Dissertation Index

Author: Blom-Smith, Richard N. W.

Title: A Theory of Accent in Tonal Music with an Assessment of Selected Modern Accentologies

Institution: King's College London, University of London

Begun: October 1988

Completed: April 1994


Although it is widely accepted that the subject of accent is of general importance to theories of rhythm, there is considerable diversity and frequent contradiction among modern concepts of accent; there is little agreement about either a definition or a list of types. Furthermore, whilst there is much of great value in modern accentology, none of the most important individual studies is wholly adequate.

The broad explanatory context by which accent may be defined is metric theory, for accent is both a determinant and a function of metric structure. Metric structure must necessarily be conceived as a genuinely temporal and context-sensitive process in which that which 'measures' is constantly redefined by that which is 'measured'. It therefore has both a time-span component and what may be called a 'phenomenal' component.

An accent is a structural time-point; it is a time-point which is constituent of the highly specified hierarchy of metric structure. This is what the two main classes of accent, metric accent and phenomenal accent, have in common. These two classes of accent are distinct, however, in respect of their determinants and their functions. Whereas metric accents are determined by metric structure, phenomenal accents are determined by accentual events. With regard to their functions, metric accents structure coincident events, whereas phenomenal accents structure meter.

Metric accent has no sub-classes; all metric accents are of fundamentally the same kind. Phenomenal accent has eight sub-classes, each of which is defined by its determining event: attack accent, dynamic accent, initiative accent, agogic accent, tonal accent, terminative accent, registral accent, and associated accent. All of these classes of accent logically follow from other components of the accentology and are intuitively demonstrable in especially composed musical examples.

Keywords: accent, meter, rhythm, phenomenal, time-point, time-span, agogic, tonal, temporality


1. The Accentologies of Roger Sessions, Lerdahl and Jackendoff, and Jonathan Kramer
2. The Accentologies of Cooper and Meyer and John Graziano
3. The Accentologies of Wallace Berry and William Benjamin
4. The Accentologies of Anne Alexandra Pierce, William Caplin, and Joel Lester
5. Toward a Theory of Meter
6. A Definition of Accent
7. A Taxonomy of Accent
8. Attack Accent and Dynamic Accent
9. Initiative Accent
10. Agogic Accent
11. Tonal Accent
12. Terminative Accent
13. Registral Accent
14. Associated Accent


Richard Blom-Smith
18 St Andrew's Way
Cambridge CB4 9NQ
United Kingdom
phone: 00 44 1223 563341
fax: 00 44 1223 521640
email: RNWBlomSmith@aol.com

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