Theorists have faced significant problems in analyzing advanced tonal music from the first half of the twentieth century: while set-class theory has provided theorists with the means of tracing motivic relationships in chromatic music, its underlying harmonic structure has remained elusive. Roger Sessions’ neglected music from the 1940s marks a transitional phase between his earlier, neo-classical works and his later adoption of the twelve-tone technique. His Second Symphony, in particular, marks a turning point in his harmonic vocabulary and is an ideal testing ground for theories of 20th century tonality. I analyze the work by drawing on Joseph Straus’ recent work on prolongation and tonality in Stravinsky and by exploring Rudolph Reti’s conception of pantonality and melodic tonality. I locate structural fifth-spans which underpin the music’s harmonic and melodic dimensions. I also identify tonal motions suggested by independent melodic lines and their relationships both to other contrapuntal lines and to broader arrival points in the large-scale voice leading. I reduce and recompose passages to demonstrate how underlying tonal or prolongational features are obscured through surface-level motivic manipulation. The ability to assign tonal functions to harmonies while considering their contextual motivic properties suggests possible avenues for analyzing music from other repertories whose harmonic structures are unsystematic, such as the atonal music of Arnold Schoenberg.
12.J.2Séance - Modern American Composers
David Hier received his B.Mus in Composition and Music Theory and his M.Mus in Composition from McGill University in Montreal. He is currently pursuing a PhD in music theory at the Eastman School of Music. He has presented on the music of Arnold Schoenberg at the Arnold Schoenberg Symposium in Vienna and his music has been played throughout North America by ensembles including the Lincoln Trio, the Transmission Ensemble and the Tetra Quartet. His research interests centre on harmony and form in late Romantic and early 20th-century music.
Eastman School of Music United States of Americadhier@u.rochester.edu