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Symmetry in Western Music - Network4Musicians


Symmetry in Western Music

Review Articles ◦ Musician
Created by: Kevin Robb
Thu, December 05 2013
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Symmetry in Western Music

Since common practice tonality was fully established, the large majority of musical compositions were, and in fact still are, goal oriented. The idea of undergoing a sonic journey that travels from point "a" to point "b" — is a process that has been developed, studied, practiced, and understood over the course of hundreds of years. Though some level of symmetry has always been intertwined with goal-oriented music, it was only detached, and explored as a separate entity of musical form and construction, around the turn of 20th century (with the exception of some medieval experiments) . This paper will discuss and decipher the rhetoric behind what will be referred to as the goal oriented "Process" music, and its' opposite — symmetrically oriented music, that will be referred to as "Object music.

When recalling music that is (formally) goal oriented on a large scale — A piece in its entirety — one is perhaps reminded of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony no. 3, where a philosophical journey is taken — musically realizing the rebuilding of a persons state in a symphonic form. By the time we reach the end of the symphony, person "a" has transformed into person "b" (I am unaware of how commonly conceived this idea of the Eroica is, so I must credit the Ethnomusicologist, and my former Professor John Glofcheskie for explaining Beethoven's 3rd as a "philosophical rebuilding of a man"). Although, symmetry in both the micro and macro levels may be present in the DNA of this work, the piece is ultimately goal oriented — that is, symmetry is not the analyzed, or audibly perceived intent of the work. "Process" music describes compositions that are listened to, and analyzed with a sense of travel, momentum, and directionality — which move toward a goal of completion, and is realized in a temporal sense.

If we think of goal oriented music as a phenomenon which explains, or embodies a "process" (of going from a - b), then non goal oriented, or symmetrically based music may be perceived as the opposite of "Object" music. Although a little abstract, we may view this music as an organism, or an "Object". With goal oriented or "process" music, there is an audible, and analytical sense of a process — we relate to the music as it develops in time — a listener is more temporally engaged in the music, and views it as such. The reason we can view symmetrical music as an "object", is because we do not perceive the music as a "process in the temporal sense — the music embodies a non-directional object, which is not perceived of as a process" in a given lapse of time — rather, it is perceived of as an object viewed in a spatial realm. When thinking of music like this, one is reminded of Webern's op.21, mvt II, where the whole movement can be heard and analyzed as such — creating a single, symmetrical "Object" in a given amount of space.

In sum, I will present an apt metaphor — which will hopefully give some clarity in terms of deciphering what has been referred to as "Object" music from what I called "Process" music, and to also present the idea that neither is superior, and that both types of music give the listener a piece of art that can be equally valued in aesthetic, and analysis.If we think of any piece of music as a painting, we can think of "Process" music as viewing the painting from within the mind of the painter — giving us the sense of temporal processing in which the work is created. On the other hand, we can look at the painting from the objective view, from the eyes of the painter — creating a sense of an object within the space of a canvas.

A little blurb on the topic of symmetry in western music, from Beethoven to Webern.

SymmetrymusicBeethovenWebernKevinRobbprocessobjectMusic TheoryMusic History

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