Friday, March 22, 2013

The Emaciated Sonnet

Forging right ahead from the previous post...

Hecht continues:
"In 'Pied Beauty' Hopkins wrote what he called a 'curtal,' or abbreviated sonnet.  Elizabeth Bishop first, and later Mona Van Duyn, wrote sonnets with strikingly short lines, Bishop beginning hers with the (complete) line 'Caught––the bubble,' Van Duyn calling hers 'minimalist' sonnets.  But these were neither the first nor the last to attempt such artistic parsimony and spare ingenuity.  As far as I am aware, the first truly emaciated sonnet (with each line confined to a single syllable) was composed by Arthur Rimbaud.
     Coucher Ivre






"Roughly rendered, this means: (The) Slob / Drinks: / (The) Pearl (of a girl) / Sees (what's coming): // (The) Bitter / Law (of gravity takes effect), / (The) Carriage / Collapses! // (The) Woman / Tumbles, / Loins // Bleed: / Whimpers. / Pandemonium!"
It is not enough to identify this quotation with the title of the book where it appears, Melodies Unheard, along with the usual page reference (p.53-4), because Hecht's chapter & section titles reveal immediately what he is about here. The chapter is "The Sonnet: Ruminations on Form, Sex, and History"; the section is entitled simply "The Form."

It's here that I begin a journey attempting to understand––or at least illuminate––the role of subversion in questions of musical form, and from there to questions of the relevance (or lack of relevance) of music analysis.  The contemporary musicologist will likely find this journey mostly irrelevant with regard to au courant agendas: it will––for the most part––elide the sex and ignore imaginary linear histories.

Right now, what I ask of the reader is to consider the puzzling fact that "Coucher Ivre," in the judgment of Rimbaud at least, and surely many others (Hecht provides several examples), is a sonnet.

Most of us––I at least––grew up with an "acceptable" idea of just what a sonnet is, and so also of what it cannot be.  A good summary of what an acceptable sonnet is, along with minor acceptable variations, can be found in many places––even on the web, for example, >here<.  But of course, there must always be 14 lines, traditionally divided 8 plus 6––octave followed by sestet. The lines in "Coucher Ivre" have a rather dull rhyme scheme (abab abab cdd cc d), but I suppose this is barely acceptable within the tradition.

But the heresy is immediately obvious before even reading (or hearing) the sonnet.  14 lines, yes––but just one syllable per line?  What happened to iambic pentameter?  And once you push this far in allowing "experiment, variation, violation, alteration," at what point does the initial, generating form cease to exist and become something else?––perhaps ceasing to be an intelligible "poetic form" at all, devolving into prose or nonsense.

Amplifying the questions posed in the previous post, if you had never heard of "Coucher Ivre" before, and you were to hear it read aloud, would you guess that it was a sonnet?  If you knew Petrarch and Shakespeare sonnets, would that help identify the Rimbaud poem as a sonnet?  Does it matter or not if you know/hear/read it as a sonnet? If not, why not? Why does Anthony Hecht spend so many words demonstrating (justifying, almost) that this is a sonnet? Why does he, a poet, care?  Finally, now that you know it's a sonnet, does that spoil the magic of the poetry for you?  If the poem didn't "speak" to you before you were told it was a sonnet, does knowing that it's a sonnet create the magic for you.  Or would you just rather not know?

Next up: The Form –––>

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Melodies Unheard

"As any form becomes canonical, it virtually invites experiment, variation, violation, alteration."
Anthony Hecht
Melodies Unheard 

You will find two brief examples of Hecht's principle below in the footer – two piano pieces, on the edge of something and Atacama.  The first question here is, without the score, with only the sound available, can you tell what canonical form these two pieces vary, violate, and alter?  The second question is, does being able to tell matter?  And the third question is, if it matters, to whom does it matter? – composer? performer? listener?

Continued in The Emaciated Sonnet –––>

Monday, March 18, 2013

Silence: Cage or Schulhoff?

"Most theorists note that music does not consist entirely of sounds. Most obviously, much music includes rests. You might think that silence can function only to organize the sounds of music. One counterargument is that an understanding listener listens to the rests, just as she listens to the sounds (Kania 2010). Another is to provide putative cases of music in which the silences are not structural in the way ordinary rests are. John Cage's 4'33" is frequently discussed, though there is broad agreement that this piece is not silent – its content is rather the ambient sounds that occur during its performance. Anyway, both Stephen Davies (1997a) and Andrew Kania (2010) argue Cage's piece is not music, though on different grounds. Kania considers several other contenders for the label of ‘silent music’, arguing that there are indeed extant examples, most notably Erwin Schulhoff's “In Futurum” from his Fünf Pittoresken, which predates Cage's 4'33" by some 33 years."
From Kania, Andrew, "The Philosophy of Music",
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition),
Edward N. Zalta (ed.)


"Now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence.  And though admittedly such a thing has never happened, still it is conceivable that someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence certainly never."
In Parables

Friday, March 15, 2013

Reading Notes – Rosen (3)

"What we require in philosophy is not a new system, or solutions to puzzles, but a deeper and more comprehensive grasp of the problems.  This 'grasp' is not a concept or system of concepts, but a dream, albeit a reasonable and lucid dream  The dream loses its reasonableness and lucidity if we attempt to analyze it with the instruments of modern science, or still more fundamentally, if we forget that analysis is itself a dream. .... The attempt to answer the question 'Who am I?' leads one sooner or later, and rightly so, to define oneself in terms of who I am not.  We go wrong, however, when we forget the initial distinction.  The Platonic Socrates is the first to elaborate this distinction as one between human and divine or cosmic nature.  What is called 'Pre-Socratic' philosophy shares with modern scientific thought the failure to distinguish at a conceptual or epistemological level between these two dimensions.  As a result, human life is conceived as an epiphenomenon of essentially homogeneous cosmic processes, regardless of how poetically the conception may be expressed.  This oversimplification results inevitably in a powerful but crude doctrine of reason.  Pre-Socratic and post-Socratic cosmology, one could say, forgets its poetic or dreamlike origins, and rhetoric hardens into technology.  As a consequence, increasing technical mastery is accompanied by a corresponding vulgarization of the human spirit." (p.257)

Stanley Rosen

Reading Notes – Rosen (2)

"Analysis is a mode of cognition, and is therefore regulated by the judgment, intuition, or sensibility of the analyst.  Knowing how to carry out a sequence of analytical operations is not the same as knowing the appropriate domain of application, nor is it the same as knowing how to start and when to stop the sequence." (p.3)
"Even if obedience to rules is social or political, the 'we' of society or the political community is unintelligible except as an assemblage of 'I's.' The analysis of what I know is incomplete, and indeed, meaningless, if it makes no reference to how I know it, or that it is I who know it, namely, that meanings mean something only to knowers.  Hence I become a problem in the attempt to establish the public or universal status of what I know.  This problem is not resolved by pretending that it does not exist.  In terms going back to Plato, the 'What is X?' question cannot be totally severed from the 'Who am I?' question." (p.6)
"According to Kant, every analysis depends upon a prior synthesis. If there had not first been a 'putting-together' (whether by nature or the analyst), there could be no 'taking-apart.' This is so obvious that we may well ask why analytical philosophy tends to undervalue, and even to ignore, synthesis." (p.7) 
Stanley Rosen


Carrying out a sequence of analytical operations in a domain inappropriate to its application cannot be taken to imply that the sequence per se is "incorrect" or inapplicable in an "appropriate place."  It would be the application, not the analytical routine that is "wrong."  Like it or not, judging whether or not an analysis is "appropriate" unavoidably involves an analysis of the intentions of the analyst.

It's still an open question (to me) whether the composer – the one who "composes" or "draws together" – is engaged in an act of synthesis (as the job title implies) or analysis.  The simple (simplistic) answer is that obviously the composer "creates" a synthesis of materials.  But the selection – the sorting through –  of materials to synthesize/compose (what the composer deems appropriate musical materials) appears to be an analytical act.  So we race blindly, deafly backward toward the "intuition" – but do we ever get there?

Views from Outside the Art Box


You will have to brace yourselves for this – not because it is difficult to understand, but because it is absolutely ridiculous: All we do is draw little arrows on a piece of paper – that's all!
Richard Feynman
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter

All musicians agree that underlying the emotional element of music is a strong formal element.  It may be that it is capable of some such mathematical treatment as has proved successful for the art of ornaments.  If so, we have probably not yet discovered the appropriate mathematical tools. .... Andreas Speiser ... has taken a special interest in the group-theoretic aspects of ornaments [and] tried to apply combinatorial principles of a mathematical nature ... to the formal problems of music [in his Theorie der Gruppen von endlicher Ordnung [1924], chapter entitled "Die mathematische Denkweise"]
Hermann Weyl
Symmetry (p.52)
If nature were all lawfulness then every phenomenon would share the full symmetry of the universal laws of nature .... The mere fact that this is not so proves that contingency is an essential feature of the world.
Hermann Weyl
Symmetry (p.26)

[T]here is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of the men who make for the men who explain.  Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds. (p.61)
What we do may be small, but it has a certain character of permanence; and to have produced anything of the slightest permanent interest, whether it be a copy of verses or a geometrical theorem, is to have done something utterly beyond the powers of the vast majority of men. (p.76)
We must guard against the fallacy common among apologists of science, the fallacy of supposing that the men whose work most benefits humanity are thinking much of that while they do it, that physiologists, for example, have particularly noble souls.  A physiologist may indeed be glad to remember that his work will benefit mankind, but the motives which provide the force and the inspiration for it are indistinguishable from those of a classical scholar or a mathematician. (p.?)
 [I]f a mathematician, or a chemist, or even a physiologist, were to tell me that the driving force in his work had been the desire to benefit humanity, then I should not believe him (nor should I think the better of him if I did). (p.79)
A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns.  If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas. (p.84)
[I have to quibble with him here & in the following quote.  The patterns of the poet and painter are made up of ideas no less than those of the mathematician.]
The mathematician's patterns, like the painter's or the poet's, must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colors or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way.  Beauty is the first test: there is no place in the world for ugly mathematics. (p.85)
The best mathematics is serious as well as beautiful – 'important' if you like, but the word is very ambiguous, and 'serious' expresses what I mean much better. (p.89)
[V]ery little of mathematics is useful practically, and ... that little is comparatively dull.  The 'seriousness' of a mathematical theorem lies, not in its practical consequences, which are usually negligible, but in the significance of the mathematical ideas which it connects.  We may say, roughly, that a mathematical idea is 'significant' if it can be connected, in a natural and illuminating way, with a large complex of other mathematical ideas.  Thus a serious mathematical theorem, a theorem which connects significant ideas, is likely to lead to important advances in mathematics itself and even in other sciences. (p.89) 
There are two things at any rate which seem essential [in a 'significant' idea], a certain generality and a certain depth .... (p.103)

G.H. Hardy
A Mathematician's Apology

Doing vs. using.  It is not necessary to "do" mathematics in order to "use" it (this is different than the usual distinction of abstract vs. applied).  And the same in the sciences – physics, medicine, anthropology, genetics, chemistry.  What's not often evident is how widely this distinction can apply.  In music too often the performer is only "using" music, not "doing" it.  That's why too much musical practice is like acrobatics: there's no doubt the performance is masterful, but someone else inventd the tricks.

"Doing" need not involve creation, but at the very least it includes a drive to understanding the creation.  In musical performance this involves the need to impart this drive to someone called "the audience."


It is the large generalization, limited by a happy particularity, which is the fruitful conception.
Alfred North Whithead
Science and the Modern World

If the earth had waited for a precedent, it never would have turned on its axis.
Maria Mitchell
(astronomer, 1818-89) 


Feeling and longing are the motive force behind all human endeavor and human creation, in however exalted a guise the latter may present themselves to us. [source?]
... [searching for] the secrets of the Old One. [source?]

There is no truth beyond magic .... One, when you've discovered the truth ... it does have the most extraordinary magical quality about it.  It's the payoff, to recognize the deep order ..., you feel you are in touch with something fundamental.  But there's also a poetic sense in it: reality is strange. Many people think reality is prosaic. I don't. We don't explain things away .... We get closer to the mystery.
Brian Goodwin (theoretical biologist)
Quoted in
Roger Lewin
Complexity: life at the edge of chaos
(Macmillan, 1992)

Mathematics are the result of mysterious powers which no one understands, and in which the unconscious recognition of beauty must play an important part.  Out of an infinity of designs a mathematician chooses one pattern for beauty's sake and pulls it down to earth.
Marston Morse (mathematician)
Quoted by Stravinsky
[source: Conversations?]

Mathematicians do not deal in objects, but it relations between objects; thus, they are free to replace some objects by others so long as the relations remain unchanged. [source?]

The sense of form of the sculptor, the painter, the composer, is essentially mathematical in its nature. [source?]

A theory is a cluster of conclusions in search of a premiss. (p.90)
What is it to supply a theory? It is to offer an intelligible, systematic, conceptual pattern for the observed data.  The value of this pattern lies in its capacity to unite phenomena which, without the theory, are either surprising, anomalous, or wholly unnoticed. (p.121)
The basic concept of microphysics is interaction. (p.122)
Gold is rarely discovered by one who has not got the lay of the land. (p.19)
Norwood Russell Hanson
Patterns of Discovery

To ask the right question is harder than to answer it. [George Cantor, source?] 

I do not, however, think the attempt to tell mankind of these matters a good thing, except in the case of some few who are capable of discovering the truth for themselves with a little guidance.  In the case of the rest to do so would excite in some an unjustified contempt in a thoroughly offensive fashion, in others certain lofty and vain hopes, as if they had acquired some awesome lore. (Epistle VII, 341.e) 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Reading Notes – Rosen (1)

"In order to make sense, I must have sense, and there are no rules for this. I have been arguing this point in the form of a  defense of intuition, but it needs to be emphasized that the term 'intuition' itself has many senses. My argument cannot thus be intended as a 'theory' of intuition in the constructive sense of the term. On the contrary I am claiming that theory construction is possible only on the basis of intuition, and further, that analytical thinking is saturated with intuition at each step. A complete and exact science of semantics would then be a 'looking' as well as a 'talking.'  We can of course talk about what we have seen, but there is no argument in heaven or on earth that will take us across the gap from seeing to talking." (p.18)

"If a structure then is a combination of forms, it is also true that forms possess structure.  Another way of saying this is that there can be no such thing as a non-circular, exact, and complex analysis of a structure.  At some primitive stage we have to see the structure as a candidate for analysis, and what we see is antecedent to, not the result of, the process of analysis." (p.29)h

"[I]t makes no sense to talk of analysis apart from reference to intuition.  I now add that it makes no sense to talk of the analysis of structure, and so of sense, if by 'analysis' we mean merely the replacement of one structure by  another." (p.33)

"If to talk is to construct, then there is no distinction between a true and a false proposition.  The distinction between truth and falsehood rests upon a distinction between what we say and what we say it about.  But this distinction cannot be drawn unless we are able to see what we are talking about, independently of the discursive aspect of the given act of talking." (p.36)

"The positive  task of the philosopher is to fecundate his analytical skills with dreams, and to discipline his dreams with analysis." (p.260)
Stanley Rosen