Europe, Professor Zaslaw has kindly forwarded these thoughts, which first appeared in a Festschrift for Professor Ebisawa Bin on his 80th birthday (Tokyo, 2011).
On Monday, 24 December 2007, the New York Times published a cleverly crafted essay on its op-ed page wherein its author, Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian philosopher who is international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London, and author of innumerable books, films and articles about ... almost everything, undertook a fashionably Po-Mo critique of the finale of Beethoven Ninth Symphony. He purports to show that much that was devious and evil in European civilization—cultural hegemony, colonialism, and racism, to name a few—is encapsulated there.

The Looking Glass through which Žižek passes with Alice resides in this sentence: “[Beethovens  ‘Ode to Joy’] has also been, for more than a century, what literary theorists call an ‘empty signifier’—a symbol that can stand for anything.”

Anything? Like any cultural icon “The Ode to Joy” can, and has, stood for many things to given persons at given times and places. With all due respect to semiotic theory, however, this cannot logically be made to mean that it stood or stands for “anything”—or for that matter for a nihilistic “nothing.” One ought, perhaps, to be suspicious of any argument that retreats to an abstraction when it reaches its crux.

Žižek’s abuse of historiographical logic troubles me.

Wishing to make a political point about the European Union’s inability to deal with Turkey’s application to become a member, and having proven to his own satisfaction that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is an “empty signifier,” Slavoj Žižek has filled this imagined emptiness with nonsense largely of his own manufacture. True, the Nazis co-opted the Ninth for their nefarious purposes, but it is just as true that Leonard Bernstein conducted it in Berlin to celebrate the tearing down of the Wall. And the Ninth is indeed a cult piece in Japan, with annual performances in many large and small cities and at the opening of the Diet. It is not true, however, that the Ninth, or even its finale, is the anthem of the EU. The EU’s anthem is solely the unadorned hymn-like tune upon which Beethoven constructed his finale, stripped of the poet’s verses and the composer’s elaborations. To this tune each member-country attaches newly written verses in its own language. Yes, the Ninth has had an extraordinarily varied reception history, some of  it deeply troubling. But Žižek distorts what the inclusion of “Turkish” music meant to Beethoven and his audiences.

Viennese composers of the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven among them—had few options when it came to representing the non-Christian world beyond Europe. Traders, colonists, and tourists had long carried reports and physical objects back to Europe. Music in unfamiliar styles was less easily transported. In such a context, imitations of Spanish dances (the Fandango in Gluck’s Don Juan and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro) or of naturalized Gypsy melodies from eastern Europe (Haydn's “Gypsy” rondo) passed for exotic.

a Janissary band
miniature, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
And then there is the so-called “Turkish” music. Austrian soldiers had heard the Janissarys in battle, and a Turkish crescent or “Jingling Johnny” captured from an Ottoman military band was considered a prize trophy. During times of peace the Turkish ambassador in Vienna sometimes maintained a Janissary band. Austrian composers created their own simulacrum of Janissary music, acculturated in ways that their performers could cope with and their audiences grasp—most often swirling melody accompanied homophonically, minor key, march tempo, static harmony, rhythmical bass line, and the addition to the then-customary orchestral forces of a piccolo or penny-whistle, jangling triangle or cymbals, and a side drum.

As I read him, Žižek's take on this is that it was racist mockery. Hardly! (Or perhaps one should say, only if one takes Edward Said’s Orientalism as revealed truth, rather than the brilliant act of interpretation that it was and is.)

Of course Beethoven’s symphony was meant to entertain, to edify, to move its listeners. And of course his handling of Schiller’s Eurocentric attempt at universalism was emblematic of the ambivalent relations between adjacent, mutually uncomprehending cultures. More importantly, however, it was an attempt at a kind of thought-experiment, at stay-at-home anthropology, at imagining oneself outside of European culture in order to critique it. This is clear, for instance, in Mozart’s “Turkish” opera, The Abduction from the Harem, in which the denouement reveals a Moslem prince to be more magnanimous than his Christian counterpart.

And Beethoven? He didn't simply set Schiller's long poem to music. He selected those passages whose message resonated with his own ideas, creating his own vision of utopia. The words that inspired his “Turkish” march are these:
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels pracht’gen Plan,
Laufet, Bri.ider, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

Joyously, as His suns fly
Across the glorious map of the Heavens,
Brothers, run your course,
Gladly, like a hero to victory.

That the Ninth has been burdened with so many contradictory meanings should
not be allowed to hide its original (and continuing) fullness: Schiller’s and Beethoven’s
brothers are “Turks” standing in for non-European humankind. Lest anyone doubt this;
two strophes later we are informed (in Natalia Macfarren’s free, rhymed translation):
By Thy magic is reunited
What stern custom parted wide;
All mankind are brothers plighted
Where Thy gentle wings abide.

In our despair over the present state of the world, we may find it all too easy to project our feelings of anomie onto iconic targets. The history of the two centuries that have succeeded Beethoven’s (and Schiller’s) wishful, naive utopianism qualifies the “Ode to Joy” as such a target. But misrepresenting the past in a ploy to score points in the present is dishonestly self-serving.

Lewis Carroll had apparently met some Victorian Žižeks: “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less.’” The signifier is empty only to those who choose to regard it as such.

Neal Zaslaw is Herbert Gussman Professor of Music at Cornell University. Zaslaw's numerous and influential books and articles on performance practice, and on Mozart and his music, have shaped the way a generation of scholars and music lovers understand this foundational figure, in this country and around the world. He is editor of the revised Köchel catalogue, forthcoming.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


A message from the American Musicological Society:
The AMS sends heartfelt sympathy and good wishes to our colleagues and friends in France after the tragic and terrible events in Paris last Friday night. The deliberate attack on a music concert will not dim our voices nor our sense that music is essential to all humanity in times of joy and of sorrow. We stand with you and for you in perseverance and continued music-making.

Ellen T. Harris
American Musicological Society

Ba - ta - clan,
the café-concert designed by Charles Duval (1864),
so called after the operetta by Offenbach

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thoughts on Performing Gender, Place, and Emotion in Music

By Fiona Magowan and Louise Wrazen

Through its alliance with anthropology, ethnomusicology relies on field research that involves sustained contact with people making and experiencing music, anywhere. This results in studies that often put the intimacy of human contact and feeling at the center of research to grapple with questions of how and why people are musical. Not surprisingly, therefore, issues related to the relationship between music and identity, belonging, and affective power have come to occupy an important position in the discipline. In the late 1980s, the study of music and gender emerged as a necessary component of ethnomusicology (as well as in musicology), offering another level of subjectivity to the investigation of musical meaning and experience.

The volume Performing Gender, Place, and Emotion in Music: Global Perspectives (University of Rochester Press, 2013/2015) proceeds from a methodological consensus built around fieldwork; each of the chapters stems from an author’s relationship with people involved in making music. As a result of the unique nature of their ethnographic situation and set of relationships, each author has been led to engage differently with the ways in which music intersects with gender, emotion and senses of place – concepts also linked with identity, belonging, and affective power.

Most recent studies have examined music in relation to either gender, place, or emotion. Instead of addressing each field of inquiry as a separate lens through which to understand musical practices, this collection explores the ways in which the three overlap. Eight papers elaborate on specific examples taken from field research in Europe, Southeast Asia and Australasia to explore ways that the intersections of gender, place, and emotion generate an interplay of performative issues. For example, how are aesthetic, emotional, and imagined relations between performers and places embodied musically? In what ways is the performance of emotion gendered across quotidian, ritual, and staged events?

Chapters are grouped around themes of landscape and emotion, memory and attachment, and nationalism and indigeneity . Collectively these ethnographically diverse chapters also engage with ideas related to embodiment and experience, performing emotion, and gendered sentiments. In providing examples that are specific to each locality but which also share thematic strands, authors argue – on the one hand – for the vitality of intensive local research and – on the other hand – for the broader relevance of these issues globally.

In the first section of the book, rituals provide a context for the chapters by Barley Norton (spirit possession in Vietnam), Jonathan McIntosh (children’s performance in Bali), and Fiona Magowan (gender and emotion in Aboriginal Australian performance). Turning to traditional forms of music and dance at a time when attention often turns to the global commerce of world music sounds, each of these authors explores how the surrounding landscape contributes to meaning and belonging through ongoing ritual performances. Jonathan McIntosh, for example, examines how Balinese children learn about the relationship between their spiritual world, their physical surroundings, and their gendered participation in Balinese society through the performance of the traditional Barong dance. These authors consider what kinds of emotions can be generated by sounds within landscapes and analyze how spiritual and emotional engagements are evoked through male and female song and dance performances that tie participants to specific places.

The children's Barong begins to dance. Photograph by the author.
Singing serves as the focus of the chapters by Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg (Christian singing in Aboriginal Australia), Sara R. Walmsley-Pledl (choral singing in Germany), and Louise Wrazen (gendered singing in Podhale, Poland), who consider its power to evoke emotions through musical memories and the musical imagination. For example, I focus on one woman’s negotiation of gendered performance practice and her ongoing attachment to landscape by tracing her singing through the communist era to the present. These authors explore the effects that places have on male and female performers and the ways in which the relationship between the singing voice and a landscape can offer catharsis, relief, and empowerment. They show how emotions experienced in singing not only affect the constitution of social relations but also influence the nature of gender identity through performance.
Aniela (right) and Ludwisia (left) singing, outside Nowy Targ, Poland, July 1989.

Christina R. Yano (Korean female singer in Korea and Japan) and Tina K. Ramnarine (Sámi songs in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia) turn to the transnational public stage to elaborate on how the gendered performance of emotions within and across borders contributes to the construction of nationalism and indigenous personhood. The authors show how the emotional terrains of performance, on stage and in studio, both produce and contest racial meanings. They also question how musical materials might challenge local, national, and global boundaries. In her afterword, Beverley Diamond reflects on the eight chapters from the perspective of her own work in Canadian studies and research among indigenous populations, reminding us how music both represents and constitutes the ways that we are embodied, emplaced, and “emotioned.”

As we continue to explore the integral role that music plays in humanity, the examples found in these chapters remind us of the gendered dimensions of musical embodiment and identify some commonalities around indigenous intentions. Performing music across different places generates feelings and meanings that can be mobilized for political, national, or spiritual purposes and affirms the significance of the environment when it is increasingly jeopardized. The integration of gender, place, and emotion in performance exposes questions around cultural heritage, nationalism, and the reclaiming of an environmental ethic as an invitation to ongoing scholarship. How do the growing industries of music technology and innovative recording methods contribute to what are often highly emotional processes of identity formation, cultural resistance, and revival? How do gendered emotions in performance contribute to contestations over (or regeneration of) ecological and spiritual life in a global world? How do performances of place challenge and legitimize national discourses of pan-indigeneity and intergenerational belonging? How can emotional performances – and the performance of emotion – shape collective identification and national rebranding? These questions are at the center of our concerns for this book.

Fiona Magowan is Professor of Social Anthropology in the School of History and Anthropology at Queen's University Belfast.

Louise Wrazen is Associate Professor of Music in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance, and Design at York University.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What Can Classical Music Tell Us About Trigger Warnings?

By Drew Massey

Tony Matelli's Sleepwalker, discussed below.
Photo credit: boston.com
As part of my renewed effort to put more “now” into Musicology Now, last month I started writing a post about trigger warnings and their rapport with classical music. Then I stopped – mostly because some of my preliminary research indicated that the terms of the debate had mostly been established and there was little more to say. But the recent headlines over the Yale Halloween Memo made me think that the issue is anything but settled on American college campuses. [1] Furthermore, if Google Trends is to be believed, interest in trigger warnings is in fact intensifying, not dissipating (and, interestingly, is a specifically American preoccupation).

I expect that most readers of this blog will already have an opinion about trigger warnings; articles about the phenomenon have been dotting the journalistic landscape for about three years now. If you’d like to refresh your memory about the general contours of the debate, Kate Manne’s NYT op-ed and the AAUP’s position statement provide synopses both for and against, respectively. Given this continuous stream of writing, I am surprised that the musicological community has been relatively mum on the issue, at least in print. Paul Harper Scott gave a reasoned post last year about trigger warnings, unpacking some of the more well known facets of the debate; Jonathan Bellman suggested that we ought to bring in some professional ethicists to help us sort out the problem. A cursory search through my old email does not reveal any thread on the AMS listserv picking up the topic. The Journal of Music History Pedagogy has certainly considered issues of identity politics within its pages, but the term “trigger warning” (or for that matter “microaggressions,” “PTSD,” “Trauma,” or “disability”) returns no results in a search.

This relative silence seems like a missed opportunity to me, because I think that debates about music that are familiar to musicologists inform the present conversation on trigger warnings in interesting ways. Critics have certainly pointed to examples in opera of “triggers,” from rape to racism to necrophilia. At the same time, these instances are based on a given opera’s plot, so they don’t lead anywhere that trigger warning arguments about novels, films, etc. haven’t already visited. Yet if we look at how non-programmatic instrumental music has been understood, we might start to detect some fault lines in the trigger warning controversy that do not seem to have been otherwise addressed.

Susan McClary’s Feminine Endings is among the most relevant texts, even if the Beethoven ‘rape’ controversy has caused her arguments to have been sensationalized. She argues in quite broad terms for the existence of a sexual metaphor at the center of common practice tonality:
The principal innovation of seventeenth-century tonality is its ability to instill in the listener an intense longing for a given event: the cadence. It organizes time by creating an artificial need …. After that need is established (after the listener has been conditioned to experience the unbearable absence of some musical configuration), tonal procedures strive to postpone gratification of that need until finally delivering the payoff in what is technically called the “climax,” which is quite clearly to be experienced as metaphorical ejaculation.[2]
McClary goes farther than arguing for a merely sexual metaphor. She considers a few pages later how tonality enacts power dynamics (and therefore withheld or ambiguous consent, one of the very issues at the heart of the current trigger warning debate):
The omnipresence of this formal pattern [the cadence, which Robert Scholes (whom McClary quotes) memorably describes as “the fundamental orgastic rhythm of tumescence and detumescence”] in literature and music is part of a larger cultural tendency to organize sexuality in terms of the phallus, to devalue or even to deny other erotic sensibilities (especially that of the female), to impose and maintain a hierarchy of power based on gender.[3]
If we take McClary’s arguments seriously, instrumental music occupies a precarious position because it is precisely through learning more about it – learning how to read the tea leaves of tonality – that it becomes more triggering. And therefore it is not only the texts presented in class (say, Huck Finn) but also the process of learning about them that becomes trigger territory. Therefore, when instrumental music enters the fray, arguments for trigger warnings have the potential to go from being anti-misogynistic to anti-education. The dilemmas run still deeper. If, through education itself,  more and more "sensitive" phenomena are decoded to be "triggering," it means that the date for when a young adult might be expected to operate in a world unmediated by trigger warnings could be postponed indefinitely. In this scenario, trigger warnings have gone from a pedagogical tactic to an existential fact.

Given these issues, I’m not entirely surprised that McClary herself has little use for trigger warnings in her own teaching. Since it has been almost 25 years since Feminine Endings was published, I decided I ought to ask her directly what she thought of the trigger warning situation. After noting that she considers the trigger warning trend “deeply distressing,” she continued:
The history of music was not composed for 18-year-olds, and much of the music intended to disrupt the status quo and moral conventions. I believe it’s best to bring these issues up, explain the reasons for these transgressions, and invite discussion. But as Fredric Jameson once wrote, “History is what hurts.” You simply can’t present a sanitized version.
Instrumental music, of course, would seem to avoid all these issues, though it often does so at the expense of cultural meaning. I suppose one might say that meaning is what hurts. But then all the more reason for class discussion.[4]
Classical instrumental music should be alarming to individuals on both sides of the trigger warning debate. If you favor trigger warnings, Feminine Endings is a reminder that powerful cultural work is performed even in the absence of a readily graspable narrative. This is something that the Wellesley College art protesters seemed to realize when they demanded that a statue of a semi-naked man be removed from campus (pictured at the top of this post). 

If you oppose trigger warnings, McClary’s scholarship – when read in light of today’s debates – sounds an ominous knell because it seems to suggest that ever expanding circles of cultural experience may eventually become the target of suppression because they are – or, more precisely, students will have been taught to see them as being – “triggering.” I wouldn’t presume to know which way the wind is really blowing on this issue, except to note that there is more at stake here for the field of musicology that seems to have been acknowledged.

Drew Massey is an editor at Musicology Now.

[1] The issues raised at Yale were about university culture outside of the classroom, and hence somewhat different from many examples of triggering that have been written about, like Columbia's Ovid case from last spring.
[2] McClary, Feminine Endings, 125.
[3] McClary, Feminine Endings, 127.
[4] McClary, personal communication to the author, 26 October 2015.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

What Was Adelina Patti Smoking?

By Hilary Poriss

One would assume that of all the leisure activities out there, smoking would probably rank among the least popular with opera stars. After all, today few singers in their right minds would touch tobacco and most vocalists will not even put up with secondary smoke coming within sniffing distance of their vocal cords. But back in the day, before the dangers of cigarette smoking had been identified, aggressive marketing campaigns by cigarette companies transformed smoking into a glamorous activity (see Allan M. Brandt, The Cigarette Century [2007]). Central to advertising campaigns by cigarette companies were celebrity endorsements, photographs of sports stars, film actors, and yes, even opera singers looking sultry and gorgeous, puffing on their favorite brands and saying nice things about them. One of the most striking ads features the recently deceased Risë Stevens (1913-2013):

There is no sense in being horrified; this is simply what opera singers did in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and Stevens was one of many, including Ezio Pinza (1892-1957) and Eleanor Steber (1914-1990), who endorsed cigarettes. 

Adelina Patti (1843-1919) was of an earlier era. One of the most popular sopranos of the second half of the nineteenth century, Patti was among the first opera singers to lend her name and image to a variety of products. During her lifetime, she endorsed Kimball Pianos, Haines Brothers Piano-Fortes, Pears Soap, the Chicago Corset Company, Dr. Warren’s Wild Cherry and Sarsaparilla Troches (losenges), Palmer’s Perfume, Recamier Preparations (skin cream), and my personal favorite, Aspinall’s Neigeline, a skin treatment that, is “absolutely non-poisonous,” according to the full-page advertisement. 

Patti was active prior to the time when cigarette companies had begun their aggressive advertising campaigns; nevertheless, her image was employed to sell tobacco products. As far as I can tell, her association with the tobacco industry was limited to one form of marketing: cigarette cards, small pieces of cardboard that were once used to strengthen flimsy paper packaging. Beginning around 1875, manufacturers transformed these items of necessity into advertising tools, printing the name of the cigarette brand prominently on the cards next to or above images of famous personalities; on the reverse side, interesting facts regarding the celebrities’ lives and careers sometimes appeared. These cards became collectors’ items, much like baseball cards, and it is possible to find examples featuring singers such as Jenny Lind, Mary Garden, Geraldine Farrar, Christine Nilsson, and many others. Patti’s image appears on at least five cigarette cards that I have been able to identify and there are undoubtedly more out there waiting to be discovered. 

The card for Ogden’s Guinea Gold cigarettes is the simplest and the smallest measuring roughly one and a half inches wide and two inches tall, and featuring only a black-and-white image of the singer on the front with nothing on the reverse side:

The other four I have found are much more colorful: 

Thomas H. Hall's "Between the Acts Cigarettes" (1.5 x 3 inches)

Thomas H. Hall's "Between the Acts Cigarettes" (1.5 x 3 inches)

Wills's Cigarettes (1.3 x 3 inches)

Duke's Cigarettes (1.3 x 3 inches)

There is no evidence that Patti endorsed these cigarette companies in an official capacity or that she was ever remunerated for her images. It is possible, after all, that the manufacturers used her name and likeness without her permission. Indeed, the fact that some of the pictures bear only a slight resemblance to her suggests that she did not participate in the design of these documents. It is also uncertain whether she enjoyed smoking herself—maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. Regardless, it is fascinating that Patti played a role in the history of cigarette smoking, the images on these cards reminding us of a very different era.

Hilary Poriss is Associate Professor of Music History at Northeastern University.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Trailers, Tonality, and the Force of Nostalgia

By Frank Lehman

Film trailers are like hyperactive microcosms of the movies they herald. Their formal compression and immediacy makes these mini-films terrific laboratories in which to explore how musical structure can serve expressive ends. But trailer music isn’t just shrunken down movie music. It speaks its own dialect, a kind of “trailer-ese.” This style is characterized by two aesthetic imperatives: concision of detail and overemphasis of affect. Trailer-ese has received some recent musicological attention, especially in the Trailaurality project , led by Carleton University musicologist James Deaville. This is a welcome development: in a world where major motion pictures receive months or even years of aggressive, expensive promotion, a minute’s worth of trailer music can carry immense responsibility. Every note matters, and every pitch is tailored to ensure that viewers leave informed, excited, and anxious for more.

The biggest movie opening of 2015 will almost certainly be Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Since November 2014, three official trailers have been released and subsequently viewed in staggeringly high numbers. Despite its sci-fi trappings, the Star Wars franchise has always traded in a concertedly nostalgic—and to critics, reactionary—tone.[1] Nostalgia sells, and the three previews for Episode VII have all played cannily into audiences’ fondness for the original trilogy.[2]
Nostalgia-as-product is most apparent in the trailers’ invocation of themes from the grand lexicon of Star Wars leitmotifs. John Williams’s music is inextricably linked to the franchise. Virtually all multimedia texts that take place within or advertise this fictional universe make obligatory allusions to his themes. Freshly composed music, however, has long been a rarity in Hollywood trailers, which tend to avail themselves of preexisting or library music. Indeed, of the three Episode VII previews, only the first features truly original music from the pen of the 83-year old composer. Williams’s active involvement drops off after the second trailer, and the contributions of other artists increases.[3] Yet the music is still fresh, and those leitmotifs nevertheless continue to be featured front and center.

In each preview, Williams’s recognizable melodies are offered as a kind of nostalgizing payoff, something awarded to the listener after a span of thematically ambiguous material. For example, the initial teaser is primarily occupied with a jagged, abstract style of tension-music that frequently crops up in Williams’s recent writing for action scenes. But at the end, it teases us with the unmistakable first 11 (and last 2) measures of the series’ brassy Main Theme. In comparison, the second trailer barely holds out on the audience at all. Only a brief celesta and string cluster-chord is needed to pique our interest before a new arrangement of the Force Theme is performed by solo French Horn—a likely allusion to the iconic “Binary Sunset” scene from 1977’s Episode IV. The intended sentiment for audiences is made explicit by the aged Han Solo at trailer’s end: “We’re home.” As reaction videos featuring jubilantly weeping fans confirm: massive overemphasis of affect has been successfully achieved.

Trailer three, despite not having been composed by Williams, is the most crafty in its deliberate withholding and eventual disclosure of familiar thematic material. The first thing we hear is a three-fold repetition an evocative, austere chord progression—more Arvo Pärt than the swashbuckling symphonism Star Wars audiences are used to. Conspicuously, the music is shorn of any melody to grasp onto. The progression’s origins are revealed upon the fourth, extremely loud phrase: they form the harmonic basis for the love theme between Han and Leia. Viewers completely new to the series will hear an as-yet symbolically unattached motif, but one nevertheless saturated with film-musical codes for romance and adventure. Seasoned fans, on the other hand, will immediately be drawn back into a vast musical network of specific associations and memories—a kiss, an escape, a reunion—that have lain dormant since the theme was last heard in theaters in 1983.

While the manipulation (and manipulativeness) of themes in these trailers tugs the listeners backwards, there are signs of our current musical times too. This is most apparent in the increasingly obvious use of digital processing, and decreasingly “old-fashioned” sound to the trailers. In the initial teaser, it is evident at the level of mixing. For example, the final Bb major chord has its bass-end cranked up far higher than ever heard in previous recordings. The second trailer takes a further step towards contemporary digital practices, being full of musical “ sweeteners ” that are endemic in modern trailer-ese. These are mannerisms like exceptionally reverberant piano notes and indistinct bass thuds, injecting extra punch into Williams’s music like sonic steroidal supplements.

The music of the final teaser is orchestrated and mixed in a markedly different way than the first two. Maximum volume and density at all times appears to be the desired impact, at the pronounced expense of orchestrational clarity. Far more in-line with practices of Hans Zimmer and his epigones than of the original model of Golden Age Hollywood, trailer three sounds assertively and symptomatically “contemporary.” Observe the electronically overproduced textures, the crashing drums, the musicalized (mostly synthetic) sound effects. For better or worse, here, the Star Wars musical idiom is for once not pure symphonic throwback.

Being a music theorist in addition to a film musicologist, I often find myself drawn to matters of musical structure that might escape conscious recognition by filmgoers. In particular, I find screen composers’ use of tonality fascinating. Take, for example, what goes on in the third trailer. Of the lot, it is the most conventional and, I dare say, “coherent.” It begins and ends in the same key (E major), which is positively not the norm for most film music. Particularly cinematic is the way in which the musical cadences are coordinated with other formal parameters to manipulate our expectations at a moment-to-moment pace. The cadential gesture right before the trailer’s conclusion is textbook trailer-ese. The Force Theme’s penultimate chord does not resolve directly, but is separated from its target tonic by a gulf of pregnant musical silence. This negative space provides just the right room for the line, “just let [the force] in,” to send extra chills up your spine.

The other trailers, by contrast, are object lessons in how truly little the maintenance of a single key matters in screen music, when it is emotional impact that filmmakers are after. The initial teaser’s big musical reward is a rendition of the Main Theme in its accustomed key of Bb, coming on the heels of a minute of slippery atonality. But time runs short, too short for the melody to come to its natural close.[4] So the trailer simply holds onto its second-to-last chord for an extra long time. The otherwise intrinsically inconclusive F-major garners a dramatic dip and swell in volume, and then snaps shut with a huge tutti chord. In instrumental music, that is the paradigmatic gesture of piece-ending closure. But it has nothing to do with how meticulously the final tonic had been earned. It is through sheer force alone that the teaser is able to impose a sort of tonal closure.

Something even more weird—and emblematic—takes place in the second trailer. First, Williams unsettles the Force Theme by means of a newly composed interpolation between the theme’s antecedent and consequent. The portentous insertion also modulates the theme mid-phrase, shifting it from F# to G# minor. As musical urgency increases, the Force Theme gets stuck on its most powerful and climactic chord, E major, the diatonic submediant. That triad’s increasingly emphatic repetitions (and lydian colorations) actually begin to imbue the music with a feeling of stability—despite the complete absence of thematic closure. Williams’s journey to the flat side of tonal space is complete when the climatic E major gets its own flat submediant! And, by that point, the music has actually segued into a restatement of a notably triumphant cue from The Empire Strikes Back. Does it matter that we’ve landed in a different key than we began? I’d argue no. But is it relevant how that shift was accomplished by a series of dramatic, intensely expressive harmonic transformations? Absolutely.

Screen-based multimedia generates the largest repertoire of instrumental music that is routinely heard by today’s listeners. Whether a two hour film with wall-to-wall scoring or a 50-second teaser with a jumble of pieces and styles, this is music of great cultural relevance—and no small amount of analytical interest to boot. Understanding the tricks and habits of “trailer-ese” is, I believe, just one way to examine what it means to hear with 21st Century ears.

Frank Lehman is an Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Tufts University. His work on chromaticism in film music will appear in a forthcoming monograph with Oxford University Press. His article on John Williams and political mythmaking is forthcoming in the next issue of Journal of the Society for American Music. Website HERE .

[1] On this point, see Buhler, “Star Wars, Music, and Myth,” in Music and Cinema, ed. James Buhler, Caryl Flinn, and David Neumeyer (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 2000), 33-57 and Lerner, “Nostalgia, Masculinist Discourse and Authoritarianism,” in Off The Planet: Music, Sound, and Science Fiction Cinema, ed. Philip Hayward (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 96-109.
[2] As Mark Hamill, in a promotional video for the upcoming movie cheerfully reassures us that “nothing’s changed really. I mean, everything’s changed, but nothing’s changed. That’s the way you want it to be, really.”
[3] Compositional attribution is always tricky with film music, but now researchers can use resources like Facebook, Twitter, and enthusiast websites (in this case, JWfan.com) to track down whom is responsible for what. In this case, the second trailer appears to have been composed and arranged by Williams, with minor contributions from Felix Erskine. The third trailer is ostensibly not Williams’s doing at all, being half written by Confidential Music, and half by Frederick Lloyd.
[4] The fact that the Main Theme’s subphrases invariably end with half-cadences complicates matters further. Buhler (2000, 37) makes a related point concerning the theme’s intrinsic inconclusivity.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Mademoiselle and Igor

by Kimberly Francis

1, place Lili Boulanger
In 2004, challenged by my thesis advisor, I travelled to Paris to conduct research on Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979) for the first time of many visits. While in the City of Lights, I walked the streets traversed by Boulanger’s former students—included among them Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Louise Talma, and Philip Glass—and visited her famous apartment at 36 rue Ballu (now 1 Place Lili Boulanger). This trip also marked the first time I had the honor of perusing Boulanger’s expansive archives. I quickly became enraptured by her world, a sphere of influence that stretched across the Atlantic, eventually reaching global dimensions. Hers was a career that lasted from 1904 to 1979, thriving during the politically tumultuous and tremendously misogynistic climate of the modernist era. In Boulanger’s world, pedagogy was enacted with a near-religious fervor, and at its center stood a woman who had a masterful command of the rules governing artistic creation and validation. No figure towered more dominantly in her pantheon of great artists than Igor Stravinsky.

In my book, Teaching Stravinsky: Nadia Boulanger and the Consecration of a Modernist Icon (Oxford UP, 2015), I reconstruct Boulanger’s unwavering belief in Stravinsky’s artistic genius and her precarious friendship with the composer. Drawing on the letters they exchanged (well over 1,000 pages) and the Stravinsky scores Boulanger owned (more than 170), I offer a story of vibrant artistic life and professional survival during the twentieth century.

Most importantly, and serving as a frame for all of my work on Boulanger, is the question of how her successes and failures can be understood in the context of women’s lives. I consider her as part of (as well as virulent opponent of many aspects of) the complex French feminist movement. I also reconstruct societal hostilities toward women, first in France during the interwar period, and second in the United States after the Second World War. Analyzing how Boulanger negotiated the cultural spaces to which she had access—many of which she had to fight to enter—and contextualizing them in terms of women’s freedoms, or lack thereof, I reveal the tenaciousness of Boulanger’s professional ambition. Certainly she lived in a world where success depended upon a command of gendered politics—a skill set she honed over the course of her career.

Nadia Boulanger first met Stravinsky after the premiere of the first of his three Sergei Diaghilev commissions: L’Oiseau de feu (1910). Little was more captivating to Boulanger—at the time an emerging keyboard virtuoso and opera composer—than the exotic, breathtaking productions of the Ballets Russes. If later tales are to be believed, Boulanger was entranced by Stravinsky’s music after only the first few notes. The night of the premiere was the first time she met Stravinsky—a man only five years older than she and barely taller. (She was 5'4".)  They did not meet again until after the First World War. Following 1919, Boulanger reemerged in Paris professionally reinvented, working now as a teacher instead of a performer-composer, and it was then that Stravinsky’s music assumed a central place in her teachings.

Ten years later, it was an anxious note from Stravinsky, sent to Boulanger while she was on summer vacation at her cottage in Gargenville in 1929, that served to bring the two into more frequent contact. Stravinsky wrote to her that he needed a teacher for his son, Soulima: would she be willing to serve in that capacity? She agreed. From that October on, she grew close with Stravinsky’s sons and later with the composer himself. More than a master composer observed at a distance, Stravinsky became a colleague and friend. Boulanger’s understanding of his compositions, then, became informed by her understanding of him as a person, particularly as a loving father.

Nadia Boulanger, Fontainebleau, 1921
(all photos: Louise Talma Papers, Music Division, Library of Congress)
She gained editorial access to Stravinsky’s music in 1931 with her work on the piano-vocal reduction of his Symphony of Psalms. In the years following, she interceded on his behalf with American impresarios, while also conducting, performing, and promoting his compositions. She incorporated her intimate knowledge of Stravinsky’s methods and his philosophies into her own teaching, allowing her first-hand observations to to play a primary role in establishing her reputation as a
Master Teacher. What could possibly be more exciting than examining a new work, the ink on the score barely dry, beside the woman who had been present when it was rehearsed for the first time in the composer’s presence? The almost visceral enjoyment Boulanger took in Stravinsky’s music transferred into her classroom, as student lecture notes reveal. Overall, her work as a teacher saw her transform into an extremely commanding presence in music circles after 1920.

At a café in Fontainebleau, 1937
From L: David Diamond, Irène Kedroff, Hugues Cuénod, NB, Emma Endres
(Library of Congress)
Boulanger’s letters to Stravinsky, particularly during her exile in the United States during the Second World War, are often uncomfortably raw and emotional. Clearly, Stravinsky was one of the few people Boulanger considered a peer. Through the works he composed, Stravinsky validated Boulanger’s artistic opinions and became one of the few people in Boulanger’s life who alleviated her sense of isolation and solitude. Tracing her shifting relationship with him allows us to view aspects of Boulanger’s personality that she otherwise kept private, hidden especially from her students. Her dialogue with Stravinsky allows Boulanger to be studied from multiple angles, warts and all. The letters also tell us more about Stravinsky, his deep-seated faith, his love of family, his intense ambitions, and his fear of being forgotten by history.

Mademoiselle and Igor
Fontainebleau, 15 August 1938
(Library of Congress)
I travel the narrative of this remarkable friendship and symbiotic musical relationship from Nadia Boulanger’s perspective, tracing the entwining of her professional connections with Stravinsky’s and asking how the personal and the professional (though never the romantic) became increasingly muddied from 1929 until the pair’s relative estrangement in 1951. Boulanger emerges as a champion of Stravinsky but also of herself, taking every opportunity to support his music as well as her own worth as a teacher. She becomes a lens through which to view Stravinsky’s development as a modernist composer, and Stravinsky becomes a thread that allows for a reconsideration of her formidable career from 1929–72 and for a celebration of her legacy.

For more on Boulanger’s legacy and events related to her and her sister, Lili Boulanger, visit the Centre International Nadia et Lili Boulanger.
Boulanger’s Conservatoire Américain, housed in Fontainebleau, has since been rebranded as the European American Musical Alliance under the directorship of Dr. Philip Lasser.
For a list of Boulanger’s pupils and other important resources, see also nadiaboulanger.org.

Kimberly Francis is Associate Professor of Music at the University of Guelph, Canada.