Fri Oct 13
Graduate Colloquium Series
Object/Process: Functions of Repetition in Birtwistle's Recent Music
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm, Room 400B
Abstract: Many analysts note an apparent paradox in the functions of repetition: it can create discontinuities at the boundaries of the repeated segment, but can also promote continuity in the form of a groove or ostinato. The first type, formative repetition, highlights the repeated material as a significant musical entity: it is foreground and is typically of formal or rhetorical importance to the work as a whole. In the second type, the repeated material itself (the ostinato) becomes subordinate to an ongoing metric process and typically plays a background role. Contemporary repetitive music often cultivates ambiguity between these dual functions for expressive purposes. My paper explores the textural manipulations arising from Harrison Birtwistle’s repetitions in two works, “Frieze 2” and “Frieze 3” from Nine Movements for String Quartet. I begin by describing general characteristics of the two repetition functions, drawing on and supplementing typologies by Middleton (1990), Lidov (2005), and Leydon (2002) and adapting concepts of form and process from Meyer (1973) and Keil/Feld (1994). I then demonstrate how Birtwistle’s brief “ostinati” combine elements of both. Finally, I show how a hidden, global chaconne in each movement embodies some of the same contradictions underlying the local repetitions. Thus, the same ambiguities of identity, continuity, and textural priority that animate local passages are also at the heart of Birtwistle’s larger forms.