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Research project: Hypermeter and Phrase Structure in Eighteenth-Century Music

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This project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will give a comprehensive account of the ways in which phrase structure and hypermeter were described by eighteenth-century music theorists, conceived by eighteenth-century composers and perceived by eighteenth-century listeners.


Phrase structure

Phrase structure was an object of acute interest and intense preoccupation of eighteenth-century music theorists. The theories of phrase structure formulated by Joseph Riepel (1752) and Heinrich Christoph Koch (1787–93) have been discussed by Wilhelm Seidel (1975), Wolfgang Budday (1983), Hermann Forschner (1984), Joel Lester (1992) and Markus Waldura (2002). Elements of these theories found their way into the paramount modern theory of phrase structure elaborated by William Rothstein (1989). The project will explore the historical theories in the light of other eighteenth-century sources and expand the scope of their discussions in two directions.

First, it will trace Riepel’s and Koch’s theories back to their origin in the eighteenth-century theory of melody. The foundation for this theory was laid by Johann Mattheson (1737, 1739) who describes various types of caesuras to be coordinated with punctuation marks in vocal music. The parallelism between linguistic and musical punctuation in songs, recitatives and arias underlies the parallel between music and language, which extends beyond vocal music and helps to transfer the concept of musical punctuation to instrumental genres. The basic precepts of musical punctuation in instrumental music, illustrated by Mattheson with an example of a minuet, were subsequently developed by Riepel, whose discussion influenced Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg (1760) and Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1779), before being systematised and summarised by Koch. Apart from the classification of caesuras, the most important aspect of phrase structure for these authors was the proportion between melodic sections outlined by caesuras. This part of eighteenth-century music theory, called Tactordnung, originates in Mattheson’s discussion of geometrical proportion (geometrischer Verhalt), which draws upon the concept of numeri sectionales in older sources (Printz 1696; Niedt 1721). Comparison with these sources will explain details of Riepel’s and Koch’s theoretical rules and clarify their aesthetic preferences regarding phrase lengths and their ratios.

Second, the project will frame Koch’s theory of phrase structure within musical rhetoric. Drawing upon the eighteenth-century parallel between music and language, Koch compares phrases to sentences (Sätze) and their structure to grammar; but this parallel extends from the realm of grammar into that of rhetoric. In contradistinction to grammar, which concerns the organization of sentences, rhetoric deals with the organization of entire speeches (Bonds 1991; Vial 2008). While these domains were distinct from each other, rhetoric could encroach upon grammar for the sake of expression. Such phenomena, called rhetorical figures, consisted of deviations from grammatical rules under the influence of emotion. In fact, Mattheson supplements his discussion of musical punctuation with remarks on rhetorical figures. The influence of such figures upon musical grammar is not discussed by Riepel and Koch, but it is taken up by Johann Adolph Scheibe (1745) and Johann Nikolaus Forkel (1788). Forkel’s discussion of rhetorical figures in the first volume of the Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik (1788) can be read as a continuation of Koch’s theory of phrase structure in the second volume of his Versuch einer Anleitung zur Composition (1787) and the concept of rhetorical figures helps to account for the structure of phrases expanded “in such a way that no specific means can be perceived” and about which “nothing definite can be said,” according to Koch (1983: 154). Apart from rationalising such expansions, the project will trace their formal implications. Existence of such implications is understandable insofar as the idea of musical punctuation leads to that of punctuation form (Berger 1992, 1996). After the classification of caesuras and discussion of melodic sections outlined by them, Koch formulates rules concerning succession of caesuras in the course of a musical composition. On the basis of these rules, which belong to the theory of Tonordnung and form the substance of his teaching of musical forms, eighteenth-century listeners could develop expectations about forthcoming caesuras in the light of foregoing ones and assess correctness or incorrectness of caesuras actually provided by the composer. By provoking the listener to expect an incorrect or counterproductive caesura or by providing her with such a caesura only to revert from it in the last minute or to cancel it in retrospect, the composer is pulling her leg and earns a smile of knowing appreciation. Certainly, this appreciation is contingent upon the knowledge of theoretical rules. It follows that such manipulations were addressed to connoisseur listeners (Kenner). The ‘behaviour’ of the composer, portrayed by the music, could be interpreted by such listeners in terms of musical ‘comedy’ (Wheelock 1993) or ‘pantomime’ (Winkler 2000).



By contrast to phrase structure, which attracted the attention of eighteenth-century music theorists, the idea that alternation of strong and weak beats can be perceived above the bar level was foreign to the eighteenth century. Even if it originates in the hierarchical type of compound meter discussed by Johann Philip Kirnberger (1779), this meter served to differentiate between grave and acute accents of poetry in vocal music and does not indicate theoretical recognition of higher metrical levels in instrumental music. Nevertheless, frequent instances of half-bar displacements in compound meters (Grave 1984, 1985) and other hypermetrical manipulations (Cohn 1992a, 1992b) suggest that eighteenth-century composers conceived of such levels and expected listeners to perceive them. Since we have no reason to suppose that the perceptual mechanism of connoisseurs (Kenner) was different from that of amateurs (Liebhaber), we can hypothesise that such manipulations were accessible to all listeners of eighteenth-century music. Furthermore, since this mechanism was supposedly not different from that of modern listeners, we can assume that perception of such manipulations today does not differ from their perception back then. This means that the modern concept of hypermeter can elucidate procedures used by eighteenth-century composers and enhance our understanding of their effect upon eighteenth-century listeners. This concept was introduced by Edward T. Cone (1968) and further elaborated by Carl Schachter (1976, 1980, 1987), Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff (1983), Jonathan Kramer (1988), and Rothstein (1989). In the last decades, perception of hypermeter was the subject of some theoretical and experimental work in the cognitive study of music. The project will draw upon this work and integrate relevant information extracted from recent publications into Mirka’s (2009) dynamic model of metric perception based upon Lerdahl and Jackendoff’s theory of meter and Jackendoff’s parallel multiple-analysis model of metric processor (1991). By extending this model upon higher levels of metric hierarchy, it will show that perception of hypermeter displays two differences in comparison to metric perception.

The first difference concerns preference factors of metric perception, called by Lerdahl and Jackendoff Metrical Preference Rules (MPRs). As these authors point out, meter above the bar level is increasingly supplanted by grouping which, at these levels, is equivalent to phrase structure. Consequently, hypermetrical irregularities can be caused by irregular phrases, parallelism between such phrases and phrase elision or overlap. The eminent role of phrase structure alongside harmonic rhythm in perception of hypermeter was also recognised by Rothstein (1995) who dubbed these factors, respectively, the ‘rule of congruence’ and the ‘rule of harmonic rhythm’. The ‘rule of texture’ was added by Eric McKee (2004) and the ‘rule of parallelism’ reformulated by David Temperley (2001) so as to account for the effect of the first segment in a chain of repetitions. This rule implies that phrase expansions and rhetorical figures based on repetition, such as paranomasia, epanalepsis and anadiplosis, have an effect upon hypermeter. Apart from absorbing preference rules from other authors, the dynamic model of meter will be expanded by two further factors of preference for hypermeter. One of them is the hypermetrical profile of harmonic schemata (Lerdahl 2001: 235–42). This profile allows for ‘top-down’ processing of hypermeter upon recognition of such schemata regardless their hypermetrical context. The other factor of preference is related to the accent of the beginning or Akzent des Anfangs (Caplin 1978). It can affect hypermeter not only through the ‘rule of congruence’, which accounts for the effect of the structural beginnings of phrases, but also through the beginnings of new types of material emerging in the course of phrases, even if they are not separated from earlier materials by any caesuras. Such materials can represent different musical topics. Consequently, hypermetrical irregularity can arise from instances of incongruence between topics, harmonic processes and phrase structure, such as those observed by Agawu (1991).

The second difference between perception of meter and hypermeter is conditioned by the cognitive distinction between echoic memory and working memory. The former, taking up to 2 sec, stores information pertinent to lower metrical levels; the latter, spanning 0.2–6 sec, pertains to higher metrical levels (Brower 1993). Consequently, the basic level of meter is processed through entrainment to durations between metrical beats while processing of hypermeter is based upon the strategy of counting downbeats. Perception of meter embraces both cognitive processes: entrainment to durations between downbeats, which fall in the purview of echoic memory, and counting beats in a bar within the span of working memory. The detachment of hypermeter from the echoic memory and from the strategy of entrainment results in different perceptual effect of hypermetrical irregularities. As suggested by Candace Brower (1993), listeners are unlikely to hear hypermetrical syncopations because, using the counting strategy, they adjust to such irregularities by adding or subtracting bars. The same can be said about high-level metrical dissonances (Krebs 1999) or “shadow meter” (Rothstein 1995). Expanding upon Brower and using the dynamic model of meter, the project will investigate how such irregularities are processed in real time and demonstrate that some of them are recognized in retrospect. This concerns hypermetrical irregularities caused by repetition (parallelism) and harmonic schemata as well as phrase manipulations, such as ‘overridden caesuras’ and ‘twisted caesuras’. Rather than producing fixed hypermetrical patterns, such irregularities result in changing perceptions taking place within the span of working memory in the course of phrases or between phrases.



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Beghin, Tom. 2007. “Delivery, Delivery, Delivery!” Crowning the Rhetorical Process of Haydn’s Keyboard Sonatas. In Haydn and the Performance of Rhetoric, ed. Tom Beghin and Sander M. Goldberg, 131–71. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Berger, Karol. 1992. Toward a History of Hearing. The Classic Concerto, A Sample Case. In Convention in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Music: Essays in Honor of Leonard G. Ratner, ed. Wye J. Allanbrook, Janet M. Levy and William P. Mahrt, 405–29. Stuyvesant: Pendragon.

———. 1996. The First Movement Punctuation Form in Mozart’s Piano Concertos. In Mozart’s Piano Concertos: Text, Context, Interpretation, ed. Neal Zaslaw, 239–59. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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Brower, Candace. 1993. Memory and the Perception of Rhythm. Music Theory Spectrum 15/1: 19–35

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Cohn, Richard. 1992a. The Dramatization of Hypermetric Conflicts in the Scherzo of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. 19th Century Music 15/3: 188–205.

———. 1992b. Metric and Hypermetric Dissonance in the Menuetto of Mozart’s Symphony in G minor, K.550. Integral 6: 1–33.

Cone, Edward T. 1968. Musical Form and Musical Performance. New York: Norton.

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McKee, Eric. 2004. Extended Anacruses in Mozart’s Instrumental Music. Theory and Practice 29: 1–37.

Mirka, Danuta. 2009. Metric Manipulations in Haydn and Mozart: Chamber Music for Strings, 1787–1791. New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 2010. Punctuation and Sense in Late-Eighteenth-Century Music. Journal of Music Theory 54/2: 235–82.

———. 2012. Absent Cadences. Eighteenth-Century Music 9/2: 213–35.

Ng, Samuel. 2012. Phrase Rhythm as Form in Classical Instrumental Music. Music Theory Spectrum 34/1: 51–77.

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———. 1980. Rhythm and Linear Analysis: Durational Reduction. In: The Music Forum 5, ed. F. Salzer and C. Schachter, 197–232. New York: Columbia University Press.

———. 1987. Rhythm and Linear Analysis: Aspects of Meter. In The Music Forum 6, ed. F. Salzer and C. Schachter, 1–59. New York: Columbia University Press.

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———. 2003. End-Accented Phrases: An Analytical Exploration. Journal of Music Theory 47/1: 125–54.

———. 2008. Hypermetrical Transitions. Music Theory Spectrum 30/2: 305–25.

Vial, Stephanie. 2008. The Art of Musical Phrasing in the Eighteenth Century. Rochester: University of Rochester Press.

Waldura, Markus. 2002. Von Rameau und Riepel zu Koch. Hildesheim: Olms.

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Winkler, Gerhard. 2000. “Orchesterpantomime” in den Esterházy-Sinfonien Joseph Haydns. In Das symphonische Werk Joseph Haydns: Referate des internationalen musikwissenschaftlichen Symposions Eisenstadt, 13–15 September 1995, ed. Gerhard Winkler, 103–16. Eisenstadt: Bürgenländisches Landesmuseum.



Related research groups

Musicology and Ethnomusicology
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