MTSNYS 2016 reflections

Another energizing and inspiring conference is past: Music Theory Society of New York State’s annual meeting. This year it was held at Mannes’s new campus–beautiful space. And a lot of really wonderful papers! I actually found the conference short, I think because I only saw two full sessions, and the other was a “lightning round” of short papers.

Yesterday I presented my paper, “Following Schenker’s Lead in Analysis of Stravinsky” (handout here). It was actually one of two papers in the conference about understanding Stravinsky’s neoclassicism using tools for tonal analysis–the other presenter, Sarah Iker, approached it from schema theory! I had great discussion with her afterward.
As I expected the discussion after my paper was quite lively–maybe that’s why my paper was at the end of the conference! This post is probably mostly for myself: I want to reflect on the feedback I received so that, after taking a break from this paper, I can revise it and address some of these concerns.

One piece of feedback I had, amazingly, never received before was that this was perhaps normalizing out some octatonicism, a well-established contributor to Stravinsky’s harmonic language. I hadn’t even noticed octatonicism in the excerpts I analyzed, truly, because one can also understand them as polytonal diatonic fragments, and that’s how I was experiencing them. I find this happens a lot: I hear things and think immediately “polytonal,” and others hear the same music and think, just as immediately, “octatonic.” At any rate, I’ll have to revise my paper to explicitly address and possibly theorize octatonicism a bit.

Another expected comment was about over-normalizing Stravinsky more generally. My approach proceeded from writing a recomposition of Stravinsky’s work that normalizes it to fit within the norms of tonality (what is “tonality” anyway? Another issue that needs more theorizing…) so that Schenkerian theory could deal with it fully. Does this erase what makes Stravinsky Stravinsky?

I tend to think that it does not. I chose a piece (Symphony in Three Movements) which really seemed to invoke tonality rhetorically. It seems fair, then, to relate it to tonality in analyzing it. The final product of my methodology is not the normalized Schenkerian sketch, but the overlay of the sketch back onto the original score. This actually highlights the differences between Stravinsky and typical tonality. I was approaching it in a Hepokoski/Darcy light. Here are the norms; now how have they been manipulated? It’s never supposed to be perjorative to say that Stravinsky is not doing the normal thing. I adore Stravinsky’s neoclassicism because of his peculiar way of twisting the norms.

Is it even fair to proceed from the idea of “norms”? I think so. And one thing that Sarah Iker discussed at length in her own presentation about Stravinsky was how the culture of modernism was very much interested in the traditions of the 18th century more generally, and also that Stravinsky had learned about things like tonal schemata (obviously not using that terminology).

Probably the most popular sentiment, though, was that more time should be devoted to discussing the differences between the surface and the recomposition. What are possible motivations for the shifts Stravinsky has made? What’s the effect?

I think for a 30 minute paper I discussed all I could. But I intend to expand this paper into an article! So these are all directions to expand in, to get it to article length. Any other feedback from any readers would be appreciated via Twitter or via email!