Reflection and representation: A unitary theory of voice leading and musical contour in 20th-century atonal and serial contrapuntal music
Wu, Yi-Cheng Daniel
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Unlike most contemporary theories, this dissertation considers both musical contour and voice leading simultaneously in studying atonal and serial music. In tonal music, most harmonies consist of three to four pitches and are categorized as either triads or seventh chords, a categorization based on an intervallic structure generated by thirds. In atonal or serial music, a harmony can contain any number of pitches and is no longer restricted to a particular intervallic structure. However, the new structural complexity of atonal or serial harmony creates two inherent problems that challenge composers in creating a coherent musical texture. First, how can discrete harmonies be defined and articulated? And second, how can these harmonies be coherently connected? That is, what are the new criteria for voice leading? The second issue is particularly important with respect to the formal design of a composition, for no longer can any of the conventional cadences articulate the closure of a formal section. Consequently, many atonal and serial composers invent and introduce various solutions that address the above two problems. In atonal and serial music, we often find that composers use musical contour to help listeners perceive discrete harmonies and their coherent connection through implied voice leading. In fact, this approach is hardly unfamiliar to us, because it represents a common solution among pre-tonal composers, who also developed contextual means to articulate formal closure rather than recognizable harmonic progressions. Like these earlier composers, many twentieth-century composers rely heavily on changes in both styles of imitation (i.e., strict versus free imitation) and musical textures (i.e., imitative versus non-imitative texture) to articulate different formal sections. But how does a composer manipulate musical contour to reflect different formal sections articulated by styles of imitation and changing textures? If a section unfolds a harmonic progression whose voice leading is woven by several imitative voices, these voices will project similar musical contours and create a more coherent texture . In comparison, if a section unfolds a harmonic progression whose voice leading is woven by several distinct voices, these voices will project various musical contours and create a less coherent texture . However, such shifts in musical texture, contour, and imitation from one section to another are usually both subtle and rapid. As a result, one can find it difficult to hear the changes of texture articulated by musical contour and imitation. Thus, we need an analytical theory to assist our aural comprehension, one that can precisely show how one formal section differs from or relates to others in terms of their corresponding textures. Importantly, since the texture (more coherent/less coherent) here is defined by voice leading (imitative/non-imitative) and musical contour (similar/various), this theory must take into account both subjects simultaneously. Unfortunately, most music theorists engage these two subjects separately, failing to consider both voice leading and pitch contour as an integrated single topic. Hence, my dissertation proposes a new theory that regards these two subjects as creating a unitary musical element and derives a methodology to compare textures in different formal sections. I refer to my theory as the theory of contextual counterpoint . To better understand the practical advantages of my theory, I analyze three twentieth-century compositions that rely on an imitative texture to articulate formal design; these three composers represent different traditions and time periods: Charles Ives (American), Luigi Dallapiccola (Italian), and György Kurtág (Hungarian). The compositions I analyze span most of the twentieth-century (1913, 1953, and 1996). They cover various musical genres (string quartet, solo piano, and song) and different compositional techniques (twelve-tone and atonal). Since these compositions represent a great diversity in terms of nation, time, genre, and technique, my analyses can be extended theoretically to describe general types of imitative practice among atonal and serial composers. While my analyses show how these three twentieth-century composers integrate voice leading and musical contour to articulate different formal sections, they also provide clear means for listeners to experience the perceptual interplay created by the juxtaposition of various musical textures.