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Tonality as Drama

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Whether you are "in the business," or you are a music theorist, musicologist, or simply an opera fan--read on! This is an analytical monograph by a Schenkerian music theorist, but it is also written by one performer and enthusiast for another. Tonality as Drama draws on the fields of dramaturgy, music theory, and historical musicology to answer a fundamental question regarding twentieth-century music: why does the use of tonality persist in opera, even after it has been abandoned in other genres? Combining the analytical approaches of the leading music and dramatic theorists of the twentieth century--Austrian music theorist Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935) and Russian director Constantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938)--Edward D. Latham reveals insights into works by Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, and Aaron Copland that are relevant to analysts, opera directors, and performers alike. Tonality as Drama is not a textbook--rather, it is an innovative analytical study meant to inspire changes in the study and performance of tonal opera. By applying Schenker's tonal analytical technique to a small segment (early twentieth-century American opera) of a repertoire typically regarded as non-tonal (modern opera), Latham reveals a strategic use of tonality in that repertoire as a means of amplifying or undercutting the success or failure of dramatic characters. This use of "strategic tonality" is present in many of the grand operas and song cycles of the nineteenth century as well, suggesting avenues for future research.

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Merging Tonal and Dramatic Analysis

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Tonality as Drama

negatively on Wagner’s music. Schenker, as Carolyn Abbate and Roger

Parker point out, “did not otherwise venture into the brackish waters of opera, not even as far as the illusory purity of the Mozartean set-piece.”6

However, since Schenker’s death in 1935, music theorists—particularly in the United States—have adapted his ideas for application to a wider repertoire. As will be indicated in Chapter 2, this “Americanization” of

Schenker (to use William Rothstein’s term) bears some resemblance to the dissemination of Russian director Konstantin Stanislavsky’s ideas on acting, in that “disciples” of varying degrees of orthodoxy—including the present author—have appropriated Schenker’s system for their own purposes and to serve their own agendas.7 If combined with an equally nuanced and flexible mode of dramatic analysis, this expanded form of Schenkerian analysis might provide a model for the analysis of opera and other forms of “dramatic vocal music.”8

Merging Tonal and Dramatic Analysis

 

The Permanent Interruption and the Multi-Movement Ursatz

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Tonality as Drama

meaning of musical structure.18 As a result, a more balanced approach—one that includes the examination of text and music in equal proportions—is apparent in several recent opera studies.19 Amid all the attention paid to the music and the poetry, either individually or collectively, drama per se has nonetheless received short shrift, often relegated to a brief plot summary or outline.20 While the method presented in Chapter 2—Stanislavsky’s system of character objectives—is not intended to provide a comprehensive response to Abbate and Parker’s challenge, it attempts to provide a more sophisticated and detailed means of analyzing what characters want, as opposed to what they say or sing. By seeking a method of dramatic analysis that focuses on the successes and failures of individual characters vis à vis their spoken and unspoken desires, the opera analyst can move beyond surface issues of plot to examine character motivations at a deeper level.

The Permanent Interruption and the

 

Strategic Tonality in Four Post-Wagnerian Operas

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Tonality as Drama

to the tonal structure within a single piece or movement. David Neumeyer and

Patrick McCreless, however, have argued for a widening of analytical scope to include multi-movement works. McCreless, as part of a bid to reconcile

Schenkerian analysis with Leo Treitler’s work on key associations, claims that “linear analysis … is by no means incompatible with a point of view that finds tonal meaning echoing from moment to moment in a single movement, or from movement to movement in a multipartite work.”37 In his writing,

Neumeyer lays the groundwork for the future development of a model for multi-movement works, which is worth quoting in its entirety. He writes: when the closed analytic system—in our case, Schenker’s method applied to single movements—is confronted with a situation outside its capacities—here, the problem of multi-movement forms—the way to proceed is to add other pertinent structural criteria and develop an expanded, but again closed, methodology. Thus, for the song cycle and other expanded vocal works (including opera?), we need to add to Schenker’s harmonic-tonal and voice-leading model, as expressed in the Ursatz, the narrative or dramatic criteria, and from this develop a broader analytic system which can treat these two as co-equal structural determinants.38

 

Scoring a Role

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Dramatic Closure

Prepares, Stanislavsky stressed the importance of emotion memory, and it was this version of the system that was eventually adopted and promulgated by many of Stanislavsky’s American disciples.35 Near the end of his life, however, Stanislavsky developed a new method of working on a play, which he dubbed the “method of physical actions,” and it was this method that was to become what he felt was his most important contribution to acting theory.36

Scoring a Role

In its entirety, the Stanislavsky system represents an attempt to address every aspect of the actor’s craft. Much of the system, which is presented in three volumes (An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and Creating a Role), focuses on practical matters of stage acting such as movement, relaxation, and vocal projection. The portion of the complete system that is relevant to the present undertaking, however (i.e., the portion that relates to the analysis of a dramatic text), is the subsection of Figure 2 listed under

 

Sample Analyses: Griboyedov and Shakespeare

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Dramatic Closure

The hierarchical system of objectives, with its additions by various

Stanislavskians, may be summarized, from the top down, as follows: 1) the super-superobjective (SSO); 2) the superobjective (SO); 3) the interrupted objective (IO); 4) the main objective (MO); 3) the beat objective (BO); and 4) the line objective (LO). Other types of objectives that may be included at each level are the hidden objective (HO) and the subconscious objective (SbO).

Sample Analyses: Griboyedov and Shakespeare

In order to clarify further how one actually goes about scoring a role, I will now provide two examples drawn from Stanislavsky’s own scores, the first from his analysis of Griboyedov’s comic masterpiece, Woe from Wit, and the second from his analysis of Othello. Because he planned to use it as a pedagogical tool in his book Creating a Role, Stanislavsky went through several additional analytical stages before arriving at the actual score for the role of Chatski in Woe from Wit. One of these preliminary stages is represented by the list of “external circumstances,” the “facts” of the play, created by Stanislavsky for the first act (see Figure 4).55 The list resembles a traditional plot summary, and it is indicative of the degree to which

 

Stanislavsky and Schenker in the United States

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Dramatic Closure

Stanislavsky and Schenker in the United States

Although the system of units and objectives may well prove to be

Stanislavsky’s most enduring legacy, his reputation in the United States was founded primarily on the concept of affective memory, particularly in its incarnation as Lee Strasberg’s “Method.”65 Strasberg, who, along with Stella Adler, Robert Lewis, and Harold Clurman, founded the Group

Theater (1931–1941) to apply Stanislavsky’s ideas to American productions, emphasized affective memory above all the other aspects of the system, despite Adler’s assertion that the study of the text was of paramount importance.66 As Sonia Moore explains, this is because the majority of

Stanislavsky’s admirers in the United States became acquainted with his ideas only through An Actor Prepares.67 Since Stanislavsky was constantly adapting and refining his system (An Actor Prepares was planned as the first book in a three-volume series) and his final ideas were not systematically written down, his American disciples ended up distorting his teachings.

 

Applying the System to the Analysis of Opera

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Dramatic Closure

Let me stress that an intellectual approach to the play, a thorough analysis of it, is and always has been the director’s responsibility, not the actor’s. However, if we want to claim the right to be creative participants in bringing it to life, we must be armed with more than our technical skills. We should be able to make an intelligent evaluation of the play’s purpose: first, in order to be able to follow the director’s analysis when he shares his intentions with us, and, perhaps more importantly, so that we don’t go interpretively astray in the initial stages of our homework on the role.90

Consequently, in the analyses that are included in the subsequent chapters, the scoring of individual roles will always be undertaken with an eye toward how the analyses may be applied in a performance context. As Stanislavsky puts it, an objective “must have the power to attract and excite the actor”; units and objectives are “merely a technical method of arousing inner, living desires and aspirations.”91

 

Incorporating Dramatic Analysis

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Tonal Closure

their particular specialty have been around longer than most, analysts of

Wagner’s music seem to feel they have to be more ambitious in the scope of their endeavors. Whatever the case, recent articles on Wagner by Patrick

McCreless and Matthew Brown contain some of the most detailed and extensive opera analyses to date.19 McCreless, in his analysis of the opening scene of Götterdämmerung, graphs 327 bars of music and provides both a foreground and a middleground graph of the linear-harmonic structure of the scene.20 Brown, for his part, analyzes a complete episode from Tristan und Isolde (Isolde’s Narrative, from Act I, Scene 3), providing detailed voice-leading models for all five sections of the episode.21 Though the same superficial flaws that are present in the work of the Verdi analysis and in

Schenker’s lieder analyses (the lack of text and the compression of the vocal line and the top voice of the accompaniment) are present in these essays as well, they are significantly more sophisticated both in analytical detail and in the rigor with which the Schenkerian analytical technique is applied.

 

Synopsis

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The Completed Background Line With Open-Ended Coda

Synopsis

Treemonisha is set on a plantation deep in a forest somewhere in Arkansas, northeast of the town of Texarkana. Ned, a freed slave who manages the plantation for its white absentee landlords, and his wife Monisha are raising a daughter they found as an infant under a tree outside their cabin (hence her name, Tree-Monisha). Educated by a white woman in exchange for labor from Ned and Monisha, Treemonisha challenges the superstitious beliefs of the community in Act 1 by confronting Zodzetrick, one of the local “conjurors” (“The Bag of Luck”). He refuses to give up conjuring and, threatened by Treemonisha’s pupil Remus, retreats into the forest, vowing vengeance on Treemonisha. After learning the truth from Monisha about her mysterious origin (“The Sacred Tree”), Treemonisha enters the forest with her friend Lucy to gather leaves for a wreath and is kidnapped by Zodzetrick and his accomplice, Luddud (“Confusion”). Remus and some of the other men run off in search of them.

 

Scoring and Analyzing the Roles of Zodzetrick and Treemonisha

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The Completed Background Line With Open-Ended Coda

makes a personal appeal that finally persuades them to show forgiveness

(“Conjuror’s Forgiven”). She then calls for the appointment of a leader, and the community convinces her to accept the role herself (“We Will Trust You as Our Leader”). Finally, she “leads” everyone in a dance of celebration (“A

Real Slow Drag”).

Scoring and Analyzing the

Roles of Zodzetrick and Treemonisha

The plot synopsis above establishes Treemonisha and Zodzetrick as the central protagonist and antagonist of the opera. On one hand, scoring their roles provides a thorough catalogue of the local dramatic failures that ultimately lead to Zodzetrick’s downfall, and on the other hand a detailed illustration of Treemonisha’s emerging role as a successful leader of the community. Of the twenty-one beat objectives or main objectives shown in the score of Zodzetrick’s role (Table 1), only seven are successfully achieved, five of them in Act 2. Zodzetrick’s superobjective is to keep his business

 

Summary

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The Completed Background Line With Open-Ended Coda

resorts to her inner circle of friends and family to help win over the rest of the people. First Remus (No. 22), then Ned (No. 24), appeal to the people in

D major, the dominant of their old (superstitious) key of G major. When the people remain hesitant, Treemonisha finally takes matters into her own hands and there is a moment of extreme tension at the opening of No. 25 as she makes a personal appeal for forgiveness (mm. 1–15). It is far from certain, in fact, as the orchestra descends chromatically by step through an augmented octave from B to Bß (mm. 11–15) that the community will give in to Treemonisha’s demands (Figure 11). Only after she takes the initiative and becomes the first to shake hands with the conjurors (m. 16) do the others follow suit and permit the restatement of the primary tone D and background closure to the tonic

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Synopsis

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The Multi-Movement Anstieg or Initial Ascent

and Clive Barnes of the New York Times claimed that Porgy and Bess could truly be assessed as an opera.41 Yet, if the issue of the opera’s genre seemed resolved, its status in the African-American community remained uncertain.

Goldman, in attempting to sell his idea for a production of the complete work with Houston Grand Opera, ran into black resentment of the work as “Uncle

Tom,” old-fashioned and demeaning in its portrayal of African-Americans.

Prominent artistic figures such as choreographer Alvin Ailey and bandleader

Duke Ellington both voiced their reservations to Goldman about the work, but by the time the opera opened in 1976 such concerns were far outweighed by the artistic success of the production.42

Synopsis

Porgy and Bess is set in “Catfish Row,” an imaginary Charleston, South

Carolina, riverfront community, peopled with African-Americans down on their luck. The curtain opens on an evening in late summer, in the early

1920s or ’30s; the men of Catfish Row have gathered to play craps (I/i).

 

Scoring and Analyzing the Roles of Porgy and Bess

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The Multi-Movement Anstieg or Initial Ascent

Scoring and Analyzing the Roles of Porgy and Bess

Scoring the roles of Porgy and Bess reveals a host of unfulfilled dreams and ambitions. Of the eight leading characters, four are killed (Robbins,

Jake, Clara, and Crown), and three leave Catfish Row (Sporting Life, Bess, and Porgy). Only Serena, depicted as the pillar of the community, remains behind. The attainment of the final main objectives assigned to Porgy and Bess can therefore only be conjectured, since the opera ends in almost cinematic fashion (in such a way as to invite a sequel). Porgy goes off in search of Bess, but the audience never learns whether he finds her; Bess goes to New York, but the audience does not know whether she finds happiness there.

As will be demonstrated by the analyses, Porgy achieves many of his main objectives in scenes throughout the opera, reinforced by the closure of fundamental lines in the majority of his scenes. However, his failure to attain his superobjective (to build a new life together with Bess) is projected by the lack of closure in the background structure created by the tonal relationships between his musical numbers. Taken together, the musical and dramatic trajectory of Porgy and Bess’s roles comprises a background interruption that spans the three acts of the opera, breaking off in Act III.43

 

Summary

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The Multi-Movement Anstieg or Initial Ascent

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Summary

Porgy and Bess serves as an admirable introduction to the multi-movement permanent interruption. By declaring that any piece that reaches a final tonic gives “the effect of incompleteness,”58 Schenker intended to demote such pieces to the level of second-class citizens; yet, the interruption of Porgy’s line on ^2 structurally reinforces the ambiguity built into the plot’s ending by

DuBose Heyward. Though Porgy announces his intention to go to New York

City in search of Bess, the audience is left with many unanswered questions as the curtain falls: Will he reach New York safely? Will he be able to find Bess?

 

Synopsis

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The Multi-Movement Initial Arpeggiation

Synopsis

Street Scene is set in and around a Depression-era New York tenement in the sweltering heat of summer. Sam Kaplan, who lives with his family on the first floor, is in love with Rose Maurrant, who lives above him with her family. Rose’s mother, tired of her abusive and suffocating relationship with Frank Maurrant, has begun an affair with Mr. Sankey, the milkman, which is met with disapproval by her gossipy neighbors (No. 3). Alone in his room, Sam expresses feelings of isolation, even in the midst of the city, and longs for affection and friendship (No. 10). Later, coming home from a date,

Rose avoids the unwelcome advances of her boss, Mr. Easter (No. 11), and declares herself more interested in true love than wealth (No. 12). As Act 1 concludes, she and Sam sing together of their frustration and their dreams of happiness (No. 14).

In the opening of Act 2, Mrs. Maurrant arranges a meeting with her lover while her husband, an actor, is in New Haven for the weekend for the tryout of his new show. Before her husband leaves, he warns her darkly not to forget her obligations to her family (No. 16). Rose and Sam meet again in front of the tenement and impulsively plan to run off together to escape their troubled lives in the city (No. 18). When Frank arrives home early and catches his wife with Mr. Sankey, he fatally shoots both of them and flees the scene.

 

Scoring and Analyzing the Roles of Sam and Rose

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The Multi-Movement Initial Arpeggiation

Scoring and Analyzing the Roles of Sam and Rose

Like Porgy and Bess, Sam Kaplan and Rose Maurrant eventually join forces to attempt the attainment of their respective superobjectives. Sam wants to find a cure for his loneliness, but throughout Acts 1 and 2 he is unable to escape from the depressing realities of life in his neighborhood

(see Table 1). He tries to come to grips with his feelings of isolation and when that fails he attempts to convince Rose to come away with him, out of the city, to start a new life together (another “inverted” reference to Porgy and Bess).

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Summary

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The Multi-Movement Initial Arpeggiation

couple to achieve their goal is complete: because the key of Eß major does not return, Rose’s F (m. 130) is not permitted to continue down to Eß. A large-scale interruption takes place, similar to the one shown for Porgy’s role in the previous chapter. Like Porgy, Rose leaves to seek her fortune

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Summary

Kurt Weill’s “Broadway opera” is a masterful blend of elements of opera and American musical theater, in the mold of Porgy and Bess.

Despite the occasional nod to Broadway convention (“Moon-Faced, StarryEyed,” “Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied With a Bow”), Weill manages to create a compelling musical drama in which the forms, keys, themes, and even harmonic progressions he employs are intimately linked to dramatic fulfillment or failure. Nowhere is this more evident than in his treatment of

 

Synopsis

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The Prolonged Permanent Interruption

exploration of isolation and engagement.”25 Although the analysis offered below does not approach The Tender Land as an explicitly queer text, it will supplement these and other readings by suggesting that Copland’s musical response to Johns’ libretto, whatever its subtext, constitutes a sensitive and compelling depiction of musical incompleteness or longing.

Synopsis

The opera opens with Laurie’s little sister, Beth, and her mother in front of their farmhouse on the day before Laurie’s graduation from high school.

Mr. Splinters, the postman, arrives to deliver Laurie’s graduation dress and is invited to her party that evening. He warns Ma Moss that the neighbors’ daughter encountered two strange men in the fields the night before, and that it might be the same pair that had raped another girl two months before. Laurie comes home from school and lingers outside the house, thinking about her future (“Once I Thought I’d Never Grow”). Ma Moss comes onto the porch and the two quarrel about Laurie’s obligations to her family, particularly her grandfather. Ma promises Laurie more independence after graduation, but strikes her when Laurie scoffs at her promise, then pleads with her to avoid confrontation until after graduation.

 

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