The Nature of Music Analysis

Some people think that analysing music means to add harmonic figures to a bassline, to make a form diagram or graph, to compare motivic relations at different positions, or to examine the instrumentation. While any of the above may be used as a means of analysis, neither of these is sufficient to grasp the essence of a musical work. As long as you study an individual piece without incorporating its multiple historical, social, and aesthetic contexts, its examination will remain incomplete.

Music analysis, as a multi-faceted activity with artistic, performative, and scholarly components, is impossible to be carried out without a thorough knowledge of the repertoire. The ability to view a piece of music in terms of its time and place of origin, the biographical situation of its creator, and other music composed in its environment, is of crucial importance to make substantial observations. A central question is: What makes this particular artwork appear special in relation to others? So, every time we approach written music or performances with an analytic intention, we need to take into account its superordinate contexts and relevance. Analysis is research.

»The score is not the music itself, just like the recipe doesn’t make a meal.«

Some Insights into Chinese Music Theory

In an intriguing session of my History of Music Theory seminar at Robert Schumann Hochschule Düsseldorf, two Asian students presented a short panopticum of Chinese music theory. One gave an overview of the theories and writings of Ming dynasty scholar and polymath Zhu Zaiyu, who developed an approach to calculate equal temperament more accurately than ever before. The other presentation focused on the structure of traditional Chinese modes and the adoption of numbered notation which, originating from the Galin-Paris-Chevé system, is used as an alternative solfège method. Such a piece of luck when, as a lecturer, one gets the opportunity to gain considerable new knowledge from one’s own teaching activity!

Scriabin and the Sonata

This semester I am teaching a music analysis seminar on Alexander Scriabin‘s sonata conceptions at TU Dortmund University. The covered repertoire will range from the early sonatas of the 1880s to the Poème de l’extase, Op. 54, including solo piano music, the three symphonies, and the piano concerto. Since the group of participants is a bit smaller than expected, I will gladly accept some guests—please let me know in case you would like to join. The seminar is taking place every Thursday, in alternating on-site and remote sessions.

Teaching in Dortmund

It is my pleasure to announce that I will begin teaching as a visiting professor in music theory at TU Dortmund University, Department of Music and Musicology, as of next week. Very happy to accept this new challenge and collaborate with a diverse and proliferous faculty, and glad to be involved in what I consider the most relevant field in professional music education: the training of future music teachers.

Composing in the Ivory Tower

In a recent interview in the neue musikzeitung, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, a prolific composer and professor at Hochschule für Musik und Theater Leipzig for almost 20 years, admits that he has no idea why there are hardly any domestic applications for studying composition at music universities in Germany. After that, he complains at length that his works and conceptions, which he routinely submits to orchestras and opera houses to be considered for performance, keep being rejected all the time. Seriously, Herr Mahnkopf? I wonder how somebody involved in the training of composers for decades can be so clueless about the deficiencies in pre-university education, and the immense decline in meeting the preconditions needed for applying to a music university. And, besides this discomforting lack of care for the young generation, both he and the interviewer fail to notice the obvious interconnection of the two issues in question: the absence of a sustainable and integrative system of encouraging and supporting young people in a possible professional career in music, and the alienation of classical music business from everything topical and contemporary. Shouldn’t a professor of composition be more concerned about the future of his profession, and at least take interest in strategies of how teenagers can be introduced to composing and performing new music? Nearly every of Mahnkopf’s sentences demonstrates that somebody is speaking who totally lost contact with the basis of early education and promotion of young musicians. #ivorytower #upperclassproblems