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A piece of mine has been withdrawn from performance. Some local people found the title of the piece offensive. The orchestra took the view that this, along with what they saw as a wider potential misunderstanding of the title, was sufficient reason to pull the piece from a concert programme. A different piece of mine was substituted in the concert programme. While I am grateful to the orchestra for programming it, I am concerned about the implications of the withdrawal of the first piece.

Not offending a group in the local community, and avoiding possible misunderstanding arising from the title, were seen by the orchestra committee as more important than performing this piece of art music.

The details are that:

A community orchestra had programmed a piece of mine for June 2016. The piece is called Prelude: Guernica-Gaza, 1937-2009: Remembering the civilian victims of modern warfare. The orchestra committee discussed the potentially controversial title of the piece when I put it forward. I learned subsequently that several orchestra members had consulted Jewish friends to establish whether the title was felt to be offensive due to its reference to actions of the Israeli government in Gaza. The outcome was that the Committee decided to go ahead with the performance.

The programme note of the piece reads as follows:

“In January 2009, when living in Spain, I read an editorial in a Spanish newspaper. It compared events taking place at that time in Gaza to the 1937 bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War when a large number of civilians were killed – the subject of Picasso’s most famous painting. My piece reflects a sense of horror at the way civilians have become the principal victims in modern warfare, beginning with Guernica and continuing to the present day. No comment is begin passed on the origins of the conflicts or the motives of this taking part.”

Rehearsals began and many orchestra members complimented me on the piece.

The orchestra Chair then received a message from the Vicar of the church where it was to be performed, saying that he had been contacted by the local Council of Christians and Jews objecting to the performance of a piece with that title, which they considered to be offensive. A meeting was held with the Vicar and the Chair of the CCJ. It was explained that the objection was to the title, and that unless the piece were withdrawn from the programme or the title changed there would be further representations.

I am not willing to change the title since I see it as an integral part of the piece. The orchestra Committee then came to the conclusion that, since the title was felt to be offensive by some in the local community and could possibly be misunderstood, the orchestra should not perform the piece.

The reason why I am not willing to change the title is that it gives a sense of immediacy and relevance to the piece through its reference to a recent high-profile conflict. To change it would also be to deny the origin of the piece in a comparison made by a Spanish journalist.

I could give the piece an anodyne title relating to the question of civilian deaths in war. That would take away the sense of immediacy which results from the reference to a recent conflict. I could refer to more distant events – perhaps the bombing of Coventry and Dresden in the Second World War. Some would be offended by the implication that they were morally equivalent acts. To change the title would, I think, neuter the piece and take away its sense of modern relevance.

I make it plain in the programme note that I am not taking any view on the rights and wrongs of any conflict, simply reacting as an artist living in a world where we encounter horrifying information such as the reports of the 2009 conflict in Gaza. I don’t accept the concern of the orchestra Committee that performing the piece could imply engaging in a political debate. For the record, I accept the right of the state of Israel to exist, but I am critical of some of the actions of its government.

These events raise serious issues. Should a musical ensemble give a higher priority to the avoidance of offence and misunderstanding than to artistic expression? Art, at times, is bound to offend some people.

I can understand the wish of the orchestra Committee to avoid possible offence, to maintain good relations with their performance venue, and to steer clear of any possible controversy.

However, nowadays there does seem to be a widespread assertion of a ‘right not to be offended’. This is capable of putting a damper on controversial or provocative art. While I can see how people might be offended by my title, I do not think that the historical facts behind the comparison implied give valid grounds for that sense of offence. In both events referred to in the title it is documented that civilians were deliberately targeted. I am implying no more that that.

I am therefore looking for an orchestra which gives priority to artistic expression over the possibility of causing offence, and which would consider performing the piece.

More information on the piece, including the instrumentation, and a computer-generated recording, can be found at:

http://at.orpheusweb.co.uk/ataylor/?page=scores&id=18

This may be the title of an opera I’m working on with writer Buffy Sharpe. So far we have a scenario, four characters, some text and a few musical sketches. We plan to have a chamber opera up to an hour long ready for performance in Summer 2014, and then maybe to expand it into a community opera for large numbers of children and adults for performance in 2015.

We aim to present a Peasants’ Eye View of the dramatic events of 1381, when there was a widespread rebellion against the imposition of a Poll Tax to fund wars in France. The Revolt led to the beheading of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (nice touch that), burning down of the palace of the chief politician, John of Gaunt, and might have brought down the whole governing system but for the touching faith of the rebels in the promises made by the young king, Richard II, to right their wrongs – promises never kept.

Our four characters are:

– a childless married couple of Kent villagers, Mathilda (soprano) and Thomas (baritone). They sing together, often completing one another’s sentences. They act as a form of narrator, reporting events, and commenting.

– John (tenor), a travelling tradesman, who brings news of events in other parts, and helps stir up rebellion.

– Simon (counter-tenor), a simple soul, who sings about daft ideas like all people being equal, and gets into trouble as a result. Mathilda and Thomas try to look after him.

The opera has four scenes:

– the village in Kent. Mathilda and Thomas complain about the sufferings of the Peasants and about the Poll Tax inspectors. John arrives with news that peasants elsewhere are rebelling and urges them to join. Simon, who has been locked up in Rochester Castle for his strange ideas, and has met the radical priest John Ball while there, wanders back home having been freed when the peasants raided the castle, singing strange things.

– Blackheath. The peasants seek a meeting with the King, but only get to speak to a messenger. Our 3 male characters are at the back of the crowd, half understanding what is going on. Mathilda arrives with food.

– Smithfield. The peasants have entered the City of London, looted and burned, and have come to Smithfield to meet the King. Their leader Wat Tyler goes  to speak to the King but is killed. The peasants disperse in disarray. Again, the 3 male characters are at the back of the crowd, wondering what is happening.

– back in the Kentish village. The rebels are being hunted down. Simon is taken away and hung for his strange ideas. They others get on with their lives and keep their heads down.

Much of the musical style will be derived from familiar idioms, and in this way will represent an ironic comment on the action. They are peasants after all, and know that survival is the key thing. Mathilda and Thomas will sing in patter song, completing one another’s phrases. John will sing in English folksong style, reporting action in phrases of varying metre and length. Simon will sing in an ethereal style based on Renaissance polyphony, often using famous words spoken later in history.

This is an account of working with Catarina Domenici, a Brazilian pianist and academic. It is based on looking at of how we worked together, and uses the terms for different types of working relationship I have written about before. This blog gives a detailed example of how those definitions can be used to gain a better understanding of how a working relationship is operating.

Collaboration itself I define as sharing a task, while working no hierarchy. If a task is shared but one person makes the final decision, I call that consultative working. If people carry out separate tasks as equals, I call that co-operation.

Catarina and I met at an academic conference in April 2013 in Cambridge, and we agreed to work on a piece together, and also to work on a joint paper analysing the process. I agreed to travel to Brazil to work with her in January.

Meanwhile, we worked on ideas for a new piece of music. This work went through several stages. Our communication was initially by email and later by Skype. The stages were that:

  1. I proposed some material based of some speech rhythms I had notated. She commented by email ‘I’ve just played through the ideas for the piece. They seem alright. I seems to me that the most interesting part will be the next step – how you are going to work out all those motifs. ‘
  2. In October I sent a verbal description of a concept for the piece, as follows. ‘I began to think of a babble of voices/motifs as a way of beginning the piece, and composing a structure whereby there begins to emerge some sense of coherence, only for this to be lost again, for the coherence to re-emerge, to be lost again, and then for the fragments to fade out to a sparse conclusion with increasing amounts of silence.’
  3. She did not respond directly to this suggestion for the piece. I felt at this point that I was inviting her to collaborate in developing the musical concept, but that she wished instead to respond as a performer being consulted about a sketch or draft piece. This was a protracted but helpful stage of the process since it clarified the nature of the working relationship between us. It should be seen in the context of her view that the performer becomes a co-creator of the musical work through the development of a performance and a performance tradition, a view I agree with.
  4. Over the next couple of months I made 6 different sketches of ways of starting the piece and sent these to her. Each sketch was based on a complex set of procedural rules, aiming to create a sense of chaos and confusion, with a dramatic process of the diminution or increase in the confusion as the sketch progressed.
  5. She commented that the sketches would not necessarily be experienced as chaotic since the performer would find it it hard to engage in notation with no sense of order to it, and that audiences might be alienated when hearing music with which they could not engage. She commented that the way I had notated the music did not make effective use of the piano as an instrument. The nature of the working relationship therefore changed, and her response was that of a performer who might be faced with the task of co-creating the piece by developing it as a performance. Her response of to the 6 sketches I wrote was the same. 
  6. I decided that my suggested concept of the piece should be abandoned. Instead, I made three short sketches for possible pieces. These were based on a combination of allowing my subjective preferences to influence my choice of material, rather than having any prior concept of the nature of the piece, and aiming to make use of particular qualities of the piano as an instrument in each sketch.
  7. I developed these three sketches further on arrival in Brazil, and we workshopped them. Our working process was then for me to spend each subsequent day producing a complete draft piece, with a workshop late each day – while dealing with extreme heat and tropical thunderstorms.
  8. In each workshop I presented a draft which she played, and she gave me technical comments. I would describe this as consultative working. Second, she asked me questions about the sense of each piece, at one point asking about the poetic concept embodied in one of the drafts. This seemed to me a reflection of her process as the interpreter seeing her role as the co-creator of the piece through performance. While I was reluctant to explain the poetic of each piece in words, I did suggest ideas.
  9. However, at points she suggested changes a the piece or asked questions which led to my making changes. As a result, the notated music, and not just the potential performance, reflects her input. At points therefore we came close to collaborative working. However, throughout it was left to me to decide whether to incorporate suggestions or to respond to questions, and therefore the element of hierarchy remained.
  10. The effect of this working method was that I did make use of almost all of her suggestions, and I did seek to address any problems which she identified. The resulting music would have been quite different had I developed the three sketches into short pieces without the involvement of a performer, or with the involvement of a different performer. I would describe our working method as consultative almost throughout, but with the emphasis on what I would call consultation in good faith – I took all her suggestions seriously and used almost all of them.
  11. Drafts of all three short pieces were completed over the four days of my stay, and I returned home with two fairly satisfactory drafts which needed some further work, and one draft which needed considerable further work.
  12. At this point my role as a composer seemed complete to me. I had written a set of notation capable of being interpreted in public. Before the piece would become music, she as the performer had to develop a performance and to perform it, therefore becoming a co-creator of the piece of music. I see this as an example of co-operative working. I carried out my task as a composer of producing notation, and she would then carry out her task as a performer of turning this notation into music.

About time I wrote up my experience earlier this autumn at the Tippett Music Centre. Two aspects of the project are particularly interesting:

 – composing using musical material provided by other people, in this case the performers.

 – composing for an ensemble of learners, from beginners up to more advanced secondary school pupils.

 1. But first, to describe the project.

For the last two years a three-way collaboration has taken place as part of the Herne Hill Music Festival. The partners have been Lambeth’s Council’s Saturday Music Centre, which meets at the Michael Tippett School in Herne Hill, Dulwich Symphony Orchestra, and an invited composer who writes a new piece of music for performance by all the musicians at the event.

In 2012, the composer was John Holland. He wrote a conventionally notated piece of music in which different groups of the performers played different sections. I was the composer in 2013.

I began the 2013 project in by visiting the ensemble which meets at the Centre every Saturday morning. It consists of string, wind, brass, and percussion pupils at every level from beginner to quite advanced secondary school pupils. I suggested that film music often consists of sound effects, and demonstrated some. I divided them into pairs and asked each pair to invent a sound effect, and came away with about 30 different sound effects.

I then worked out ways of notating these, and assembled them into short phrases. Early in September the ensemble played through these short phrases. I learned a great deal about which sound effects worked, which ones the pupils played well. One clear-cut lesson was that effects notated to begin somewhere other than on the downbeat of a bar were often played inaccurately.

I then composed the piece, using the majority of these short phrases. I developed them mostly through sequences, in which ideas went one step up or down on each repetition. I eliminated phrases unlikely to work, and placed each idea so that it began on a downbeat.

The pupil ensembles met with players from DSO to rehearse and perform the the piece in October. We then performed the piece to a large audience of parents and siblings. There was an wild and enthusiastic response at the end, shouting and stamping with enthusiasm. I had never had a response to a piece like it, though I am sure the cheering was at least as much for the players as for me.

The greatest reward to me was that one parent spoke to me afterwards to explain that taking part in this performance has re-kindled her son’s enthusiasm for playing his violin, since he had now seen that he could play it expressively in a way with which he could engage.

2. Composing using other people’s material.

Composers expect to invent their own material, though in some notable cases they have chosen to use material by other composers. In this case I was faced with composing using material I had not chosen, though it was invented in a context – film music – which I had specified.

I had control of the process of composition, by which I means the process of building a coherent composition out of the material I was presented with. I did the work in two stages. The first consisted by assembling small groups of musical ideas into short phrases. I then tried these out with the pupils. This led to the elimination of some of them, and the simplification of the notation of others.

I then developed a structure consisting of clearly separate sections, each using one or more of the phrase groups. The overall scenario was one of change from the slower, quiet and mysterious music of the start, to faster and increasingly exciting and chaotic music in the middle, with a return to quiet material at the end. The dramatic profile was one with which I was happy, and which I am sure communicated well.

The consequence of composing with ideas provided with others was the necessity of thinking in terms of the dramatic structures which could be produced with the music, and using my compositional craft skills to produce a structure which used the material effectively. Since the ideas did not arise from my own subconscious process in any way, therefore the piece does not have any relationship to a deeper sense of experience, and relies entirely on my judgement on which effects to pace where.

Equally, each musical idea is taken forward through repetition and sequences, rather than through development. Again, the result was to limit the input of my less conscious mind into the composition process.

3. Writing for instrumental learners

The pupils were highly inventive when it came to suggesting musical material, but much less good at playing it. None of the material was technically difficult to play, but I quickly found that I had to keep the notation of the music to a simple and clear level, to ensure that all effects were doubled, and to make sure that the timing of entries was straightforward. In the final version there was only one section with a more complex rhythm, and we rehearsed this more fully.

Each section of the piece was based mainly on one or two ideas repeated and shifted up or down. Each section of the ensemble played almost entirely in unison – strings, winds, brass. The percussion parts were in some ways more challenging since there were 5 independent parts, but again all actions were doubled with at least two players instructed to play at all times.

In these ways, potential barriers such as timing of entries, exposed material, and technically harder material were avoided, and the pupils enthusiasm was engaged through the extremity of the material. By extremity I mean the use of quiet sounds and silences in the opening and closing material to produce an atmosphere is mystery and suspense, and then the very assertive material used in the central faster section leading up to a section of complete chaos. The pupils were given material to play, such as fortissimo scratch tone for string and mouthpiece-only screams for the single reeds, which they could go to an extreme in performing.

The effects used were labelled with text in the parts throughout, so that the pupils did not have to remember what the unusual notation stood for.

The effect of these various methods of making the music very simple to play and clearly structured, with plenty of time to move from one musical idea to another, was one of the most committed performances I have ever been involved in. The pupils  fully deserved the wildly enthusiastic response from the audience.

 Introduction

The idea of narrative in music is contested. Views of musicologists range from those of Ball who dismisses the concept as ‘… simply not an essential, or even important, part of music …’ (2010: 392) to those of Almén (2008) who has produced a comprehensive theory of narrative in music. I plan to address this issue by asking who, if anybody, is the narrator in Western abstract art music.

I will focus on this type of music since western instrumental music in the classical genre has been the almost exclusive subject of debate on this question. Other genres, and classical music with words, raise different questions which are outside the scope of this paper.

Listeners to abstract art music commonly make representational narrative interpretations of the music. Authors such as Almén (2003:12) have argued from this that the listener is the true narrator in such music.

I will question this view, on two grounds:

  • that such music communicates through abstract sound, and we usually have no evidence that composers conceived it in representational terms;
  • that listener-generated narratives arise from the listeners’ wish to communicate the abstract experience of the music. Such narratives may be evidence of the existence of narrativity in the music, but do not show accurately what the narrative is about.

First, I want to look at the view that only the music of certain periods is generally interpreted in narrative terms.

Second, I will present the argument that musical narratives operate as abstract sound.

I will then return to the question of the identity of the narrator.

1. Narrative and non-narrative art-music.

It is argued that narrativity does not exist in all art music since it is dependent on the intentions of the composer and their aesthetic context. Hatten (1991) argues that:

.. certain musical styles would seem more capable of exploiting the basic technique of narrative: the meaningful ordering of expressive events, and their meaningful description. (Hatten 1991:96)

He considers nineteenth century music to be the prime example.

Seaton (2005) sees narrativity in music as an historically specific phenomenon, and considers that the music of the Classical period, prior to the nineteenth century, could ‘… better be regarded as dramatic than as narrative’ (Seaton 2005:69). He considers that, while the classical style had introduced elements which could be read as a plot, characteristic of drama, romantic music introduced the idea of voice into music and therefore created the sense of a narrator. (Seaton 2005:69)

Karl points out that music which ‘… does not present its stories in real time.’ (Karl 1991:44) is as a result experienced as a narrative. Such music communicates a sense of passing through a series of states faster than could be experienced in real time. We therefore perceive a narrator summarising longer experiences as a shorter narrative.

By contrast, an analysis of Mozart’s piano concertos by Keefe (1999) identifies dramas of competition and co-operation, as if acted out in sound before our ears, rather than a sense of a narrator recounting and summarising the drama.

So, only music from the nineteenth century onwards is regarded by scholars as possessing narrativity.

2. Abstract narrative in music

My argument is that narratives in Western abstract art music are transmitted and received wholly as abstract sound. Against this, it might be argued that there are certain musical works where the composer specified a programme or title which implies actions or reactions.

Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14, has a programme which refers to characters and events. However, Cone (1974) argues that:

Belioz’s intent [in the programme] … was not to describe the scenes and incidents, but to depict his hero’s reactions to them. (Cone 1974:83)

Cone’s (1974) reading of the symphony is as a sequence of emotional states within a third person, the hero. However, we know from Berlioz’ own biography that this hero is closely related to the composer. We could therefore say that the composer adopted the narrative persona of the hero in order to write this work.

Relevant to this is Abbate’s (1991:23) view of certain narrative analyses of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. The writers she comments on suggest that the music depicts events. She argues, like Cone (1974), that the music communicates the composer’s reaction to events, real or imagined.

However, as Nattiez (1990) has shown, if listeners hear programme music without being told the programme, they are entirely unable to give accurate accounts of the programme. In his view, the music therefore cannot be said to represent the programme. I would argue that while some composers chose to give indications of their own representational interpretation of the music, the music itself does not represent that interpretation.

The many scholarly narrative interpretations of abstract music share two characteristics. First, they are made in representational terms. Second, while evidence is presented that the interpretation put forward may be close to the narrative intentions of the composer, in no case are the scholars able to demonstrate composer intention directly.

Examples are the analyses of Schumann (Kramer 2002: Newcomb 1984 and 1987), Beethoven (Jander 1985 and 1995: Hatten 1991: Kerman 1992: McLary 2004), Humperdinck (Neuberger 1997), Chopin (Klein 2004), and many others.

If the composers conceived the music in terms of representational narratives, we usually do not know what they were. It is entirely possible that the composers conceived the music purely as abstract sound, without specifying a representational narrative even to themselves.

I would argue that such music is initially experienced just as abstract sound narratives. However, when a listener encounters a piece of abstract music, they are unable to explain it in terms of its original medium, of sound. They therefore translate the experience into a verbal representation.

So, one can say that the existence of listener narrative interpretations may be provoked by narrative cues in the music. One cannot say that such interpretations are clear evidence of the nature of the narrative.

3. The significance of listener-generated narratives

Drawing this distinction between the abstract narrative cues in certain music, and the representational interpretations created by listeners, raises the question of the way in which narrative meaning may be said to come into existence.

Barthes (1977) argues that:

there can be no narrative without a narrator and a listener (or reader). (Barthes, 1977: 109) [and that] … every narrative is dependent on a ‘narrative situation’, the set of protocol’s according to which the narrative is ‘consumed’. (Barthes, 1977: 116)

Barthes’ view is clearly that both narrator and listener are required. This view is consistent with the possibility that a narrator may communicate one thing and a listener may perceive another.

However, listeners do not appear to make narrative interpretations of pre-nineteenth century music. It is therefore unlikely that the making of narrative interpretations resulted from a change in listener perceptions at that time, since otherwise one would expect to encounter narrative interpretations of earlier music. I therefore take the view that narrative interpretations of music are provoked by narrative cues in the music.

In the light of this, it is instructive to look at the work of writers who have argued that the listener is the true narrator in music, and also at the views of those who have questioned the idea of narrativity in music because they dismiss the validity of listener-generated narratives.

Almén (2003 and 2008) has published a comprehensive theory of narrative in music, and takes the view that:

Musical narrative is the process through which the listener perceives and tracks a culturally significant transvaluation of hierarchical relationships within a temporal span. (Almén 2003:12)

In other words, the narrative does not come into existence until the listener creates it. This appears to reflect a view that unless a narrative can be described in representational terms then it has not been brought into existence. Almén considers that all musical narratives are expressions of a limited range of narrative archetypes of the kinds defined by Northrop Frye (1957) and Liszka (1989). Such narratives are inescapably representational.

Nattiez (1990), however, dismisses the idea of narrativity in music on the grounds that it only exists in the mind of the listener, and argues that music is not capable of narrativity. He regards listener narratives as an example of the pattern of human behaviour described by Ricoeur (1984) of interpreting any complex sequence of events in simpler narrative terms. His objection is that listeners have:

a wish to complete through words what the music does not say because it is not in its semiological nature to say it … (Nattiez 1990:245)

While I agree with Nattiez’s questioning of listener-generated narratives as evidence of the nature of musical narratives, his position does not allow for the fact that listeners only make narrative interpretations of music written from the early nineteenth century onwards. The existence of listener interpretations confined to the music of that period suggests that they have been provoked into making them by narrative cues in the music.

Nattiez (1990) appears to equate narrativity with representation, and does not allow for the possibility of narratives communicated and understood purely through abstract sound. His questioning of whether narrativity can be inherent in certain music appears to result from this conflation of narrativity and representation.

McGilchrist’s (2009) study of the different functions carried out by the two brain hemispheres contains an important discussion of music as a form of non-verbal communication received and understood by the right hemisphere of the brain. The left hemisphere, by contrast, is the one mainly used for verbal communication, and so is used to make representational interpretations of the abstract musical narratives experienced by the right hemisphere.

Almén’s (2003, 2008) argument that listeners’ verbal interpretations of the music are the true narrative would be seen, following to McGilchrist’s analysis, as an example of the left hemisphere imposing its narrower verbal interpretation on the more complete abstract sound experience received by the right hemisphere.

I therefore agree with Hatten, who queries the validity of representational interpretations. He argues for an avoidance of ‘… overly impressionistic metaphors or overly specific programmatic analyses …’ (Hatten 1987:208).

He argues that the works he has analysed, however, demonstrate a ‘… semiotic level of dramatic closure …’ (Hatten 1987:208) which cannot adequately be described through formal or harmonic analysis. I agree that we do not need representational interpretations to establish that there is narrativity inherent in the music, even though their existence is evidence of that narrativity.

4. The composer, or the narrative posture?

We could move directly to the identification of the composer as the narrator whom we encounter in listening to certain music. Hatten describes abstract music as ‘… a sequence of emotional states, rather than referential events …’ (Hatten 1991:75) and considers that the composer is the narrator.

This identification of the composer as the narrator is one I consider does not fully reflect the nature of the compositional process. While we may encounter a set of narrative cues set up by the composer, we cannot be certain how these relate to the composer as a person.

To examine the relationship between the composer and the musical narrative it is necessary to investigate how the process of composition works. The problem impeding this is the scarcity of information on composer intentions and the compositional process.

Two writers have set out models of how the process operates. Tarasti (2004) outlines a model which includes the concept of:

the implied composer [who] is someone with a certain competence, who provides his musical message with signs that the implied listener can … receive and decode correctly. (Tarasti 2004:300)

I would read this as meaning that this implied composer is not identical to the physical composer.

Sloboda (1985:107/8) refers to musical ideas coming ‘… unbidden …’ to composers, and that ‘… those that please …’ are retained and used. He sets out (Sloboda 1985: 118) a model of the process.

The composer conceives ideas for a piece within the context of their musical knowledge and the constraints on the form of the piece. They develop these into an interim form through the application of their repertoire of compositional devices, and then into the final form of the piece, with a constant process of interaction between their imagination, their technical knowledge, and the constraints on the type of piece required. He considers (Sloboda 1985:121) that there is much evidence that the creative process is largely subconscious, and the composer perceives themselves as a bystander.

As a composer, I would summarise my own process as follows. Working within the context of each new piece, I begin to identify musical ideas, which arrive largely unbidden, but originate in my subconscious through the interaction of the constraints on the nature of the piece, my fund of technical knowledge, and my life experience. I interrogate these ideas, and investigate their potential.

I begin to build these ideas into a longer structure, allowing the musical ideas to grow and develop as seems right, but subject this subconscious process to the scrutiny of musical craftsmanship. The draft is revised, a process which consists of checking whether the piece feels right to me, and which is therefore partly subconscious.

The question therefore concerns the approach the composer takes towards their musical material. Composers of the Baroque and Classical eras did not seek to use their material in a way which suggests the compression into a single work of more experience than could be encountered within the duration of the work. Later composers are commonly seen as doing so.

This sense of the compression of experience leads to the perception of the music as a narrative account. It results from the composer adopting a narrative posture towards the material imagined, a posture which may be subconscious. This appears to me to be the key to the question of the identity of the narrator. This concept of the narrative posture relates closely both to my compositional process and to the models of the process developed by Tarasti (2004) and Sloboda (1985).

5. Conclusion

I have argued that narrativity in music arises from narrative cues in certain music and is communicated through abstract sound. The representational narratives which listeners and scholars create in order to explain their experience or interpretation are evidence of the existence narrativity, but not clear evidence of its nature.

I have concluded that musical narrativity arises from the adoption of a narrative posture by the composer in the creation and use of their musical material.

The question for further research is therefore whether, how and why a composer adopts a narrative posture in writing, and how this affects their choice and use of musical material in a way which leads listeners to experience the music as a narrative in the­ abstract.

Bibliography

Abbate, C. (1991) Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century, Princeton, Princeton University Press

Almén, B. (2003) ‘Narrative Archetypes: A Critique, Theory, and Method of Narrative Analysis’ Journal of MusicTheory 47/1: 1–39

Almén, B. (2008) A Theory of Musical Narrative, Bloomington, Indiana University Press

Ball, P. (2010) The music instinct. How music works and why we can’t do without it. London, The Bodley Head

Barthes, Roland, (1977) Image, Music, Text, Heath S., Trans. London, Harper Collins

Cone, E. T. (1974) The Composer’s Voice, Berkeley, University of California Press.

Hatten, R.S. (1987) ‘Aspects of dramatic closure in Beethoven: A semiotic perspective on musical analysis via strategies of dramatic conflict’ Semiotica Vol. 66: 197-210

Hatten, R.S. (1991) ‘On Narrativity in Music: Expressive Genres and Levels of Discourse in Beethoven’ Indiana Theory Review, Vol. 12: 75-96

Jander, O. (1985) ‘Beethoven’s ‘Orpheus in Hades’: The ‘Andante con moto’ of the Fourth Piano Concerto’ Nineteenth-Century Music 8/3: 195–212

Jander, O. (1995) ‘Orpheus Revisited: A Ten-Year Retrospective on the Andante con moto of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto’ Nineteenth-Century Music 19/1: 31–49

Karl, Gregory. (1991) ‘The Temporal Life of the Musical Persona: Implications for Narrative and Dramatic Interpretation’ Music Research Forum 6: 42–72

Keefe, Simon P., (1999) ‘Dramatic Dialogue in Mozart’s Viennese Piano Concertos: A Study of Competition and cooperation in Three First Movements’ The Musical Quarterly, 83/2: 169-204

Kerman, J. (1992) ‘Representing a Relationship: Notes on a Beethoven Concerto’ Representations 39: 80–101

Klein, M. (2004) ‘Chopin’s Fourth Ballade as Musical Narrative’ Music Theory Spectrum 26/1: 23-56

Kramer, L. (2002) ‘Rethinking Schumann’s Carnaval: Identity, Meaning, and the Social Order’ In Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History. Berkeley, University of California Press, 100–132

Liszka, J. J. (1989) The Semiotic of Myth: A Critical Study of the Symbol, Bloomington, Indiana University Press

McGilchrist, Iain (2009) The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, New Haven and London, Yale University Press

McLary, S, (2004, first published 1997) ‘The impromptu which stood on a loaf’ in Narrative theory: Critical concepts in cultural studies, Bal, M. (ed.) London, Routledge, 20-35

Nattiez, J.-J. (1990) ‘Can One Speak of Narrativity in Music?’ trans. Ellis K., Journal of the Royal Musical Association 115: 240–57

Neuberger, J. (1997) ‘Tales of Hoffman and Others: On Narratizations of Instrumental Music’ in: Lagerroth, U.-B., Lund, H., and Hedling, E., (eds.) Interart Poetics: Essays on the Interrelations of the Arts and Media. Amsterdam, Rodopi, 117-136

Newcomb, A. (1987) ‘Schumann and Late Eighteenth Century Narrative Strategies’ Nineteenth-Century Music 11/2: 164-74

Newcomb, (1984) ‘Once More “Between Absolute and Program Music”: Schumann’s Second Symphony’ Nineteen-Century Music 7/3: 233-250

Northrop Frye, H. (1957) Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, New Jersey, Princeton Univ. Press

Ricoeur, P. (1984, 1985, 1988) Time and Narrative (3 Volumes). Chicago, University of Chicago Press

Seaton, D. (2005) ‘Narrative in music: The case of Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata’in: Narratology beyond literary criticism: Mediality, Disciplinarity, Meister, J.C.(eds.) Berlin and New York, Walter de Gruyter, 65-81

Sloboda, J. A. (1985) The Musical Mind: The cognitive psychology of music. Oxford, New York; Clarendon Press

Tarasti, E. (2004) ‘Music as a narrative art’ in:Ryan, M-L. (ed.), Narrative across media- the languages of storytelling, Lincoln NE, Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska

Views on ways of working together

The term collaboration has been used to describe a wide variety of working relationships. Collaborations are sometimes described as being hierarchical, or alternatively as immersive. This variety of usage suggests that it would be worth examining the term, and asking whether its general usage covers several different types of working relationships.

The justification for such an investigation is that the ways composers relate to performers and other artists have changed through history, with the concept of the composer as a separate role being of relatively recent development historically. Understanding the nature of the working relationships is necessary before carrying out successful experiments in different ways of working with performers and other artists.

There has been too general a tendency to label any joint working as collaboration. This uncritical use of the term has obscured the actual nature of the working relationships, and therefore potentially impeded the development of innovative forms of working relationship.

An important distinction has been made, for instance, between ‘… collaborative learning and co-operative learning …’ (Seddon, 2006, 274/5). This is based on the view that:

‘Collaboration is more a philosophy of interaction with participants making a co-ordinated effort to solve the problem together whereas co-operation is a specific interaction designed to accomplish an end product through the division of labour.’ (Rochelle and Teasley, 1995, 75)

Barrett (2006) also distinguishes co-operative relationships in which ‘… each make specific contributions to a shared task …’ (2006: 12) from collaborative relationships where ‘… participants see themselves engaged in a joint task …’ (2006:13)

Makelberge (2012) defines collaboration as opposed to individual working as requiring interdependence or reciprocity (2012: 28). He distinguishes collaboration in artistic creation from co-operation and from collective creation, noting that these there terms are often used interchangeably. (2012: 28). He writes:

‘… we will see that the three terms – collaboration, co-operation and collective creation – all spread out along an axis of less or more reciprocity.’ (Makelberge 2012: 28-9)

By ‘collective creation’ he means sampling and quoting from works produced by other artists in order to remake them or use them as building blocks for new work. This seems to me to fall outside the scope of a study on collaboration, since there is no reciprocity or even contact between the artists concerned in such cases.

Collaboration has also been described as

‘… a process by which individuals negotiate and share meanings … a co-ordinated, synchronous activity that is the result of a continued attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem.’ (Dillenbourg 1999: 70)

Distinguishing four types of working together

This discussion of attempts to define collaboration and related forms of working relationship suggest that there are two separate dimensions to the question.

The first is the presence, absence, or extent of the division of labour. People may carry out a task of artistic creation together. They may divide the separate parts required between them. They may develop an overall conception of the artwork together, but then create the distinct elements separately.

Second, there is the existence or otherwise of hierarchy amongst the participants. One or more people may make decisions in relation to the contribution of others, or all participants may be participants on an equal footing.

Using these two dimensions – hierarchy and division of labour – the following four types of working relationship can be distinguished:

Hierarchical working. Hierarchical, division of labour. Tasks are divided between the participants, but one or more participants make decisions on the contributions.
Co-operative working. Non-hierarchical, division of labour. Tasks are divided between the participants, but decisions on the contributions are taken as equals.
Consultative working. Hierarchical, no division of labour.The participants all contribute to one task, but one person makes decisions on the contributions.
Collaborative working.  Non-hierarchical, no division of labour. The participants share the project as equals, both the tasks themselves and the decisions on the contributions.

Activities which have been described as collaborative may in fact fall under any of these headings, though not often under hierarchical working.

There will be many cases where the participants move between the different types of working as they move to different phases of the project they are sharing. For instance the conception of a combined artwork may be shared, but the execution of the distinct parts may be carried out separately.

For instance, the scenario for Appalachian Spring was produced by Copland and Graham jointly. Graham proposed the subject, and a scenario was developed between them. The draft scenario was sent back and forth between them until it was agreed (Robertson, 1991: 8). Copland then wrote the music. Graham subsequently produced the choreography.

I plan to use this four-way framework to examine descriptions of collaborations involving composers. It will be particularly important to examine the different stages of the processes involved in the project concerned in order to identify possible changes in the working relationship and the project proceeded.

There will also be cases where the exact nature of the working relationship changes from moment to moment. However, it seems to me that at any one moment a decision is either taken by one participant or is shared, and that tasks are either divided between participants or carried out jointly. I therefore regard the four types of working relationship defined above as separate categories, and not as a continuum.

Hierarchical working

This is the familiar situation in most workplaces, though it is less predominant in artistic activities. A composer may be the lead artist in a shared project, making decisions on the contributions of others. For instance, a composer may reject a libretto as unsuitable for setting, or require changes. (See for example: Adams 2008, 221).

Alternatively, they may find that their contributions are subject to the decisions of another person, the lead artist. This can be the situation for composers writing for film and dance. They commonly have no say on the film and dance. They may be asked to write musical accompaniment, and their music may be accepted or rejected as unsuitable.

Consultative working

Consultation, by definition, implies one person or group seeking the views or contributions of other people, and then deciding whether to take account of them or not. For instance, a composer might ask a performer what they think of a draft piece, or might seek suggestion for motivic or structural ideas. The lead composer, however, decides on whether to incorporate the suggestions made, or to make amendments in the light of the comments received. (See for example: Rizzardi,1999 on the work of Luigi Nono)

The lead composer sits at the apex of the hierarchy, and seeks the views of others, which they may or may not take on board. Those consulted have no redress if their ideas are not taken on board, and comments made in this context would always be given on the basis that they might be discounted.

Alternatively, there may be a lead artist such as a film maker or choreographer who seeks the composer’s opinion on the type of music which might accompany the film or dance. The music is then written, and there may be further consultation leading to amendments. The composer has a say, but is not the decision maker.

Co-operative working

Co-operation involves two or more people working together on separate parts of a project, but as equal participants. Co-operative working may be based on a prior agreement on the nature of the tasks and the framework within which they are to be carried out. The tasks then might be carried out concurrently. I will call this pre-planned co-operation.

Alternatively, there may be no prior agreement on a structure or framework, and the tasks might be carried out in a way where regular discussion is required, or through an interactive process where a step by one of the co-operators is followed by a step by the other. I will call this interactive co-operation.

Collaborative working

Collaborative working in artistic creation should therefore be defined as the equal sharing of the process of the creation. This is relatively common in literary or academic writing. Examples are described by Fontaine, and Hunter (2006). In non-verbal arts a truly collaborative form of working may be harder to achieve, partly because the mode of expression in the art-form is likely to be different from that used for discussion. If the artists imagine and create non-verbally, then it become harder to share the process.

It also requires that the speed of execution of the creative activity to be sufficiently fast for this to take place while working with someone else. Choreographers commonly invent on their dancers, and the dancers affect the choreography. However, if the choreographer remains the decision maker, then I would classify this as consultative rather than collaborative working.

Composers are much less likely to carry out the process of the invention and structuring of musical material whilst inter-acting with a collaborator. The slowness of the process of musical invention would be an impediment to this.

Conclusion

This four-way framework, distinguishing different types of working relationship, provides a basis for analysing published accounts of composers working with others, and also for my own experiences. It offers a basis for innovation in the nature of such working relationships, since it enables one to enter a relationship with another artist in an awareness of the character of the relationship as it develops, and therefore the ability to develop the relationship in new ways.

References

Adams, John, 2008, Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American life. London, Faber and Faber

Barrett, M., 2006, Creative collaboration : an eminence study of teaching and learning in music composition. Psychology of Music, 2006 ; Vol. 34, No. 2, 195-218

Dillenbourg, P. 1999), What do you mean by ‘Collaborative Learning?’ in: Dillenbourg, P. Ed. Collaborative Learning: Cognitive and Computational; Approaches. Amsterdam, Pergamon, Elsevier Science

Fontaine, S. I., and Hunter, S. M., (2006) Collaborative Writing in Composition Studies, Boston MA, London, Thomson Wadsworth

Makelberge, Nicolas, 2012, Rethinking Collaboration in Networked Music , Organised Sound / Volume 17 / Issue 01 / March 2012, pp 28 – 35
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1355771811000483 (About DOI), Published online:14 February 2012

Rizzardi, Veniero, (1999, pp47-56), Notation, oral tradition and performance practice in the works with tape and live electronics by Luigi Nono, Contemporary Music Review, Vol 18, Part 1, 1999. Abingdon, Routledge (reprinted 2004.) Originally published 1999 by Harwood Academic Publishers.

Robertson, Marta, (1991) Musical and Choreographic Integration in Copland’s and Graham’s Appalachian Spring, The Musical Quarterly, 83/1, pp 2-27

Rochelle, J., and Teasley, S., (1999) The construction of shared knowledge in collaborative problem-solving. 69-97 of O’Malley, C. (Ed) Computer-supported Collaborative Learning, New York, Springer-Verlag

Seddon, F. A., (2006) Collaborative computer-mediated music composition in cyberspace, British Journal of Music Education, 23/2, 273-283

Abstract
It is widely accepted that listeners to abstract music written during some historical periods at least commonly make narrative interpretations of the music. They do this in order to make sense to themselves of the listening experience, or to communicate their experience or understanding of the music to others. Perhaps the listener is the true narrator of such music?

The significance of this narratisation of the listening experience is questioned on the basis that this tendency to narratise abstract music is just one of many examples of the way human beings narratise experience in order to comprehend it and communicate it. It therefore does not demonstrate the existence of narrativity in the music itself.

It is therefore suggested that the key questions on the existence of narrativity in abstract music concern the nature of the systems of signs established by the composers, and to the narrative personae which composers may adopt during the creative process.

In seeking to define the identity of the narrator in music, I would like to begin by questioning the validity and significance of listener-generated narrative interpretations of Western abstract art-music, on two grounds. One is that they amount to a potential misapplication of concepts based on written literature. The other is that such narrative interpretations are subjective impressions, and do not show whether narrativity is inherent in the music, or how it is operating.

1. Lyric or epic narratives in music?

To begin with the first objection, in Book III of The Republic, Plato (2004) distinguishes three types of poetry:

– tragedy and comedy, in which the poet speaks through characters and conceals them self;
– lyric poetry, where the poet speaks in their own voice;
– epic poetry, where the poet recounts the actions of characters.

Aristotle makes the same distinction, and regards the performance of music as equivalent to the recitation of poetry, (Aristotle 1974: 33) and therefore operating in the lyric mode.

I would argue that most narrated, diagetic, art forms, and above all the novel, are descended from the concept of epic poetry. A narrator tells of the actions, words, and thoughts of a range of characters.

Western art-music, I would argue, is descended from the Greek concept of lyric poetry. There is no evidence of other characters, and only one voice speaks. The question is the identity of this voice.

It might be argued that there are certain musical works where the composer specified a programme which refers to or implies the presence of a range of characters. Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, Op, 14, is a work which might be seen as close to a novel. It has an detailed programme which refers to characters and events. However, Cone (1974) argues that:

… Belioz’s intent [in the programme] … was not to describe the scenes and incidents, but to depict his hero’s reactions to them. (Cone 1974: 83)

Cone’s (1974) interpretation of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique might be read as the communication of a sequence of emotional states within a third person, the hero. If so, it could be said to be in the epic mode. However, we know from Berlioz’ own life that this ‘hero’ is in fact closely related to the composer. It would therefore be more accurate to say that the composer has adopted the narrative persona of the hero in order to write this particular piece. It is therefore in the lyric mode.

Relevant to this point is Abbate’s (1991 or 1989, 23), view of certain narrative analyses of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (Eroica, Op. 55). The writers she comments on suggest that the music is depicting events in the mimetic mode. She suggests that the writers should be referring to the epic mode, in which the poet describes the actions or words of characters.

However, I would argue that the music seeks to convey the poet’s/composer’s reaction to actions or emotions, rather than to describe the behaviour of characters. The music is therefore operating in the lyric mode. All roads appear to me to lead back to the view that music of this period at least operates in the lyric mode. The poet speaks in their own voice.

Therefore I would argue that music of this type operates on a basis distinct from literary narratives, since there is only one voice, that of the poet or narrator. Parallels from the study of literary narratology should therefore be applied with care.

2. Narrative and non-narrative art-music.

However, I would not wish to argue that this parallel with lyric poetry is appropriate to all music or even all Western art-music. It is argued that narrative in music is not universal but may depend on the intentions of the composer or on the aesthetic context within which the composer was writing. Hatten (1991) argues that:

… certain musical styles would seem more capable of exploiting the basic technique of narrative: the meaningful ordering of expressive events, and their meaningful description. (Hatten 1991: 96)

He considers nineteenth century music to be the prime example.

Seaton (2005) also regards narrativity in music as an historically specific phenomenon, and that the music of the Classical era could ‘… better be regarded as dramatic than as narrative.’ (Seaton 2005: 69) He considers that the change to a narrative style took place with the transition to the romantic era. While the classical style had introduced elements which can be read as a plot, characteristic of drama, romantic music introduced the idea of voice into music and therefore created the sense of a narrator. (Seaton 2005: 69)

In seeking to characterise narrative in music from the Romantic era onwards, Karl (1991) points out that while music unfolds in time, like drama, it ‘… does not present its stories in real time.’ (Karl 1991: 44) This is characteristic of narrative rather than drama. We therefore perceive a persona recounting experiences to us. The question is the identity of this persona.

We can therefore see that music of different eras appears to function in different ways, and that music from Beethoven onwards is regarded as possessing narrativity. This point is central to the following discussion of listener-generated narratives.

3. Narratives in the mind of the listener?

There have been many scholarly narrative interpretations of music from Beethoven onwards. They share two characteristics. On the one hand they are made in representational terms. They often come close to presenting music as if it were a literary narrative, in the epic mode.

On the other hand, while evidence is presented that the interpretation suggested may be close to the narrative intentions intentions of the composer, in no case are the scholars able to demonstrate the composer’s intentions directly.

Examples are the analyses of Schumann (Newcombe 1984 and 1987), Beethoven (Jander 1985 and 1995) Beethoven (Hatten 1991) Schumann (Kramer 2002) Humpnerdinck (Neuberger 1997), Beethoven (Kerman 1992) Beethoven again (McLary 2004), and Chopin (Klein 2004).

In the absence of direct evidence of composer intentions, I would therefore argue that these remain listener-generated narratives. If the composers conceived the music in terms of representational narratives, we do not know exactly what they were. Equally, the composers may have conceived the music purely as an abstract narrative in sound, without specifying a representational narrative even to themselves in the process of composition.

The most we have as evidence of the composers’ intentions are titles, markings, or comments by composers which hint at a narrative intent in the music. For instance, Tchaikovsky gave his Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op.74 the title Pathetique. He considered describing it as a programme symphony but changed his mind. We are therefore invited to speculate on the narrative which may lie behind it. Such works set up an expectation of a narrative experience.

I would argue that it is possible to experience such works entirely as abstract sound narratives, and that this is probably how listeners initially encounter the music. This does not invalidate the idea of narrativity being present in the music. It implies only that narratives may be experienced in abstract as well as representational terms.

The human brain is known to work in a way whereby neurons are stimulated in similar ways by parallel experiences. For instance, Raffensperger (2013) shows that the same sets of neurons are stimulated by being physical hurt or being insulted by someone. The human brain readily interprets something experienced in one way, for instance an abstract musical narrative, as a different form of experience, such as a representational narrative. A full description of this process has been presented by Gallese and Wojciehowski (2011).

When a listener encounters a piece of abstract music, they are clearly unable to explain it in terms of its original medium. They therefore summarise the experience in words as a representational narrative.

I would therefore argue that listener-generated narratives, including those presented by scholars, are not evidence of the existence of narrativity in the music itself or of the composers’ intentions. They remain, however, valid in their own terms, for enabling listeners to understand and discuss a piece of music, and are invaluable as scholarly interpretations to aid listeners and interpreters.

4. Does it require a listener to create the narrative in music?

It is therefore instructive to look at the work of writers who have argued that it is the listener is the true narrator in music, and at the work of those who have dismissed the listener-narrator and therefore questioned the validity of the idea of narrativity in music.

Almén (2008) for instance has published a comprehensive theory of narrative in music, and takes the view that:

Musical narrative is the process through which the listener perceives and tracks a culturally significant transvaluation of hierarchical relationships within a temporal span. (Almén 2003: 12)

However, he (Almén 2008) goes on to argue that narrativity in music arises from:

… a hierarchy set up within a system of signs [that] is subjected to change over time; this change, filtered through an observer’s design or purpose, is interpreted as being a cultural hierarchy. (Almén 2008, 40)

In other words, it requires both a composer to set up a system of signs, and a listener to interpret the signs, to reveal narrative meaning. This implies that some music may be amenable to narrative interpretation while other music may not be. There must therefore be a question of composer intention to make the music concerned amenable or otherwise to narrative interpretation.

However, Almén considers that the narrative does not come into existence until the listener interprets it in representational terms. This appears to reflect a view that, unless a narrative can be described, and that necessarily means that it must be expressed in representational terms, then it has not been brought into existence. In this context, it is significant that Almén considers that all narratives are expressions of a limited range of narrative archetypes of the kind defined by Northrop Frye (1957) and Liszka (1989). Such narratives are inevitably representational.

Other writers, however, have dismissed the idea of narrativity in music on the grounds that it only exists in the mind of the listener, and is not inherent in the music itself.

Nattiez (1990) refers to the experience of listening to music, and ‘… an intuition of common sense: through the work, the composer speaks to us.’ He regards this as an example of the pattern of human behaviour described by Ricoeur (1984) of interpreting any sequence of events in narrative terms. His objection to this listener experience as evidence of narrative in music is that the listener has:

… a wish to complete through words what the music does not say because it is not in its semiological nature to say it … (Nattiez 1990, 245)

While I agree with Nattiez’s questioning of the idea of the listener as the true narrator in music, he is surely taking too narrow an approach. A narrative can exist as a series of emotional or psychological states communicated through abstract sound – the familiar experience at the end of a symphony that one has been taken through a process or on a journey.

However, the moment a listener develops a representational interpretation of abstract music, they replace the poet’s narrative with their own. In seeking to grasp the nature of the poet’s narrative, it slips away between their fingers, and we are left only with the listener’s subjective interpretation.

I would therefore disagree with Nattiez’ (1990) questioning of the idea that there can be narrativity inherent in the music itself. The issue is whether the systems of signs set up by composers from Beethoven onwards have narrativity inherent in them, and in what way this suggests the identity of the narrator in such music.

I would also question the opposite view, presented by Almén, that musical narrative depends on the listener to articulate it. Instead I would argue that there can be narrativity inherent in the systems of abstract sounds established by composers, and that is is not necessary to make a representational interpretation in order to demonstrate its existence.

I agree with Hatten, who queries the validity of listener-generated representational narrative interpretations of music. He argues for an avoidance of ‘… overly impressionistic metaphors or overly specific programmatic analyses …’ (Hatten 1987, 208), although arguing that the works he has analysed demonstrate a ‘… semiotic level of dramatic closure.’ (Hatten 1987, 208) which cannot adequately be described through formal or harmonic analysis.

The fact that narrative responses to abstract music relate primarily to music of the nineteenth century and beyond suggests that the music of that period invites narrative interpretation in a way which earlier music does not. The composers set up their systems of signs differently from composers of earlier eras. It remains to be defined how this process takes place, and to identify the narrator whom we appear to encounter.

5. The composer, or the narrative persona?

It is necessary to ask to what extent we encounter the composer themselves as a narrator when we listen to music from Beethoven onwards.

Hatten (1991) describes abstract music as ‘… a sequence of emotional states, rather than referential events …’ (Hatten 1991, 75). He considers therefore that the composer is the implied narrator.

In order to understand this concept of the composer as narrator, it is necessary to examine how the process of composition works. The problem impeding this is the scarcity of information on composer intentions and the compositional process.

Two writers have set out models of how the process operates. Tarasti (2004) puts forward a model which attempts to define this relationship. He (Tarasti 2004: 298-9) puts forward the concept of the Implied Composer, and explains that:

… the implied composer is someone with a certain competence, who provides his musical message with signs that the implied listener can … receive and decode correctly. (Tarasti 2004: 300)

I would read this as meaning that his Implied Composer is the narrative persona who we experience as addressing us in music from Beethoven onwards. They are not identical to the physical composer.

Sloboda (1985: 107/8) refers to musical ideas coming ‘… unbidden …’ to composers, and that ‘those that please’ are retained and used. He sets out (Sloboda 1985: 118) a model of the process. The composer conceives ideas for a piece within the context of their musical knowledge and the constraints on the form of the piece. They develop these into an interim form through the application of their repertoire of compositional devices, and then into the final form of the piece, with a constant process of interaction between their imagination, their technical knowledge, and the constraints on the type of piece required.

He considers (Sloboda 1985, 121) that there is much evidence that the creative process is largely subconscious, with the creator perceiving themselves as a bystander.

He goes on to give an example (Sloboda 1985: 125-136) of his own compositional process in writing choral music, describing it as consisting of a mix of ideas popping into his head, and the application of critical judgement and technical expertise in selecting which ideas to use.

From my own experience as a composer, I would summarise the process as follows. Working within the context of of each new piece, a composer begins to identify musical ideas, which arrive largely unbidden, but originate in their subconscious through the interaction of the constraints on the nature of the piece and its instrumentation, and the composer’s fund of technical knowledge and life experience. The composer interrogates these ideas, and investigates their potential. They choose ideas which please them, but also which have potential in the context of the piece concerned.

They begin to build these ideas into a longer structure, allowing the musical ideas to grow and develop as seems right, but subject this subconscious process to the scrutiny of musical craftsmanship. The draft piece is completed and revised.

Whether the final piece contains narrativity would therefore be a question of the position which the composer adopted in relation to it, which in turn will relate to both their nature as a individual and to the aesthetic within which they operate. Composers of the Baroque, and much of the Classical, eras did not seek to compress into a single work material which reflected a longer process of experience than could be encountered within the duration of the piece concerned. Composers from Beethoven onwards are commonly seen as doing so.

Seeking to compress experience in this way has the implication of the adoption of a narrative stance towards the material in order to summarise and recount it. The composer has to adopt a posture towards the piece and the material in it. This appears to me to be the key to the question, and it has best been described as the adoption of a narrative persona during the process of composition. This concept of the narrative persona relates closely not only to my experience but also to the models of the process developed by Tarasti and Sloboda.

6. Further study

The question, therefore, is how to study the extent of narrativity in pieces of music while resisting the temptation to interpret the music in representational terms. A potential answer to this question is to seek information directly from composers, and to seek it in a form other than a post-hoc rationalisation of their piece as a representational narrative, since that would not be fundamentally different from any listener-generated narrative.

What is required is information from composers, and accounts of the nature of pieces of music and the musical ideas which they contain, in technical rather than representational terms, yet in terms which illustrate the extent of the narrativity inherent in the music.

I am therefore planning to examine my own music, which I have long regarded as mainly consisting of forms of narrative in the abstract. I will try to develop a way of describing the narrativity, if any, in some my own music, working while the compositional process is fresh in my mind.

If I have any success in establishing a method for analysing music in this way, I then plan to invite other composers to provide similar analyses of their music as a basis for further research.

Bibliography

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