Musicology Colloquium Series

Every fortnight during semester, our musicologists present a research lecture on a variety of topics. Designed as a showcase for SCM researchers and a venue for research visitors, this series is held in conjunction with the Alfred Hook Lectures (one per semester) and the ‘About Music’ Public Lecture Series and About Music Education Public Lecture Series (currently held 5pm on Mondays during semester).

For information on our past musicology events – please click here.

See below for details of our 2016 musicology colloquium series.

Semester 2 2016 

1. Jocelyn Ho (UCLA)
Wednesday 27 July – 4:15pm sharp, Recital Hall West

Analysing and Composing with the Performing Body

Theorists are thinkers, composers are creators, performers are doers. Over-simplified as they are, these designations nevertheless sum up our perception of each of these musical sub-disciplines. Each with its own exclusive preoccupation: theorists write about music, composers create it, and performers concretise it in real time. However, while analyses and compositions are predominantly text-based, the majority of the outputs of performers—performances—are a lot more ephemeral, vanishing only hours into thin air after they begin.  Because of this difference between text and experience, or more generically between how we traditionally split the mind from the body, composers and theorists are regarded to be at the forefront of creative and critical enquiry respectively; in contrast, the contribution of performers does not seem to be quite on par. Indeed, performers are merely doers; they are laborers whose work is primarily done through their bodily, physical skills.

Yet, to think that performers cannot contribute to analytical and creative enquiry is to entirely miss the point of music making. In this talk, I will focus on the phenomenon of live performance, situating the performer’s body at the forefront in investigating analysis and composition as reciprocal processes. I argue that performers, more specifically, the performers’ bodily gestures, are key to the critical understanding and the creation of music. This talk contains three parts: in the first instance, I will investigate the concept of embodied musical gestures through a range of inter-disciplinary scholars, ultimately defining a concept that is useful and fruitful in discussing performance. In the second part, I will use Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch II for piano (1994) as a testing ground for analysing with the performative body as the starting point. And lastly, I will discuss how composing with performative gestures in my composition Sheng (2016) for piano, audience’s smartphones, and fixed audio playback elicits the cross-modal, inter-sensory nature of embodied musical gestures.

Indeed, the concept of embodied musical gesture has the potential to dissolve the artificial fractures between the activities of thinking, creating, and doing. Analysing and composing with the performing body do away with this mind-body split, offering refreshing and generative insights that do justice to the physical nature of music making.

2. Jadey O’Regan (Arts Music Unit)
Wednesday 10 August – 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

Keeping an Eye on Summer: A (short) narrative of the Beach Boys’ 1960s music through popular music analysis and visual musicology

The Beach Boys were an American rock group, best known for their songs about “surf, cars and girls” during the early-to-mid 1960s. This paper offers a small slice of the research I completed for my PhD thesis, which aimed to define the unique mix of musical and para-musical elements that contributed to the Beach Boys’ “sound”.

Musicologist John Covach used a “craft to art” model to explain how the Beatles’ use of song structures changed chronologically. The Beach Boys show a similar progression throughout their music, however, they also experienced an earlier “apprentice” phase when the group was still finding their voices and learning their instruments. This paper will explore song structures, instrumentation, chord progressions and lyrics to show how the Beach Boys’ music moved through three distinct periods of musical development, and how the changes in their music align with changes in their own lives within the context of Southern California in the 1960s. In tracing this narrative, this paper will also discuss broader issues of music analysis and popular music research, such as finding suitable methodologies and interpreting large amounts of musical information.

When the Beach Boys sang “Will I dig the same things that turned me on as a kid?” in “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” (1965) we hear the tension between being a boy and wanting to be man. On their early albums, we also hear that development from boy to man, and we also hear their transformation from apprentice musicians to artists in the recording studio.

3. Michael Halliwell (SCM)
Wednesday 24 August – 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

Film as Opera: A Case Study

Opera and film is an area of scholarly endeavour that has engaged a wide variety of methodologies in recent years. The usual areas of investigation include opera on film; opera as film; opera in film, and film in opera. However, film as opera is a relatively new phenomenon. A particular case study will form the basis of this presentation. André Previn drew on David Lean’s 1945 film, Brief Encounter, based on Noel Coward’s 1936 play, Still Life, for an opera premiered in 2009. The Coward play is virtually forgotten today; however, Coward wrote the screenplay for the film which still commands great respect. The transformation from play to film through the use of interior monologue is one of its major features, and the opera adapts this through the use of aria and ensemble. This paper investigates how this adaptation of the film drew on different elements of both source works, finding a distinctive dramaturgical and musical response to the screenplay.

4. Scott Davie
21 September – 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

Abandoned notes? Exploring the fate of a discarded Rachmaninoff piano sketch.

The political upheavals of 1917 in Russia irreversibly altered the career of composer, conductor and pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff. With his wife and two young daughters, he left his homeland on the pretence of a brief concert tour; in fact, they would never return. Due to the haste and secrecy of their departure, they carried with them only the barest essentials. In this light, my discovery in 2003 of a sketch of a short piano work on Russian manuscript paper, held in the composer’s ‘Western’ archive at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., is of particular interest. A reconstruction of this work was recorded by me in 2006 (ABC Classics), and by Vladimir Ashkenazy in 2012 (Decca). Early biographers were aware that the manuscript of Rachmaninoff’s still-incomplete Fourth Piano Concerto was carried in the composer’s suitcase when he left Russia, and it has subsequently come to light that the manuscripts of three short piano works dating from late 1917 also were taken with him. The question, therefore, arises as to the significance of the discovered sketch, and whether it, like these other short piano pieces, may have been intended for publication at some stage.

In this paper I place the discovered piano piece within the context of Rachmaninoff’s development as a composer, from the experimental modernity of the songs and piano pieces, opp. 38 and 39 (1916-17), through the long-worked-on but stylistically unique Fourth Piano Concerto, op. 40 (1926, 1928, 1941), to the popular variation-style works of the 1930s (including the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, op. 43). I contend that while precisely dating the discovered piano piece may not be possible, it displays hallmarks of the composer’s style around the time of the 1917 Revolution. I also advance the theory that pages discarded from the original version of the Fourth Concerto provide a clue as to why Rachmaninoff abandoned the sketch.

5. Dean Sutcliffe (University of Auckland)
Friday 7 October – Graduate Sympsoium

The loose-knit nature of development sections, and more broadly of structural middles, compared with opening and closing sections has long been acknowledged. This is often understood as arising from a sort of teleological necessity: the need to work out the implications of the given material, to “take it further”. But if we consider such sections less from the point of view of “formal logic” and focus instead on the sort of social behaviour they suggest, the role that they play seems less obvious. Why should such relatively freely organized material be required within a late eighteenth-century musical idiom that places such an unprecedented emphasis on periodic organization – on an arrangement of material that seems to go out of its way to ensure intelligibility for the listener? Often enough these middle sections seem to shed the “discipline” of periodic construction, to lack the sort of reciprocal, varied presentation of material we expect to hear. Rather than pleasing through variety, they may suggest mechanical or obsessive behaviour, “labouring” a particular musical point. These are not attributes that fit readily with a predominantly “polite”, sociable style. However, the development section – which came into being as such precisely in this era – has become such a familiar part of our musical knowledge that we rarely pause to think about this. What purpose could such an abdication of normal musical syntax serve? How might listeners have been expected to react? I consider this problem with reference to works by Brunetti, Mozart, Kraus, Pleyel, Joseph Haydn and Michael Haydn.

6. Joseph Toltz (SCM)
Wednesday 19 October – 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

Out of the depths: complexity, subjectivity and materiality in the first collection of Holocaust songs

In the wake of the Holocaust, Jews responded to their postwar situation by telling stories, writing poetry, making music, creating art, and reflecting on their collective experience and its meaning.  This vast outpouring of what one might call “post Holocaust culture,” no matter the form it took, might all be seen as a way of “bearing witness.” And the very act of producing culture after the Holocaust suggests a desire for there to be some notion of a collective Jewish people.  

Forms of post Holocaust culture might be considered a form of non-testimonial “bearing witness.” Rather than tell their experiences surviving the war and Holocaust, they represented and/or reflected either on their personal experience of wartime, even if it wasn’t an experience directly related to the Holocaust, or on the collective Jewish experience writ large through music, art, and literature.

This paper will focus on the first post-Holocaust songbook Mima’amakim, compiled by Yehuda Eismann in Bucharest in 1945, a copy of which recently appeared in a private collection in Sydney, Australia.  The tiny pamphlet contains songs that would become part of the canonic memorialising repertoire of the Shoah, songs that disappeared from all other written accounts, clues to the contributors and places of origin of the songs and a testimonial introduction by the compiler. How does such a material object open further conversations on the place of music inside and outside testimony? How does aesthetic subjectivity of the musical experience interact with the process of testimonial canonisation, determining exclusion and inclusion of one song over another?

Semester 1 2016 

1. Nigel Fabb (University of Strathclyde) via SKYPE
Wednesday 9 March, 5:00pm sharp, Room 2174 (please note exceptional time of 5pm)

Two routes to epiphany in music, song and literature

I define an ‘epiphany’ as a subjectively significant experience, which is triggered by some external source (a piece of music, song, text, painting, etc), brief and sudden, and relatively rare.  The experience may be epistemically distinctive, involving some important but ineffable insight, or a meaning which is ‘difficult to understand’. The experience may be emotionally distinctive, and may involve ‘chills’ or tears or other autonomic arousal.  The study of these ‘secular’ epiphanies includes the sublime, and the study of special moments in literary studies, aesthetics and psychology.  In the psychology of music, there has been extensive experimental work on ‘chills’ and more generally on epiphanies in music (e.g., Gabrielsson’s ‘strong experiences in music’, or Liza Lim’s compositions and theory).   My long-term research project focuses on how epiphanies are triggered, and in this talk I discuss two different kinds of trigger, which however appear to be connected.

One type of trigger is ‘exogenous’, characteristically part of the primary sensory effects of the medium: in music, extremes and sudden changes in loudness (and crescendo) and tempo; in visual art, flash, shine and brilliance.  The other type of trigger is ‘endogenous’, characteristically emerging from the form of the text (tonal structure, or poetic metre, etc), and in this talk I focus on formal complexities which involve overlapping groups and the production of ‘liminalities’.  We perceive the world (and aesthetic objects) by forming elements into groups, these groups being events, narrative episodes, or musical ‘grouping structure’ (identified by Lerdahl and Jackendoff).  Normally, groups do not overlap, but in aesthetics, group overlap can be used for specific effect.  I illustrate with a simple example from Haydn, and in more detail with an ‘epiphanic’ overlap from Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse.

Having identified two distinct routes to epiphany, I ask whether they are connected.  I draw on work on Australian Aboriginal song (in its performance context), by Linda Barwick and others (Ellis, Marett, Turpin, Treloyn, etc), where ‘iridescence’ is both an exogenous and endogenous effect.  Exogenous triggers disrupt the surface of the text, while endogenous triggers such as group overlap disrupt the internal edges of the text; in both cases, liminality (surface/edge) is disrupted.  I conclude by asking why liminality disruptions should trigger the special experience of epiphany.

2.Martin Ennis (University of Cambridge)
Wednesday 23 March, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

Secrets of the Grave: New Light on Brahms’s Funeral works

That Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem, Op. 45) is strikingly original in both conception and design was immediately clear to his contemporaries.  After all, it challenged generic conventions in its unorthodox use of German texts and by its apparent refusal to espouse an overtly Christian message.  At the time of its premiere all but a handful of close friends believed the Requiem to be an autonomous art-work.  Over time, however, various connections with pre-existing musical material have come to light.  Perhaps most intriguing is the issue of whether or not the Requiem is based on a Lutheran chorale and, if so, which.  According to the Berlin-based conductor Siegfried Ochs, Brahms once claimed that a chorale lies at the root of the work, and corroborating or disproving Ochs’s claim has exercised numerous Brahms scholars over recent decades.  In the process, several chorales have been proposed as the Requiem’s source material.

This afternoon’s paper will attempt to advance the discussion by looking afresh at Ochs’s comments on the Requiem and by proposing a new perspective on the origins of the work.  This in turn should help answer once and for all the question about the chorale.

3. David Larkin (Sydney Conservatorium of Music)
Wednesday 27 April, 4:15pm sharp, Room 2174

The battle for hearts and minds: Liszt and the Viennese critics, March 1858

After an enormously successful early career as a performer, Franz Liszt withdrew from concertizing to focus on composition. The works he produced in the 1850s were highly contested at the time, attracting both passionate support and vehement opposition. The established narrative of Liszt’s career regards him as taking an increasingly passive line in the face of this critical storm, summed up in his mantra ‘I can wait’. However, in reality Liszt was assiduous in trying to create an audience for his works, not just through performing and pamphleteering, but also through concerted media campaigns and direct contact with the critics.

In this paper, I will focus on two concerts of his music which Liszt conducted in the Austrian capital in March 1858, for which there is rich extant documentation in the press and in his correspondence. Analysing the concert reviews reveals a journalistic infrastructure in which the reviewers seem as much to be responding to earlier reports as to the actual musical events. This is perhaps only to be expected at a time when the musical world was so sharply polarised. Even more intriguing is Liszt’s involvement in attempting to shape the popular and critical response, both in the run-up to the concerts and indeed afterwards. He fraternised beforehand with some members of the press as well as other power-brokers, and encouraged a few well-disposed figures to write favourable concert reports. From this detailed study of critical practices and reception politics Liszt emerges looking far less idealistic than has often been imagined.

4. Catherine Ingram (Sydney Conservatorium of Music)
Wednesday 25 May, 3:45pm sharp, Room 2174

Reconsidering Ethnographic Comparison in Music Research

The value of ethnographic comparison is not always addressed explicitly in ethnographic publications—indeed, in ethnomusicology in particular, there was a turn against comparison following the perceived detractions in Alan Lomax’s comparative cantometrics project of the 1950s–1960s (Lomax 1968). However, more careful consideration of the literature reveals that comparison remains at the heart of much of the most esteemed ethnographic work in both ethnomusicology and anthropology. Michael Herzfeld (2001) convincingly argues for the degree to which forms of comparison are invoked in most ethnographic studies, which are often reliant upon a reflexive comparison between the experiences of the ethnographer in and outside the field: “at one level, the fundamental ground of comparison is almost always the self of the ethnographer” (2001: 263). Herzfeld also notes how the use of cultural comparison by research participants themselves often forms an important part of ethnographic research in a variety of ways, even when research is conducted within one apparently distinct musical culture. Herzfeld’s advocacy for explicit forms of ethnographic comparison is echoed in a growing body of work that includes several articles utilizing comparison as a key feature of ethnographic analysis (Widlock 2001; Levy 2005; Narotzky 2009), and an edited collection entitled Anthropology, by Comparison (Gingrich and Fox 2002). This paper draws upon initial insights from my ongoing postdoctoral research into the music-making of selected cultural minorities in Australia and China to explore the ways in which new musical ethnographic comparative approaches may be developed that are dissociated from earlier, problematic connections between comparison and the production of “Grand Theory” (and other positivist approaches), and how comparison may be reinvigorated within new ethnomusicological analytical research frameworks.