Dissertation Index

Author: O\'Hara, William E.

Title: The Art of Recomposition: Creativity, Aesthetics, and Music Theory

Institution: Harvard University

Begun: August 2013

Completed: May 2017


Theoretical recomposition—the act of re-writing an existing piece of music in the service of a technical, aesthetic, or critical argument—is encountered frequently in critical and analytical writings on music. These recompositions, however, have rarely been formally commented upon. Not only are they mostly absent from secondary literature, but those who employ them have only recently begun to reflect on the creative and analytical processes involved, rather than simply leaving their diagrams to speak for themselves. Through a study of theoretical treatises, pedagogical manuals, and academic and popular criticism, I demonstrate how recomposition often serves both conservative and progressive musical impulses simultaneously, and I analyze and critique its use in theoretical and pedagogical writings, exposing recomposition’s liminal aesthetic status: hovering between vibrant, audible music and inert diagram.

The first half of the study argues that recomposition has been as essential tool in music theory’s development since the eighteenth century, and it continues to be common in contemporary textbooks. By using theoretical recompositions to recast the history of music theory as a continual process of (re)negotiation among a variety of cultural forces—rather than an endless succession of monuments—I hope to open new lines of communication between theory and analysis, and musicology more generally. The second half of the study examines the ways in which theoretical recomposition reflects upon the act of listening itself. Various contemporary theories of listening—which approach music from such diverse perspectives as phenomenology, cognitive science, and reader-response theory—each attempt to generalize the same recompositional impulse that bubbles under the surface of my earlier historical and philosophical case studies: a desire, as Peter Szendy puts it, “to make my listening, listened to.” This realization demonstrates recomposition’s relevance not only for formal analysis, but also for the study of informal, “everyday” listening. It thus engages with, reinforces, and historicizes recent efforts by musicologists and sound scholars to explore the ways in which listening (musical or otherwise) involves not only passive processes of reception, but also active, and even creative, work on the part of the listener.

Keywords: recomposition, analysis, methodology, history of theory, form, Formenlehre, tonality, intertextuality, motivic analysis


INTRODUCTION: A-flat or G-sharp?

CHAPTER ONE: Towards a Theory of Recomposition
I. The invisibility of Recomposition
II. Leonard Meyer\'s Laws, Rules, and Strategies: Prelude to a Theory of Recomposition
III. Reasons to Recompose
IV. Interactions Among Categories

CHAPTER TWO: Episodes in the History of Recomposition
I. Rameau\'s Figured Bass and the Metalanguage of Dissonance
II. Language, Metaphor, and Form in Jerome-Joseph de Momigny\'s Analysis of Mozart\'s String Quartet in D Minor, K. 421
III. Anton Reicht Presents: The Marriage of Figaro
IV. Recomposition in William Rothstein\'s Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music

CHAPTER THREE: Possible Mozarts: Recomposition and Counterfactual Logic
I. Counterfactual Conditionals and Possible World Semantics
II. Representing Possible Worlds
III. Modal Realism
IV. Carl Czerny on Mozart\'s Sonata in D Major, K. 381
V. Fétis, Weber, and Mozart\'s \"Dissonance Quartet,\" K. 465
VI. On Musical Realism

CHAPTER FOUR: Recomposing the Listener in Contemporary Formenlehre
I. Structural Listening, Plastic Listening
II. Sonata Theory: Listening to Dialogic Form
III. Form-Functional Theory: Listening to Ideal Types
IV. Recomposition in Sonata Theory
V. Recomposition and Formal Functions
VI. Listening to and Recomposing Haydn\'s Symphony No. 46, 2nd mvt.

CHAPTER FIVE: Music Theory on the Radio: Excavating Hans Keller\'s Functional Analyses
I. Functional Analysis and Unity: Deciphering Keller\'s Theory
II. Keller\'s FA1: Mozart\'s String Quartet in D Minor, K. 421
III. Motivic Trees, Chains, and Networks
IV. Listening to Abstraction




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