Saturday, November 21, 2020

In the previous post, Broken Symmetry 1,  I divided the analysis into two parts. Before proceeding to Broken Symmetry 2 & 3 where I will call on further distinctions within analysis, let me give, if not a justification, at least my explanation for the methodology.

'Ordinary' analyses of musical works – at least most that I've read – are often amalgams of descriptive analysis and what I have labelled 'fictive' analysis. It is not always clear where the composer's work leaves off and the analyst's work takes over. When I read an analysis I find that much of my time is spent trying to sort the descriptive from the fictive and other types of analysis.

Description is no more nor less than a translation from one code (notes and such) into another (usually a mixture of natural language, abbreviations, symbols, signs, etc). If left to stand on its own (and assuming it's a faithful description and adds nothing to the work), it cannot escape the first part of Moore's paradox of analysis: if analysis qua description is correct, it's redundant; it tells the same story as the work and is therefore pointless.

The latter I call fictive because, at its best, it is only a likely story – a fiction devised by the analyst to justify a particular path leading to a particular (but not necessarily the only) understanding of a work's content, context, origin, meaning, intention, and so on. Fictive analyses situate the work in ways the composer may or may not have intended.



Known and unknown unknowns are analytical music theory's open problems. It's less a collection of related 'knowns' than these open problems that define a 'field'. A closed subject – one with no open problems (or one that does not recognize let alone celebrate these problems, but tries to sweep them under a rug) – is at least moribund. It may not be useless, but it certainly does not capture the imagination. Worse, a closed subject may also be an indication that any codependent subjects are likewise dead or dying.

How one approaches open problems in music analysis reveals whether one considers it to be primarily an instrumentally or intrinsically valuable pursuit. The former is in constant need of justification requiring convincing links of application to some 'higher good' (e.g., analysis-based performance or analysis-based listening/appreciation). The latter view holds, incredibly, that analysis is its own justification.

I certainly would be happy to learn that an analysis, or music analysis generally, proved to be of benefit and even necessary to some higher good, but although such a presumably necessary connection has never been convincingly demonstrated to me, I remain open to the possibility that some connection will some day be demonstrated. But even if such a day should arrive, it would still have no effect on why I personally 'do' analysis. Neither application nor the search for a credible application has ever been the motivating force for me. Justification in the guise of application is not the sine qua non for the motivation to analyze that it's often made out to be. At best it's an afterthought.

I have always been of a mind that places me in an apparently small, unorganized subset of theorists who need no justification to do theory beyond the act of theorizing itself. Being of such a mind constantly places one in the unenviable position of being perceived as insulting the majority who are obviously not of such a mind (at least that's what they seem to me to be trying to convince themselves and others). On the other hand, it's a relief to be free of the need that others apparently feel to justify what, in its full blown 'music theory today' form, is a really peculiar way for undergraduates to accumulate credits for a music degree. (It's tempting to quote some really nasty words of David Lewin here, but I'll forgo that this time.) Still and all, freedom to one side, it's a lonely position to hold, so I was elated one day many years ago when I first read these words of G. H. Hardy in A Mathematician's Apology:
We must guard against a 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. ... [If] a mathematician, or a chemist, or even a physiologist [or a composer or a violinist or a music theorist] 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).

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