Editor’s Message

[1] Greetings all, and welcome to Volume 30, Issue 1 of Music Theory Online! Here at MTO, it appears we are of two minds about the odometer rolling over to “The Big Three-O.” On the one hand, we have taken steps to acknowledge the nominal anniversary of our journal’s founding, such as holding a logo redesign contest. Many thanks to those who submitted, by the way! We had some wonderfully creative and skillful work sent in, and as of this writing we are deliberating on the fit and feasibility of all of the entries.

[2] On the other hand, we acknowledge that March 2024 in fact marks no true calendar anniversary for MTO. Perhaps harboring a symphonist’s superstition of what would happen if MTO ever made it to nine issues, Lee Rothfarb, the inaugural editor, designated the first installment of MTO as Volume 0, and this of course happened in 1993 (see Rothfarb 2014). And so, in non-commemoration of the thirty-first year of MTO’s run, no visual or functional website innovations are appearing in the present issue. Having said that, we are working to debut some changes to our website, so be on the lookout for these to emerge gradually throughout the year.

[3] In place of any new offerings of website style, we hope you, dear readers, will settle for scholarly substance in the form of another broad, wide-ranging digest of groundbreaking theoretical work. We have, first, the usual assortment of probing articles and essays on a diverse range of topics and musics.

[4] Nathan Lam’s “Pentatonic Xuangong 旋宮 Transformations in Chinese Music” provides an in-depth and highly innovative account of Chinese modal theory. Lam’s approach, which treats Chinese historical theory with the aid of some Western transformational theory technology, illustrates the role of Xuangong transformations in repertoires ranging from Confucian court music, to Cantopop, to new compositions from the global art music hall. In “Melodic Organization and Sequential Ordering of Galant Schemata: Implications for Eighteenth-Century European Musicianship,” Gilad Rabinovitch and Aaron Carter-Enyi advance their vibrant, ongoing project to investigate the structures and applications of musical schemata. Following from their view of schemata as skeletal core tones to be elaborated, the authors advocate viewing tonal pieces in terms of linear and formal schemata pathways; these points are reinforced with in-depth analyses of works by C. P. E. Bach.

[5] In “Diversity in Corpus Studies,” a group of scholars led by Nicholas Shea and Lindsey Reymore investigate a pressing issue in that field concerning nothing less than the formation of the very data sets on which researchers rely. Shea et al. posit that social forces—which is to say, the biases in cultures that create power imbalances among genders and races—exert influence on corpuses of works drawn up on the basis of a society’s activities and preferences (e.g., “best of” rankings). In addition to laying bare the dynamics underlying this phenomenon, the authors propose the Anti-Discriminatory Alignment System (ADAS) tool; this tool, applied to a parent corpus, may be used to derive output corpora that can shape representation as desired among a set of chosen demographics.

[6] In addition to the above-mentioned articles and essay, this issue features a set of others that coalesce around the theme of “active dialogue.” One of Rajan Lal’s primary aims in “Harmonic ‘Quality’ and Set-Class Structure: Schoenberg’s Opus 19, No. 2 Reconsidered” is to inject nuance into a long-running debate on how to balance in analysis the tonal and set-class impulses in Schoenberg’s music. Building on Pople’s theory of modal quality, Lal illustrates the varying tonic and dominant qualities of atonal set-classes. He then applies them in analysis to support his view of Schoenberg as embodying the synthesis of those impulses: a composer handling the raw stuff of sets with an undeniably tonal mindset.

[7] Two of the dialogues in this MTO issue are unidirectional. In “The Turn in the Finale of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony as Allusion to Wagner’s Parsifal,” Genevieve Arkle traces the one-sided conversation a late-nineteenth-century Western orchestral giant held with an earlier one. Specifically, she investigates the phenomenon of the turn motive, a signal of lament in Parsifal, appearing throughout Mahler’s Ninth Symphony to symbolize the same. In this process, Arkle makes an effective argument for the value of studying influence/allusion, both as a tool for analysis and for contemplating intertextuality writ large. Another decidedly one-sided dialogue of sorts is explored by Paul Miller and Christopher Cox in “Music from Plant Biosignals: A Conceptual and Analytical Orientation.” This truly unique article details a set of methods for harnessing the bioelectric signals occurring inside various plant species. It goes yet further, not only demonstrating the process of data sonification but going so far as to analyze works of music generated via this technology.

[8] And one of the dialogues is quite literal, involving an exchange between authors. Trevor de Clercq’s offering, “Some Proposed Enhancements to the Operationalization of Prominence: Commentary on Michèle Duguay’s ‘Analyzing Vocal Placement in Recorded Virtual Space,’” as is clear from its title, responds directly to Michèle Duguay’s recent MTO article from 2022 on the operationalization of vocal prominence. De Clercq makes it clear, both implicitly in his choice of subject matter and explicitly in his closing comments, that he is indebted to Duguay’s leading role in developing empirical tools for establishing the locations of separate sound sources in virtual space. (These manipulable sound sources in recordings, which shape the impact and effect of vocal streams in relation to backing ensembles, have served as a fertile ground of investigation of topics such as persona and topic in popular music.) Nevertheless, de Clercq offers a penetrating analysis of Duguay’s method, dissecting the math and the musical streams it relies on and offering suggestions for amending the method. In giving full consideration to these proposed amendments, Duguay in certain places accepts de Clercq’s suggestions as efficient and elegant, and in others pushes back on them on both mathematical and interpretive grounds.

[9] Two last significant contributions round out our issue. One is Dylan Principi’s “Rethinking Topic Theory: An Essay on the Recent History of a Music Theory.” Principi’s provocative account examines previously underappreciated forces that—for better or for worse—have influenced this rapidly growing field, from the 1980s, when it originated as a tool for interpreting eighteenth century classical music, to the present day, when it is increasingly called upon to analyze musical meaning across many styles. The other is Cristina González Rojo’s review of Intertextuality in Music: Dialogic Composition (Routledge, 2021), a new collection of essays that presents, critically assesses, and creatively applies theories and methods of analysis that treat musical borrowing, reference, quotation, and allusion.

[10] Dialogues abound, as it were! In that spirit, the hardworking team at MTO invites you not only to partake in this calendar quarter’s worth of fine, new scholarship, but to take the extra critical step of learning by hashing it out with a trusty set of colleagues. We hope, as always, that it will inspire across our readership a host of fruitful (and hopefully, most enjoyable!) exchanges.


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