Tag Archives: Theory

Philip Ewell: Erasing colorasure in American music theory, and confronting demons from our past

Photo by Pascal Perich

Introduction: Dr. Philip Ewell, Associate Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, posted a series of daily tweets during Black History Month (February 2021) providing information on some under-researched Black composers and musicians under the rubric Colorased. These tweets contain names and basic information about each neglected figure. In keeping with RILM’s mission to document and disseminate writings about music, we wanted to preserve and share these tweets, and asked Dr. Ewell if he would be willing to re-post them, along with some text framing his project, here on RILM’s blog. 

We are delighted that Dr. Ewell accepted our invitation. Below are his text and his Colorased tweets. RILM Assistant Editor Michael Lupo has added the number of times (if any) the names are represented in each of RILM’s resources as of this date to aid further research. (Where a product is not listed, it means the name was not present at all.) The dearth of references highlights the fact that more research is needed. We hope this proves to be fodder for the scholarly music community.

-Barbara Dobbs Mackenzie, Executive Director, RILM

This past Black History Month, 2021, I undertook a Twitter project, Erasing colorasure in American music theory. In the history of American music theory, and American classical music, Whiteness has consistently erased nonWhiteness from existence as unimportant in a process I call colorasure, which I based on Kate Manne’s useful concept of herasure when the same happens with women.1 In order to shine a light on notable colorased Black musicians, every February morning I sent out a tweet of a Black African musical figure, usually American, who has been colorased by American music theory—this list of 28 figures appears at the end of this post. 

Many such figures are now being (re)discovered. While some are more famous—e.g., Joseph Bologne, Scott Joplin, Yusef Lateef, Vicente Lusitano, Charles Mingus, Florence Price, or George Russell (none of whom I listed for Erasing colorasure)—others never broke through. Importantly, Black women have been both colorased and herased from existence, which has made it nearly impossible for them to break through in the history of American classical music.

Of the many hundreds of important Black musical figures out there, I tried to stick with music theorists and composers who may have been of interest to American music theory, had American music theory ever truly been interested in Blackness. This public music-theory project followed in the footsteps of pioneer scholars who know infinitely more about these figures than I do, scholars such as Samuel Floyd, Tammy Kernodle, Horace Maxile, Emmett Price, and Eileen Southern, and many others, and I was deeply indebted to such scholars with this simple project.2 

Two aspects of Erasing colorasure need to be highlighted, one easier to absorb, one harder. One simple reason that Erasing colorasure was lauded both on Twitter and Facebook, and elsewhere as well, is that the addition of Black musicians to our general music conversation, and to any American music curriculum, does not really threaten the White-cisgender-male power structure of the field in 2021—this structure remains intact and, more important, in control. Consequently, White-male power in academic music actually loves this type of work. This easier unthreatening work generally falls under the rubric of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DEI), which is now being strongly emphasized in music institutions across the country.

The harder aspect relates to what I call the “three legs” of American music theory’s stool, namely, Whiteness, maleness, and cisnormativity. Examining and exposing how and why White cisgender men, both subconsciously and, frankly, consciously, colorased Blackness and other forms of nonWhiteness from the conversation is what represents true antiracist work in the academic study of music. This much harder work relates to how and why those Black composers and musicians were colorased to begin with. The work is arduous, and exhausting, but ultimately rewarding and emancipating. However, this work directly challenges and threatens the White-cisgender-male power structure of what we do in the United States as musicians, and this is why true antiracist work in academic music is often met with angry, bullying, and gaslighting responses.3

In a response to a 20-minute lecture that I gave in November 2019, music theorist Timothy Jackson wrote:

“As for Black composers, they have had to overcome unbelievable prejudice and hardships, yet there have been many talented and technically competent Black composers in the past hundred years. We can certainly listen to their music with pleasure, even if they are not ‘supreme geniuses’ on the level of the very greatest classical composers.”4

With this jarring statement, Jackson was only saying out loud what, sadly, many senior colleagues still believe: that the musical work by Blacks and Blackness exists, overall, on an inferior level to that of the so-called “masterpieces” by the “supreme geniuses” of the White Western canon. Clearly, in Jackson’s interpretation the 28 musicians I name below from Erasing colorasure, though “competent”, would not qualify as “supreme geniuses” like the composers—Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, etc.—of the White Western canon.

To underscore his belief in Black inferiority, Jackson alleged that I, Philip Ewell, am “uninterested in bringing Blacks up to ‘standard’ so they can compete.”5 I suppose Jackson is correct in one sense—I am uninterested in bringing Blacks up to standard, but our reasoning is quite different. I believe that Blacks, Whites, and all other races are on the same standard, and thus Blacks need no bringing up to begin with, while Jackson clearly believes that Blacks are substandard, and that Blacks, and other nonWhites one presumes, should aspire to Whiteness.

In a fallacy of White supremacy, and of antiBlackness in the case of Erasing colorasure I hasten to add, music of the White Western canon is still thought to be superior to other nonWhite musics of the world. Perhaps most important, Timothy Jackson only wrote down that which many senior figures in music theory, and in academic music, actually believe. Many have tried to cleave themselves from the egregious antiBlack statements that appear in Jackson’s now infamous response, and in the other antiBlack responses in the symposium in Volume 12 of the Journal of Schenkerian studies, but his comments actually represent deep-seated beliefs held by the field of American music theory itself since its inception in the 1960s.6 That is, Jackson’s musical beliefs are not at all uncommon among senior music theorists, musicians, and music pedagogues in our American music institutions. To argue otherwise would be less than candid.

Happily, there are strong currents in the academic study of music in our country that are countering this fallacious and harmful belief in White-male musical superiority. Hardly a week goes by without another source or website being released by mid-career and junior scholars that counters academic music’s false belief in a meritorious White-male exceptionalism.7 These sources underscore the simple truth that music of the White-male Western canon—itself a mythological human construct meant, in very large part, to enshrine White-male dominance in the academic study of music in the U.S.—is not superior (nor inferior) to other musics of the world.8  These sources show the richness of the many musics of our planet for all to see. 

To be clear, there is far more activity in the realm of DEI in music, that is, the unthreatening additive activity that I describe above. There needs to be more honest antiracist appraisal with respect to how we got to where we are in the academic study of music in our country, one in which the “core” of study still sits squarely on the exclusionist three-legged White-cis-male stool of academic music, one in which assimilating to White-cis-male beliefs, methods, and mythologies remains paramount. Both paths, that of DEI and of antiracism/antisexism, are important to pursue but, currently, DEI work is far more common, for obvious reasons. It is my hope that the harder path of antiracism/antisexism, especially, is pursued with an even greater intensity in the near future, which will help everyone understand that all musics of our world are worthy of our consideration, in the classroom, on the concert stage, and beyond. 

Erasing Colorasure in American Music Theory: Twitter Project, Black History Month, 20219

1. Colorased 1: John T. Douglass (1847–86), violinist, composer. Born in U.S. of slave mother. Studied in Dresden with Eduard Rapoldi, and in Paris. Composed three-act Virginia’s ball, premiered Stuyvesant Institute, 1868, probably the first opera by an African American composer. Taught David Mannes violin, NY, 1870s. Also a pianist, cellist, guitarist. 

Items about John T. Douglass in:

  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 1

2. Colorased 2: Julia Perry (1924–79), composer, educator. Studied at Westminster Choir College, also with N. Boulanger and L. Dallapiccola in France/Italy. Awarded Boulanger Grand Prix for her Viola Sonata. Composed four operas, 12 symphonies, concertos, etc. Received two Guggenheims. 

Items about Julia Perry in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 7
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 13
  • Index to Printed Music: 7

3. Colorased 3: Valerie Capers (b. 1935), pianist, composer. Father was a professional jazz pianist. Blind since the age of six. Got BA and MA degrees from Juilliard, where she was the first blind graduate. Formed her own trio and in 1966 recorded her first jazz album, Portrait in soul. 

Items about Valerie Gail Capers in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 3
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 6
  • Index to Printed Music: 7 

4. Colorased 4: José White Lafitte (1836–1918), composer, violinist. From Cuba, concertized with L.M. Gottschalk. Studied at the Paris Conservatory, Grand Prize winner, 1856. Owner of the “Swansong” Stradivarius. Composed some 30 works, including the F#-minor concerto, recorded by Rachel B. Pine, 1997. 

Items about José White Lafitte in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 10

5. Colorased 5: George Walker (1922–2018), composer. First African American to win a Pulitzer Prize (Lilacs, 1996). First Black graduate of the Curtis Institute (1945), First Black doctorate from the Eastman (1955). Nearly 100 compositions, symphonies, concertos, songs, piano, etc. Studied at Fontainebleau, 1947. 

Items about George Theophilus Walker in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 89
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 44
  • Index to Printed Music: 4

6. Colorased 6: Undine Smith Moore (1904–89), professor, composer, music theorist. Attended Fisk U, Juilliard, Columbia (MA), and workshops at Eastman. In 1969, cofounded Black Music Center at Virginia State College, and wrote music theory textbook featuring music by Black composers. 

Items about Undine Smith Moore in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 16
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 13
  • Index to Printed Music: 10

7. Colorased 7: Horace Boyer (1935–2009), professor, music theorist. Published more than 40 articles in major journals. His 1973 Eastman music theory PhD on Black church music may be the first such PhD awarded to African American Black. Theory professor for 26 years at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. 

Items about Horace Clarence Boyer in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 41
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 60

8. Colorased 8: Zenobia Powell Perry (1908–2004), professor, composer. BA Tuskegee Institute, 1938, MA Colorado St. College, 1945. Piano studies with Robert Dett. Composition studies with Darius Milhaud, Charles Jones. Faculty/composer at Central St. University, Ohio, 1955–82. Opera, Tawawa house, 1985. 

Items about Zenobia Powell Perry in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 7
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 6
  • Index to Printed Music: 2

9. Colorased 9: Henry Williams (1813–1903), violinist, composer, educator. Played with Francis Johnson’s band in Philadelphia. Composed Lauriette, 1840, and Parisian Waltzes, 1854. Member of the National Peace Jubilee Orchestra in Boston, 1872. 

Items about Henry F. Williams in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 3
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 5
  • Index to Printed Music: 7

10. Colorased 10: Margaret Bonds (1913–72), pianist, educator, composer. Composition studies with Florence Price. BM/MM Northwestern (1933–34). Juilliard comp studies with Roy Harris, Emerson Harper. Theater/song composer, collaborated with Langston Hughes. First Black to perform with Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 

Items about Margaret Bonds in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 27
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 15
  • Index to Printed Music: 12

11. Colorased 11: William Marion Cook (1869–1944), composer, violinist, conductor. Studied violin, Oberlin. Studied composition with A. Dvořák, 1894–95. Studied violin, Berlin Hochschule, with Heinrich Jacobson and Joseph Joachim. Composed/staged many Broadway musicals in New York City. 

Items about Will Marion Cook in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 68
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 53
  • Index to Printed Music: 4
  • MGG Online: 1

12. Colorased 12: Carl Rossini Diton (1886–1962), pianist, composer, educator. Graduated University of Pennsylvania, 1909. Studied in Munich, Germany, 1910–11. Certificate, voice, Juilliard, 1931. Taught at Paine College, Wiley University, and Talladega College (1911–18). Accompanied Marian Anderson and Jules Bledsoe. 

Items about Carl Diton in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 3
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 12
  • Index to Printed Music: 1

13. Colorased 13: Calvin Bernard Grimes (1939–2011), professor, music theorist. 1974 University of Iowa music theory PhD, “American musical periodicals, 1819–52: Music theory and musical thought in the U.S.” Chair, Division Dean, Music Theory Professor, Morehouse College (his alma mater, ’62). Choir director. 

Items about Calvin Bernard Grimes in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 1

14. Colorased 14: Francis Johnson (1792–1844), composer, bandleader, bugler, violinist. Collection of new cottillions, 1818. Wrote more than 200 compositions. First African American composer to have music published as sheet music. Active in Philadelphia. 

Items about Francis Johnson in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 28
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 29
  • Index to Printed Music: 53

15. Colorased 15: Joseph Douglass (1871–1935), violinist, conductor, educator. Grandson of Frederick Douglass. First violinist to record for Victor recordings. Studied at Boston Conservatory. First Black violinist to tour Europe. Taught at Howard University. 

Items about Joseph Douglass in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 1
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 11

16. Colorased 16: Mary Lou Williams (1910–81), composer, educator. Guggenheims 1972 and 1977. Taught at Duke University, 1977–81. Wrote hundreds of compositions. Worked with and/or mentored most jazz greats of the twentieth century. Wrote Zodiac suite, Mary Lou’s Mass, and Black Christ of the Andes

Items about Mary Lou Williams in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 110
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 31
  • Index to Printed Music: 15
  • MGG Online: 1

17. Colorased 17: Roland Wiggins (1932–2019), professor, music theorist. PhD, Combs College of Music. Studied with V. Persichetti, H. Cowell. Taught J. Coltrane, T. Monk, Y. Lateef, B. Taylor. Used Schillinger System. Director Center for Aesthetics, University of Massachusetts. Professor at Hampshire College and University of Virginia. 

There are no items about Roland Wiggins in any RILM product.

18. Colorased 18: Olly Wilson (1937–2018), composer, pianist, musicologist. BM, Washington University, St. Louis; MM, composition, University of Illinois; PhD University of Iowa (1964). Taught Florida A&M, Oberlin, UC-Berkeley. Commissions by Chicago and Boston symphonies and NY Philharmonic. Guggenheim, 1971. Rome Prize, 2008. 

Items about Olly Woodrow Wilson, Jr. in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 50
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 14
  • MGG Online: 1

19. Colorased 19: Harry Lawrence Freeman (1869–1954), composer. Composed 23 operas, the first of which, Epthelia, was premiered in New York in 1891. Papers housed at Columbia University. Unpublished manuscript entitled The negro in music and drama. Wrote of other Black composers as “our musical cousins”. 

Items about Harry Lawrence Freeman in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 6
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 4

20. Colorased 20: Jewel Thompson (b. 1935), professor, music theorist, Hunter College CUNY. PhD, Music Theory, Eastman, 1981, “Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: The development of his compositional style”. Probably first African American woman to earn music theory PhD in U.S., and likely first music theory dissertation on a Black composer. 

Items about Jewel Thompson in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 4

21. Colorased 21: Clarence Cameron White (1880–1960), violinist, composer. Studied at Oberlin, Howard University, and with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in London. Compositions include a violin concerto, operas, and ballets. Composed the opera Ouanga!, 1932.

Items about Clarence Cameron White in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 9
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 6

22. Colorased 22: James Reese Europe (1881–1919), composer, bandleader. In 1910, organized Clef Club Orchestra, first group to play early jazz at Carnegie Hall. Played music solely by Black composers. Europe’s orchestra included Will Marion Cook. 

Items about James Reese Europe in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 65
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 29
  • Index to Printed Music: 2
  • MGG Online: 1

23. Colorased 23: Hazel Harrison (1883–1969), pianist. Studied with Hugo van Dalen in Berlin, soloed with the Berlin Philharmonic and performed recitals there. Also studied with Ferruccio Busoni. Taught at Tuskegee Institute and Howard University. 

Items about Hazel Harrison in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 6
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 8

24. Colorased 24: Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943), professor, composer, pianist. Performed at Carnegie Hall and Boston Symphony Hall as pianist and choir director. Studied at Oberlin, with A. Foote at Harvard (1920–21), and N. Boulanger at Fontainebleau (1929). MM, Eastman, 1932. 

Items about Robert Nathaniel Dett in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 73
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 28
  • Index to Printed Music: 46
  • MGG Online: 1

25. Colorased 25: Dorothy Rudd (b. 1940), composer, educator. Cofounder of Society of Black Composers. Graduated Howard University, 1963, Studies with N. Boulanger, Paris, 1963. Chamber works, symphony, song cycles, and three-act opera Frederick Douglass (1985). 

Items about Dorothy Rudd Moore in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 8
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 10
  • Index to Printed Music: 2

26. Colorased 26: Lucius Wyatt (b. 1938), professor, music theorist. 1973 Eastman PhD, “The mid-twentieth-century orchestral variation, 1953–1963”. Former chair, music department, Prairie View A&M. Director Prairie View Symphonic Band. Published more than 25 articles in major journals. Director of bands at Tuskegee University. 

Items about Lucius Wyatt in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 11
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 7

27. Colorased 27: Hale Smith (1925–2009), composer, pianist. BM/MM, Cleveland Institute of Music. Compositions include band, choir, orchestra, chamber, and song. Taught at Long Island University and University of Connecticut, Storrs. Honorary Doctorate, Cleveland Institute of Music, 1988. Worked with Eric Dolphy, D. Gillespie, and others. 

Items about Hale Smith in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 28
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 13
  • Index to Printed Music: 4

28. Colorased 28: Kermit Moore (1929–2013), cellist, conductor, composer. Studied Cleveland Institute of Music, Juilliard, NYU, Paris Conservatoire. Cello teachers: F. Salmond, P. Bazelaire, G. Piatigorsky, P. Casals. Composition with N. Boulanger. Conducting with S. Koussevitsky. Compositions include film scores and chamber music.

Items about Kermit Moore in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 5
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 10 

1 See Kate Manne, Down girl: The logic of misogyny (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017) and Entitled: How male privilege hurts women (New York: Crown Publishers, 2020). 

2 See, for example, Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., International dictionary of Black composers (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-5098); Tammy L. Kernodle, Horace J. Maxile, Jr., and Emmett G. Price, III, eds., Encyclopedia of African American music (Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2010; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-1135); and Eileen Southern, Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and African musicians (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982; RILM Abstracts 1982-44).

3 The angry response from conservative forces in music theory to my antiracist work in the field closely resembles the angry response from those same forces to the antisexist work by Susan McClary in her landmark Feminine endings: Music, gender, and sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1991; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1991-2755). I am proud to be mentioned in the same breath as a pioneer such as McClary.

4 Timothy L. Jackson, “A preliminary response to Ewell”, Journal of Schenkerian studies XII (2020) 165; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text 2019-20465. 

5 Jackson, 163.

6 For more on the controversy that this volume issue instigated, see the “Media” tab of my website, philipewell.com, where I have linked many feature stories that explain some of the issues surrounding this controversy.

 7 See, for example, Black opera research network (blackoperaresearch.net); Composers of Color Resource Project (composersofcolor.hcommons.org); Cora S. Palfy and Eric Gilson, “The hidden curriculum in the music theory classroom”, Journal of music theory pedagogy 32 (2018; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-52605); Dave Molk and Michelle Ohnona, “Promoting equity: Developing an antiracist music theory classroom”, New music box 29 January 2020 (https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/promoting-equity-developing-an-antiracist-music-theory-classroom/); ÆPEX Contemporary Performance (http://aepexcontemporary.org); Engaged music theory (engagedmusictheory.com); Music by Black composers (musicbyblackcomposers.org); Institute for Composer Diversity (composerdiversity.com); Expanding the music theory canon (expandingthemusictheorycanon.com); Project spectrum (projectspectrummusic.com); Rachel Lumsden and Jeffrey Swinkin, eds., The Norton guide to teaching music theory (W. W. Norton & Company, 2018; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-52608); and Robin D. Moore, ed., College music curricula for a new century (Oxford University Press, 2017; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2017-25093). Finally, see Rosa Abrahams, Philip Ewell, Aaron Grant, and Cora S. Palfy, The practicing music theorist, a new modernized and inclusive undergraduate music theory textbook (W.W. Norton, projected release 2023).

8 For more on the many mythologies of “Western civilization”, see Kwame Anthony Appiah, “There is no such thing as Western civilization”, The guardian, November 9, 2016.

9 I’ve written out the many abbreviations I used in my original tweets here. 

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Ornette Coleman and harmolodics

 

In an interview, Ornette Coleman discussed the musical philosophy and compositional/improvisational method that he called harmolodics.

“Harmolodics is a base of expanding the melody, the harmonic structure, the rhythm, and above all the free improvised structure of a composition beyond what they would be if they were just played as a regular 2-5-1 structure, or if they were played with the concept of a melody having a certain arrangement to know when to start and stop.”

“If a word means something else in another language, and it’s spelled and sounds the same, that’s very harmolodic. So, when you’re able to play like that, it expresses what sounds could be if they weren’t programmed to represent a certain territory. It has to do with what you base a concept of unity on. Unity in Europe comes from shared territories, not like America where unity is created out of shared conditions.”

“Harmolodics doesn’t change something from its original state. It expresses the information a melody has within its structure without taking it apart to find out why its sounds that way.”

Quoted in “Dialing up Ornette” by Bill Shoemaker (JazzTimes XXV/10 [December 1995] pp. 42–44).

Today would have been Coleman’s 90th birthday! Above, performing in 2008 (photo by Frank Schindelbeck; below, a performance from Coleman’s harmolodic funk period.

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Novelty and influence in classical piano music

 

While innovation is crucial for novel and influential achievements, quantifying these qualities in creative works remains a challenge. An information-theoretic framework for computing the novelty and influence of creative works based on their generation probabilities reflects the degree of uniqueness of their elements in comparison with other works.

Applying this formalism to a high-quality, large-scale data set of classical piano compositions–works of significant scientific and intellectual value–spanning several centuries of musical history, represented as symbolic progressions of chords, a study found that the enterprise’s developmental history can be characterized as a dynamic process composed of the emergence of dominant, paradigmatic creative styles that define distinct historical periods. These findings can offer a new understanding of the evolution of creative enterprises based on principled measures of novelty and influence.

This according to “Novelty and influence of creative works, and quantifying patterns of advances based on probabilistic references networks” by Doheum Park, Juhan Nam, and Juyong Park (EPJ data science IX/2 [2020]).

Many thanks to Marc Abrahams of Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention!

Above, two illustrations from the article (click to enlarge); below, Chopin’s prelude in A Major, op. 28, no.7, which provides the basis for the second illustration.

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Busnois, Tinctoris, and “L’homme armé”

 

Antoine Busnois’s Missa “L’homme armé” commits one notational error after another—at least according to Johannes Tinctoris.

As several scathing passages in his Proportionale musices attest, Tinctoris abhorred Busnois’s mensural innovations. And yet Busnois’s notational choices, while certainly idiosyncratic, were also arguably justifiable: the composer was merely finding ways of recording novel musical ideas that had no agreed-upon notational solutions.

Tinctoris’s response to Busnois was not limited to the criticisms in his theoretical treatises. Tinctoris the composer responded far more comprehensively, and at times with far greater sympathy for Busnois’s practice, in his own Missa “L’homme armé”. He echoed Busnois’s Mass notationally, in that he treated it as an example of what not to do; his response was also deeply musical, in that he tackled similar technical problems as a means of achieving analogous contrapuntal effects.

Tinctoris’s and Busnois’s settings need to be understood in the context of 15th-century Masses, one in which composers were not necessarily content to work within the system but invented new ways of writing to create new sounds. In doing so, mere composers could sometimes achieve significance as theorists. Taken together, the L’homme armé Masses of Busnois and Tinctoris raise a range of historiographical issues that invite us to reassess the figure of the theorist-composer.

This according to “Composing in theory: Busnoys, Tinctoris, and the L’homme armé tradition” by Emily Zazulia (Journal of the American Musicological Society LXXI/1 [spring 2018] pp. 1–73).

This year we celebrate the 590th anniversary of Busnois’s birth! (His exact birthdate is unknown.)

Above, the version of L’homme armé that Busnois used as his cantus firmus, from I-NapBN MS VI.E.40 (with editorial markings); below, the Kyrie from his Missa “L’homme armé” followed by the corresponding movement from Tinctoris’s work.

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F, the keynote of nature

 

In The voice of the silence (1889), Helena Blavatsky (above) designated the pitch F as the keynote of nature. Blavatsky’s authority was Benjamin Silliman, a Professor of chemistry at Harvard; his source was probably The music of nature (1832) by William Gardiner. Beethoven’s sixth symphony had already established F as the favored “pastoral” key.

Blavatsky’s prestige perpetuated the designation among Theosophists, and it remains a popular New Age concept, though some maintain that the correct note is F sharp. Several musicologists have suggested ingenious rationales for the idea that F is a fundamental keynote.

This according to “Is there a keynote of nature?” by Joscelyn Godwin, an essay included in Esotericism, religion, and nature (East Lansing: Association for the Study of Esotericism, 2009, pp. 53–71).

Below, another endorsement of the natural power of F.

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RILM Editor wins Outstanding Dissertation Award

Former RILM Editor Woo Shingkwan (胡成筠) has just won the International Musicological Society’s 2018 Outstanding Dissertation Award for The ceremonial music of Zhu Zaiyu.

Zhu Zaiyu (1536–1611) was a mathematician, physicist, music theorist, choreographer, and composer; he is particularly remembered today for creating the theory of 12-tone equal temperament.

Congratulations to our former colleague! Above, a page from the dissertation.

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Filed under Asia, RILM, RILM news, Theory