Transformation in Post-Tonal Music

Author: Roeder, John

Publication details: Oxford Handbooks Online in Music, ed. Alexander Rehding.  New York: Oxford University Press


Abstract: Post-tonal music (loosely, most Western art-music compositions since the turn of the 20th century) manifests many organizational techniques but not the processes of harmony and counterpoint that direct and articulate time in tonal music. Of the diverse theories for explaining this music, the theory of musical transformations is especially productive. Not only does its notion of a transformational graph offer a powerful, hierarchical view of musical relationships, but it also embraces a processive attitude toward musical form that has broad applicability. This article identifies four specifically temporal aspects of transformational theory that have been neglected in the recent literature and demonstrates how they can inform understanding of a variety of post-tonal music much more recent than the modernist works to which the theory has mostly been applied. The demonstrations proceed through detailed analytical consideration of compositions by Kurtág, Adams, Adès, Sheng, Haas, and Saariaho.