Editor’s Message

[1] Greetings all, and welcome to Volume 29, Issue 4 of Music Theory Online! As readers may know, the Annual Meeting for the Society for Music Theory was recently held in Denver. I am proud to announce, in keeping with previous years, that MTO was very well represented in terms of the number of articles to receive SMT publication awards. Rachel Lumsden was recognized with an Outstanding Publication Award for “Music Theory for the ‘Weaker Sex’: Oliveria Prescott’s Columns for The Girl’s Own Paper” (2020, issue 26.3). In addition, two authors whose work recently appeared in MTO received Emerging Scholar Awards: Antares Boyle for “Flexible Ostinati, Groove, and Formal Process in Craig Taborn’s Avenging Angel,” (2021, issue 27.2), and Mark Micchelli for “Sound Structures and Naked Fire Gestures in Cecil Taylor’s Solo Piano Music” (2022, issue 28.3). I wish to offer congratulations to all three authors on their well-earned, impressive achievements, and to thank the MTO Editorial Board and Staff for their fine work in curating and shepherding this fine scholarship to and through press.

[2] With the yearly endpoint of the SMT conference cycle behind us and the rollover effect of December and January upon us, it feels as if we have reached a natural, start-over point. To that end, we at MTO are excited to share a new set of articles, plus an essay and a review, for readers to indulge in as we stride bravely–or not: I cannot tell you how to feel–over the threshold of a new calendar year.

[3] Four of the five articles that appear in the top segment of this issue shed new light on meter, rhythm, and counterpoint in Western classical music. Ordering them in terms of the chronology of their subject matter, Philippa Ovenden’s “Out of the Blue: Preparing Proportions in the Old Hall Manuscript” comes first. This work examines the famously complex notation of the fifteenth-century Old Hall Manuscript. By placing modern theories of meter (e.g., from Richard Cohn and Harald Krebs) in dialog with historical theory, Ovenden speculates on the practical advantages of its notation, which include making highly difficult proportions easier for singers to execute. Viewing the music in this way has many further benefits, such affording new insights into how the composers and theorists of that time conceived of rhythm and meter. A separate investigation into fifteenth-century music occurs in Tim Daly’s “Contrapuntal Direction and the Diagnosis of Compositional Relationships in Fifteenth-Century Masses.” Daly similarly applies a modern diagnostic tool to older theories and works; however, in this case, it is a software program newly developed for filtering (“sieving”) the four voice textures of six L’homme armé masses to determine essential voice functions and contrapuntal continuations. The method–which, more specifically, examines music in accordance with the principle that certain progressions must proceed through the motion of a counterpointing voice towards a stable tenor–is effective for gauging more precisely how applicable Johannes Tinctoris’s rules of counterpoint truly are (quite applicable, as it turns out!), and for better understanding anomaly cases in which his rules of counterpoint are seemingly violated.

[4] Also included are two articles that engage with eighteenth- and nineteenth century compositional practice from complementary perspectives. Thomas William Posen’s article, “Windows into Beethoven’s Lessons in Bonn: Kirnberger’s Die wahren Grundsätze zum Gebrauch der Harmonie (1773) and Vogler’s Gründe der Kuhrpfälzischen Tonschule in Beyspielen (1776/1778),” takes a composer-specific approach. Through examination of the historical record, Posen argues for an expanded understanding of the knowledge bases that shaped Beethoven’s conception of music, specifically solfeggio, thoroughbass, and harmony as received in Bonn through his earliest teachers, Christian Gottlob Neefe, Johannes Zensen, Andrea Lucchesi (and likely others). An alternate tack is taken by Karl Braunschweig’s “Embedded Dissonance in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Harmonic Theory and Practice,” which offers a centuries-spanning, in-depth account of overdetermined voice leading patterns that can be (and were) comprehended both in terms of interlocking suspensions and in terms of fundamental bass activity. Braunschweig’s arguments are notably fleshed out and enlivened by a wide set of examples from Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Chopin, which demonstrate the role that other musical parameters, notably rhythm and meter, play in shaping conceptions of contrapuntal-harmonic frameworks.

[5] The remaining articles in issue 29.4 deal with decidedly more modern musics, aesthetics, and politics. The remaining entry in the “Articles” area is Lori Burns’s “Female Subjectivities in the Words, Music, and Images of Progressive Metal: The Case of Tatiana Shmayluk (Jinjer).” This article centers on the music of the Ukrainian metal band, Jinjer, which, since forming in 2009, is well known for its genre-blending, gender-defying offerings. Through detailed discussion of three works, Burns seeks to advance the discussion of female performativity in metal by closely studying the lead singer’s (Shmayluk’s) specifically musical contributions, meaning vocal expressions and song writing.

[6] In the center portion of MTO 29.4, we are proud to present a symposium on the music of Salvatore Sciarrino, a highly prolific and influential contemporary composer known for his work in timbre manipulation in experimenting with musical process. (This symposium originated as an online panel session that took place in November 2020, at which Orit Hilewicz chaired and Christian Utz, Mingyue Li, and Antares Boyle presented.) I could not hope to do a better job previewing this symposium than Robert Hasegawa does in his expert Introduction piece, included below. I will say, for anyone wishing to expand their theoretical understanding of temporality, process, phenomenology, formal function, and the (always evolving) role of organicism in music and music theory, that taking in the full contents of this symposium would be a very efficient way to achieve that goal.

[7] The issue is rounded out by an essay and a very timely book review. In “Global Philosophy of Music: Ji Kang versus Hanslick,” Gavin S. K. Lee seeks to dispel misunderstandings associated with a treatise by Ji Kang, a third-century Chinese philosopher. Based on its title alone, readers might imagine how Ji Kang’s treatise, “Music Has in it Neither Joy nor Sorrow” would be (and has been) linked with Eduard Hanslick’s formalism, which was expressed more than a millennium later on a different continent. Lee’s argument, carried out in an analysis that uncovers new aspects of both treatises along the way, is that this affinity is largely superficial. In fact, the two treatises diverge significantly, most critically in terms of their political framing.

[8] The last entry is Clifton Boyd and Jade Conlee’s review of Philip Ewell’s On Music Theory, and Making Music More Welcoming for Everyone (University of Michigan Press, 2023). Ewell’s highly anticipated book presents the author’s research on music theory’s white racial frame–along with account of the challenges and experiences he has experienced in bringing it to the attention of the public–as well as his list of action items to combat it and bring about institutional change. The danger when reviewing a politically charged book is falling into the trap of remaining wholly uncritical, heaping praise or scorn on it on the basis of one’s own political leanings. Instead, Boyd and Conlee remain relentlessly critical, carefully examining both what the book does well and what it could have done more of. Perhaps most importantly, they address the issue of how the theory community is processing its new awareness of its racially problematic past and present. Here I am referring to controversy itself: the authors note how recent dustups, such as those now infamously referred to as The Journal of Schenkerian Studies affair, “has not only limited our field’s ability to engage productively with Ewell’s scholarship but has also constrained the conceptual frameworks through which we have understood antiracism thus far.” Through the deft manner in which this review faces this condition head on, advocating its own action items, it may very well come to stand alongside Ewell’s book as a companion piece.

[8] So, in summary, we have on our hands another issue packed with musical and cultural diversity, and of course compelling theorization, analysis, argumentation, and advocacy. On behalf of the full team at MTO, I wish you all a Happy New Year and, as always, Happy Reading!


Brent Auerbach, Editor-in-Chief
University of Massachusetts Amherst