Re: A brief essay on development

Subject: Re: A brief essay on development
From: Eliot Handelman (
Date: Fri Aug 27 2004 - 01:47:09 EDT

Richard Wentk wrote:

> At 18:25 25/08/2004 -0700, you wrote:
>> Richard Wentk wrote:
>>> I think you could be confusing the how and the why here. There's a
>>> difference between intent and technique.
>> But note that I mostly talk about the "sense" of something -- let's
>> go on:
> Okay, but do you explicitly mean listener perception of same?

 I've been thinking about this question all day, or at least I
understand you to be asking
":whose sense are you talking about." This morning I came across the
following sentence in
a theory text book:

"We analyze music to find out why it sounds the way does with the hope
that we can
discover why it affects us in a particular way."

The question is, who are "we" and "us" in this sentence? A bunch of
students who
never heard classical music and are now analyzing pieces by Schumann that
they feel nothing about? Does their analysis explain to them why they
feel nothing?

It's obvious, reading the book, that it's not only teaching rules
about harmony but also how to hear harmony.

So I was much perplexed. I make no bones about the fact that the listener
at the core of my theories is me -- but still. I landed up at the
Concordia library and read an article in
"current musicology" by David Temperley in which he raises his hackles
about just this
issue. He says there are two types of theory -- prescriptive and
descriptive. In order to
describe how people hear a piece of music you need experiments. On the
other hand, it's ok
and valid to prescribe, that is, to exposit a way of hearing something,
but this must not be taken as description.

I still haven't formulated any thoughts about this, though I feel some
resistance to this distinction. Music
is part brain and part an imaginative disposition to enter into the
world of music. I feel very uncertain about
any kind if authroization of facts other than those which, as the theory
guy migfht have said, "tell me
why this music affects me in a particular way, and, in fact, in all ways
in which I might enter into relation
with this music."

> If so, how is that different to the various variation forms where
> themes are being developed, but there may be no overall sense of
> direction within the suite as a whole? And a given variation may even
> be simpler and slower than the original? I think busyness or increased
> movement is still just one possible example of development.

EIther there's a sense of development -- this sense could change if you
spent 1000 hrs.
studying it -- or there isn't. It's a question of what you're hearing or
could hear.

> There's also reverse development. I can think of one piece which
> spends half an hour playing around a theme, and only states it at the
> end - with huge relief for all concerned.
>> I agree -- that's why I removed the word from my final statement and
>> instead talked
>> about process and the sense of increase of movement brought about.
>> Goal-orientedness is one such process. Linear movement is one kind of
>> movement. But clearly there are others.
> The others are perhaps more interesting, because less familiar?



>> This is part of paper about a program I'm working on that's supposed
>> to analyze processes of development,
>> so I'm just trying to be clear about what I mean by that. I'm
>> concluding that a huge amount of music
>> relies on a microlevel taxonmony of process, with refinements up to a
>> macrolevel.
> Perhaps a more interesting question is why some processes and
> refinements seem to give better results than others, and at what level
> can the 'better' criterion be applied?

Even more interesting, what results *do* they get? 'better' suggests
we're all trying to
write the same piece (which may be true).

>> Development obviously makes listening to music more complicated. I
>> was reading a review of "seven" (the movie) on the net
>> about how the movie required too much thinking and therefore failed
>> as good entertainment.
> Entertainment is distraction. But sometimes thinking can be a
> distraction too. :-)

 Enetertainment is obviously the main thing that happens in many
people's lives. I don't understand
this "distraction" idea.

-- eliot

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