Monday, October 20, 2008

Temporary Notes (10)

One small note about Cooper & Meyer's The Rhythmic Structure of Music.  This book is not really a general theory of rhythm but rather a stratified theory of accent in a rich but narrow slice of the European tradition, developed in acknowledgement of work by Lorenz and Schenker.  For the repertoire represented by that tradition, the book is indeed enormously useful, particularly to performers.  Cooper & Meyer adopted the classical prosodic feet (iamb, anapest, trochee, dactyl, amphibrach) but in modern fashion, as strings of strong/weak stresses rather than the long/short durations of classical Greek and Latin.  Coming from classical prosody, I keep having to twist my mind around Cooper & Meyer's terminology, as in their largely duration-independent scheme*, they use "accent" for what I would call stress, and reserve "stress" for an additional degree of emphasis, often one in contradiction to the usual pattern.  This twisting tightens to a particular degree of intensity with their analysis of a bit of Dufay's (sophisticated and stunning) Missa Sancti Jacobi, in which long/short durations play an important role and, curiously enough given the serious issues of metric division at play, the authors use a modern notation with note values halved, barlines added, and no indication of the original time signatures which would be rather useful in sorting our more precisely what Dufay had in mind.

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* The independence of the system is such that, in principle, any element (pulse, tempo, duration, metre, melody, harmony, orchestration etc.)  could each be used to support or project (or conversely, to contradict) accents.