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Music

Handwriting Analysis of Scores from the Society for Private Musical Performances

Scott Duffy (2013); Student Collaborator(s): Benjamin Graubart (2014); Paul Koenig (2014); Mentor(s): Alfred Cramer; Joti Rockwell

Abstract: The Society for Private Musical Performances (Vienna, 1918-1921) aimed to create clear, well prepared performances of modern music. Under the artistic direction of the important modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg, the Society set a standard for later performances of chamber and 20th century music. Many aspects of the Society have been studied, but we lack an understanding of the precise nature of their interpretations as well as the ways in which the rehearsal directors and performers in the organization arrived at them. Musical scores used in the Society’s performances contain much information about this question within many hand-written markings pertaining to aspects of musicality such as dynamics, phrasing, articulation, and tempo. We categorized handwriting in order to identify who contributed each musical marking. Through identification of the hand we may discern what aspects of music each member (and Schoenberg in particular) deemed essential to a clear, correct performance of new music.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP; National Endowment for the Humanities; Avenir Foundation; Arnold Schoenberg Center

Form and Motive in the Symphonies of Johannes Brahms

Paul Koenig (2014); Mentor(s): Eric Lindholm

Abstract: Twenty-two years passed between Johannes Brahms's initial symphonic efforts and the completion of his first symphony. The length of this period speaks not only to this composer's deliberate nature, but also to the problem of creating a compelling Romantic statement in a genre which developed in accordance with Classical expectations. Brahms's symphonies are among the most successful attempts at reconciling traditional forms and techniques with the Romantic ethos; this research project endeavors to define the composer's unique symphonic style and determine the ways in which he adapts symphonic conventions to the aesthetic of his time. Formal and motivic analysis led to the identification of three characteristic devices: a sonata form with large omissions in the first group of the recapitulation, large and small-scale thirds relationships, and thematic transformation. Though they have historical precedents, Brahms's consistent, extraordinary synthesis of these elements imbued the symphony with true Romantic relevance.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP

The Evolution of Style in the Old-Time Fiddle Recordings of Clark Kessinger

Benjamin Graubart (2014); Student Collaborator(s): Scott Duffy (2013); Mentor(s): Joti Rockwell; Alfred Cramer

Abstract: West Virginian old-time fiddler Clark Kessinger is an intriguing player, having recorded in two separate eras of American folk music. In the 1920s, he and his cousin, guitarist Luches Kessinger, played dances and radio shows as the “Kessinger Brothers” and released several successful recordings from sessions in 1929 and 1930. Following a professional hiatus that began with the Great Depression, Kessinger was “rediscovered” in 1964 during the height of the urban folk revival, and he participated in fiddle contests and released recordings until his death in 1975. Analysis of the development of Kessinger’s playing across these eras sheds light on how the differing environments and expectations of the '20s and '60s shaped the performance of American folk music. Through close listening and transcription, this project demonstrates in detail how Kessinger’s style evolved from performance suited to a dance hall context toward that of the fiddle contest stage.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP

Research at Pomona