Author: Scrivener, Julie A.
Title: Representations of Time and Space in the Player Piano Studies of Conlon Nancarrow
Institution: Michigan State University
Begun: May 2000
Completed: May 2002
The Studies for player piano by Conlon Nancarrow (1912—1997) have attracted attention from musical analysts for their innovations in rhythm and tempo, including the use of isorhythm, different techniques of acceleration and deceleration, and simultaneous use of different tempos in sometimes very complex textures. Still, despite an observation by Philip Carlsen in 1986 that the critical literature on Nancarrow's work was very small, this deficit has been only partially addressed with the publication since then of a major analytical book by Kyle Gann (1995), a 1996 dissertation by Margaret Thomas, and a small number of articles and reviews.
The present study is intended to expand the literature by examining specific structural features native to the Studies. The dissertation begins with an in-depth look at the four major analytical sources on Nancarrow's Studies: Carlsen, Gann, Thomas, and CD liner notes and an article written by James Tenney. Four Studies (Nos. 8, 19, 23, and 35) are treated by each of the four major sources, and the analytical treatment of these Studies is compared.
In Chapter 2, the examination of the use of ratios in the Studies identifies Nancarrow's favored ratios and their relationship to the Fibonacci series and pitch ratios in the justly-tuned chromatic scale. Uses of ratios to control various parameters are identified, including: tempo relationships, rhythmic motives, melodic and harmonic materials, and structure. The use of ratios is the focus of a comprehensive analysis of Study No. 34.
The next two chapters focus on features of Nancarrow's "tempo canons": canonic pieces in which the various voices present canonic material at different speeds. Chapter 3 examines the structural use of convergence points, which are a prominent feature of these Studies because the canonic voices are either converging or diverging most of the time. The structural impact of the convergence points, and techniques for emphasizing and de-emphasizing them, are the focus for this chapter. The chapter concludes with an analysis of Study No. 27.
Chapter 4 identifies fractal features in Nancarrow's tempo canons. The defining fractal characteristics of self-iteration, scaling, and space-filling are identified as they correspond to formal features in which the same musical material is presented at different tempos to create large-scale "fractal forms." Perhaps the most compelling fractal forms are created in the canons whose overall form is either converging (where just one convergence point occurs at the very end of the piece) or converging-diverging (an arch form where a single convergence point occurs somewhere in the middle of the piece). Study No. 32, an example of the former, is analyzed in detail.
The fifth chapter traces a roughly chronological development of Nancarrow's compositional technique, including the features already identified plus such features as blues, ostinato and isorhythm, acceleration/deceleration (including "countdowns" and other numerical series), and use of irrational ratios. Two examples of "mature" works that combine a number of these elements are analyzed: Studies No. 25 and 45.
The final chapter summarizes the findings of the study and offers suggestions for future study of this compelling body of 20th-century musical literature.
Keywords: tempo canon, convergence point, player piano, fractal, isorhythm, pitch ratio
Ch. 1: Introduction and Review of the Literature
Ch. 2: Nancarrow's Use of Ratios
Ch. 3: Structural Use of Convergence Points
Ch. 4: Fractal Characteristics and Forms
Ch. 5: Development of a Musical Style
Ch. 6: Conclusions and Suggestions for Further Study
Julie A. Scrivener
1721 Sunnyside Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49048
ph./fax (616) 344-8322