Klett-Cotta-Verlag Psychology

Struktur und Wahrnehmung

Gestalt, Kontur, Figur und Geste in Analysen der Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts

Oktober 2012, 16. Jahrgang, Heft 64, pp 53-80

Structure and Perception: »Shape«, »Contour«, »Figure« and »Gesture« in Analyses of 20th-Century Music

In the history of theory and composition, the relationship between structure and perception has repeatedly been redefined. Although leading music theorists have supported central tenets of their theories with the standards of our »hearing«, subsequent musical theories have nonetheless developed a highly normative, »prescriptive« tendency. By contrast, newer theoretical approaches increasingly tend towards making different, diverging perspectives of music perception plausible and appreciable. By focusing on aspects of perception, they converge with currents in recent compositional history in which a perceptually-based critique of compositional procedures served as a catalyst for new developments. Against this background, the present essay works on the assumption that musical structure and perception of shapes are fundamentally inseparable, though no linear or analogical relationship between them is constructed. Analytical considerations of selected 20th-century works (Arnold Schönberg: Piano Piece op. 11,3; Igor Stravinsky: Threni; György Ligeti: Kyrie ; Gérard Grisey: Prologue; Brian Ferneyhough: Incipits) clarify this reciprocal relationship with reference to shape-theoretical, contour-theoretical (Robert D. Morris), figure-theoretical (Gilles Deleuze, Brian Ferneyhough) and gesture-theoretical (Robert Hatten) approaches. Different methods for visualizing progressions of shape and contour lead to an interaction of structural and perceptual perspectives. The analyses thus attempt to reveal ways of grasping even extremely complex works in the act of listening. The present text outlines the thesis that New Music often plunges the listener into elemental, sometimes reflex-like perceptual processes, thus enabling a mode of listening that is largely free of preconditions and contrasts markedly with the ideal of »educated listening« found in music theory around 1900.

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