Theory Colloquia

Mondays, 2:00-3:00 pm (unless otherwise noted), refreshments following. Imig Music Building, C-199 (Chamber Hall)

The Theory Department thanks our generous donors for their support of our colloquium series.

February 12, 2018 || 2:00 – 3:15pm || Jonathan Leathwood, University of Denver
“Local Frictions and Long-Range Connections: Performing Elliott Carter’s Changes for Guitar”

Abstract: Throughout his career, Elliott Carter spoke of his quest to compose music that would summon the most precious resource a performer can offer: commitment, the impulse to give a vital and personal performance. And yet a glance at the score of Changes (1983) for guitar suggests music that leaves room for an execution, perhaps, but not an interpretation. The rhythmic notation (underpinned by two pulse streams) displays extreme precision; kinds and quantities of attack are specified exactly throughout; and the ebb and flow of the music is articulated by an idealistically large scale of dynamics. How then might a committed performance be audibly different from one that is merely precise? And when the score asks more than the guitarist can practically deliver—as it occasionally does—on what principles should the guitarists find alternative solutions?

To explore these questions, I shall focus on the pitch structure of Changes, showing how association, interaction and interference among pitches fuel the work’s drama. I shall show how Carter binds pitch relationships to guitaristic timbres and idioms. As a result, the seemingly abstruse pitch structures of the piece can be felt under the fingers in a way comparable to the harmonies of tonal works: as memorable shapes and “moves.” Informed both kinesthetically and aurally, guitarists can give performances of the work that vary from one occasion to another: responsive to the inspiration of the moment and the whim of the fingers, with no loss of analytical rigor.

Jonathan Leatherwood Bio: Jonathan Leathwood is Associate Teaching Professor at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music. He performs on both six- and ten-string guitars and has recently appeared at the Leo Brouwer Festival in Brazil, the Wigmore Hall, the Cheltenham Festival, the D-Marin Festival in Turkey, and other venues in Europe and both American continents. His collaborations include recordings with flutist William Bennett and cellist Rohan de Saram. Jonathan completed his PhD at the University of Surrey, exploring performer-composer collaboration, and in this field he has premiered and recorded works by Param Vir, Stephen Dodgson, Rob Keeley, Chris Malloy, and Stephen Goss. He also worked closely with Julian Bream and Harrison Birtwistle on Birtwistle’s 2013 work, Construction with Guitar Player. He founded and edited Guitar Forum, a scholarly journal devoted to the classical guitar. As a pedagogue his focus is on helping students integrate different kinds of knowledge: he teaches both guitar and music theory, and is an internationally certified teacher of the Alexander Technique.


February 26, 2018 || Keith Waters, University of Colorado, Boulder
“Seventh and Ninth Chord Regions in Debussy and Ravel: The Tristan Genus and Other Spaces”

Abstract:  The paper illustrates some French techniques for tertian harmonies in 4- and 5-note vocabularies, used in progressions that privilege efficient (idealized) voice leading. I begin with Richard Cohn’s notion of the “Tristan genus,” the set of 12 half-diminished and 12 dominant seventh chords. Passages from the first movement of Ravel’s String Quartet and Debussy’s “Fêtes” (from Nocturnes) show that the 3 x 8 partition of the 24 Tristan genus harmonies that Cohn calls “Boretz regions” create fertile and versatile compositional spaces for both composers. I then consider a sequence of dominant ninth chords in another passage from “Fêtes.” All three passages form regions of seventh or dominant ninth chords, understood through half-step displacements of either perfectly even diminished-seventh chords or maximally even pentatonic collections. The approach offers alternatives to viewing such progressions as merely coloristic or non-functional.

Keith Waters Bio:  Keith Waters is Professor of Music at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is author of the book The Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet 1965-68 (Oxford University Press), co-author of the jazz history textbook Jazz: The First Hundred Years, and a contributor to the recent edition of the Grove Dictionary of American Music. He has published numerous articles on jazz. As a jazz pianist, he has recorded and performed throughout the United States, Europe, and in Russia, and has appeared in concert with artists such as James Moody, Bobby Hutcherson, Eddie Harris, and others.


March 5, 2018
 || 2:00 – 3:15pm || Jonathan De Souza, University of Western Ontario
“Dream Machines: Instrumental Timbre, Technology, and Perception”

Timbre is often defined in terms of musical instruments, and it often indexes material aspects of a sounding source. But how might timbral indices become ambiguous or illusory? And what does this imply about the correlation—or dissociation—of hearing, sight, and touch? This talk explores the phenomenology of timbre by juxtaposing three technologies: an electromagnetic tuning-fork apparatus, developed by Hermann von Helmholtz; the RCA Mark II, used by Milton Babbitt and other mid-twentieth-century composers; and the Yamaha GX-1, an analog synthesizer that Stevie Wonder called “the Dream Machine.” Each creates new sounds but is also used to imitate acoustic instruments. Ultimately, these technologies—and their associated discourses and practices—help reveal paradoxical relationships between timbre and instrument, sound and source.

Bio: Jonathan De Souza is an assistant professor in the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. He also serves as Director for an interdisciplinary development initiative at the university, titled “Music, Cognition, and the Brain.” Jonathan’s research explores music, embodiment, and technology, combining music theory with cognitive science and philosophy. His book, Music at Hand: Instruments, Bodies, and Cognition, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.

Archive Fall 2016- Spring 2017