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The Shape

of Meaning
in Music
Mathematics
&
Musical
Rhetoric

John Chesnut

Copyright 2012-2014 John Chesnut


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. To view
a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444
Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.

The cover art was generated with computer assistance.

This paper is updated frequently.


Before you refer to this paper, make sure that you have the latest version.

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Dedicated to my wife
JERRI

Without whose unfailing support


This work would not have been possible

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Contents
Foreword

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Acknowledgements

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About the Author

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Preface: The music says, Listen! I have something important to say.

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Chapters
1 What is a Distinctive Musical Idea? Taking the Measure of the Cantabile

2 Texture and Rhetoric in Debussys Syrinx: A Computer-Assisted Analysis

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Appendices
A Five Groups of Five Simulated Arches

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B Analysis of the Cantus Firmi by Jeppesen

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C Stochastic Models for Limited Growth and Perpetual Cycles

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Suggested Reading

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Notes

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Foreword
This monograph is an extract from a work in progress, The Shape of Meaning in Music:
Mathematics & Musical Rhetoric, in which musical rhetoric the interweaving of meaningful
contrast with skewed symmetry, by which a composer makes a convincing case for complex
musical ideas is understood in terms of mathematical shapes and patterns. Encapsulating a
lifetime of reading and thinking, this study is as much concerned with interpretation as with
theory.
As currently planned, this study will examine selected examples of Western art music
ranging from the Gregorian chant, Rorate Caeli, to Debussys composition for solo flute, Syrinx.
Although music is, in certain respects, a sui generis art form the sound of a perfect fifth or major
seventh, for example, is not just like anything else an appreciation of music requires abstract
intellectual competencies that are common to all human endeavors. It follows that change in the
way that melodies were put together during the selected time frame did not take place in a cultural
vacuum, but were paralleled by changes in intellectual perspectives. Critical analysis of this music
and its forms requires some reference to sociological developments in Western society, having to
do with such things as the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the chaos of the Thirty Years
War, the rationalization of social structure, the decline of ancient traditions, social disruption, the
rise of the self-created individual, and the beginnings of the ongoing struggles to create new social
institutions.
This study is written in an accessible style, requiring only that its readers be familiar with
music theory and be comfortable with mathematical formulas, graphs, and probabilistic reasoning.
An acquaintance with computer-programming algorithms would be helpful.
This study will make extensive use of computer-assisted analysis. The mathematics is
concerned with how to think about melodic contours, various aspects of musical texture, and how
to think about musical time. This study is more concerned than most with the question of when
events occur in the flow of a musical design. A number of indicators will be used to characterize
different aspects of melodic movement, temporal relationships, and rhythmic strength.
Among other things, applications of the following equation of motion will be explored:
x = atC (1 t) btD (1 t) + et + f.

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This formula encapsulates the deterministic form of a Limited Growth Model, describing
a type of rhetorical symmetry that reconciles opposite tendencies through time. This symmetry
applies to melodies (and other time series of musical interest) possessing a simple, closed form, in
which the deviation from the long-term linear trend has at most one distinct high point, or one
distinct low point, or both. The model proposes that, for this specific class of musical shapes (not
additive or cyclical forms, nor layered self-contrapuntal designs), the broad outline of the form can
be understood as the product of a single wave-like gesture rather than a succession of independent
incidents that the tendencies of such a musical process to rise and fall, expand and contract, are
present throughout, and that the relative strength of these tendencies determines the outline of the
shape that emerges over time. In other words, to an approximation, the unifying invariance of the
form is to be found in a set of constant dynamic properties, which unfold at different rates. The
equation (for time t scaled to range from zero to one) is a generic, parameterized schema for the
shapes to which it applies. The equation is a polymorphous abstraction from theories of melodic
shape by Kurth, Meyer, Narmour, Gjerdingen, Adams, and Huron. There is also a stochastic
version of the Limited Growth Model, in which the rising, falling, expanding, and contracting
tendencies of a melody are simulated by randomizing procedures.
In an age of increasing specialization, it seems necessary to say that the wide-ranging
nature of this study does have precedents. Without being directly comparable to any of its
forebears, this study is heir to the intellectual example of musical scholars such as Leonard Meyer,
Leo Treitler, Nicholas Cook, Alan Lomax, and Godfried Toussaint. Although each of these
authors has emphasized some subjects more than others, none fits easily into a narrow specialty.
They have selected from a menu that ranges from historical musicology to cultural history, music
theory, ethnomusicology, and mathematics.
It is not a coincidence that the last two scholars named on my list are mathematical
ethnomusicologists. My formative exposure to music has been culturally expansive, ranging from
Greek folk music that I heard neighbors singing in San Antonio when I was a little boy, to
mariachi and Bluegrass, and onward to Stravinsky, the Louisville Orchestra Commissioning
Project, the European classics, atonality, and transcendent jazz. I was educated in traditional
historical musicology and music theory, with a background in mathematics. Mathematics is
appealing, because it is a cultural unifier, which provides a layer of thought that transcends
cultural relativism. Mathematics is, in a sense, the ultimate universal language not because
everyone speaks it, but because the language of mathematics was developed over millennia in
radically different cultures, both ancient and modern.

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The subject matter of this study, therefore, is a natural fit for me, which I find personally
absorbing. My primary motivation is simply to satisfy my own curiosity, to make sense of my
own life experience. To follow the trail marked by ones own curiosity is much like following the
development of a musical composition it is an introspective Odyssey, the adventure of wending
ones way home. I hope that, as I recount my adventures, I will encounter like-minded wayfarers,
who will enjoy joining into the conversation.
For specialists in music theory, this study serves as an introduction to a Neo-Kurthian
wave interpretation of Meyers theory of expectations, re-imagined here as a theory of exploratory
behavior.

The Preface, the first chapter, and what is planned to be the last chapter of the

prospective book are included here. Abstracts of other potential chapters are found in the notes,
some of which are quite extensive. Examples of computer-generated cantus firmi will be found in
Appendix A. Appendix B contains an Exploratory Factor Analysis, which compares Jeppesens
treatment of the modes in his cantus firmi. To give the reader some indication of where this study
is heading, I have also included Appendix C, which introduces a stochastic variant of the Limited
Growth Model and a stochastic interpretation of Simple Harmonic Motion. The appendices are
written more tersely than the main body of the text, assuming more technical knowledge on the
part of the reader.
The most important ideas discussed in the first chapter are the following: The study
begins with an investigation of melodic motion, arguing that the idea of the cantabile vocal line is
central to our traditional understanding of what is normative and what is distinctive. A distinctive
melody has to take risks, so we want to get a clearer idea of what is a risk. First, we look at what
David Huron learned about the shape of folk melodies. Then we take a look at six cantus firmi by
Fux, melodies that form the basis of his counterpoint method melodies that are presumably
subject to similar mathematical laws as the middle-ground lines that appear in Schenkerian
reductive analysis of large forms. The cantus firmi can be understood as not merely lessons, but
genuine haiku-like compositions that express definite musical ideas.

Fuxs idea of how to

elaborate a melody is different from Jeppesens, and even more different from, for example, a
doxology. These differences can reasonably be interpreted as meaningful. Although Gregorian
chant appears to have served as Fuxs model, Fuxs cantus firmi have a forceful rhetoric, which
as pointed out by Richard Crocker is not typical of Gregorian chant. Fuxs cantus firmi are
almost perfect examples of pure form; but they express definite ideas about order and disorder,
contrasting an Age of Reason desire for complete closure in Fux (not consistently found in
Jeppesen) versus an open-ended Medieval contemplatives yearning for things unseen in a

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doxology. Fuxs cantus firmi are compared with computer simulations, to discover how Fuxs
specific preferences resemble what is possible and probable for a wide range of generally similar
melodies. We will also discuss Schenkers idea of the so-called fundamental line, or Urlinie. This
concept, which appears to be foretold in Fuxs cantus firmi, may result from a confluence of preexistent cultural ideals with the statistical tendency toward smoothing that results when a random
walk is subjected to the geometric constraints of goal-directed motion.

The location of the

climactic high point of an arch-shaped melody, such as a cantus firmus, has structural implications
that suggest a meaningful aesthetic choice. The later the high point, the fewer the possibilities for
melodic development that remain for the final approach to the cadence, the more the closing
motion will resemble an Urlinie, the stronger the perceptual closure of the ending, the more
purposeful the closing motion will seem, and the greater will be the implied claim of certainty.
The second (that is, last) chapter contains an extended analysis of texture and rhetoric in
Debussys composition for solo flute, Syrinx, with commentary on the relationship of the closing
passage to the recently re-discovered text that inspired the music. This is a computer-assisted
analysis, making use of nine time-series indicators (mostly new): Duration-Weighted Average
Pitch, Pitch Range, Interval Volatility (the average absolute size of the intervals), Extreme VHF
(departures from the central value of an indicator concerned with the complexity of melodic
contour), Duration-Rising (the amount of time given to rising versus falling intervals), Rate of
Attack, Metric Hierarchy (a duration-weighted average of the levels of the notes in the hierarchy
of the meter, scaled by the highest hierarchic level achieved), Pitch-Class Concentration (a
measure of how the pitch-classes are distributed around the Circle of Fifths), and Pitch-Class
Dominance (a special-purpose, probabilistic indicator created to capture Debussys idiosyncratic
treatment of pitch relationships in Syrinx).

he specific subjects just listed are examples that represent more general concepts. Since the
first chapter lays the foundations for the book as a whole, the topics raised there are chosen

to illustrate steps in the development of a larger theoretical project. Topics are discussed in the
order of their logical dependency. Each topic builds on the one before it, in need-to-know order,
following a chain of reasoning.
It may help the reader to know something about the larger context into which this first
chapter belongs and toward which this chapter points.
The book as a whole is concerned with the what, how, and why of what could be called,
in the broadest possible sense of the word, development in musical form but what would be

more precisely described as dynamic change in the course of musical ideas and spatial
relationships. To address why questions, I believe we have to think about cultural meaning. To
address what and how questions, I believe the generality of mathematical reasoning is useful,
because it helps us to identify common features between musical compositions that are ostensibly
unique.
The development of musical ideas, as it is most familiarly known to us, is often described
in terms of motives and sequences that is to say, categorical entities. These entities, however,
are limited in scope, vary from one composition to another, and are not always clearly identifiable
in the free-form spinning-out of a melodic line. The general principles of development, if they
exist, are left somewhat unclear.
Based on my experiments with computer-generated melodies, I think that special
techniques may be needed to understand the development of musical ideas considered as
categorical entities; but that part of my research is still in progress, and I will not say anything
more about it at this time. Heinrich Schenker addressed this issue by disregarding rhythm, and
reducing the significance of motives and sequences. He interpreted these features as ornamental
superstructures imposed on an underlying architectonic plan, the Urlinie mentioned above, which,
in combination with its standard bass harmonization, is called the Ursatz.
One of the implications of the present study, in my view, is that the conventional
understanding of the Urlinie is somewhat off the mark. I have become skeptical about the concept
of the Urlinie as a categorically delimited entity, comparable to an element of spoken language. I
would suggest that the Urlinie may be better understood as the idealization of an evanescent,
statistically emergent, aggregate spatial property, occurring under certain conditions in a melodys
narrative arc. I think that to understand the Urlinie we have to unravel both a mathematical
problem and a problem in the history of cultural aesthetics. This will lead us to look at musical
structure and its meaning from a new perspective.
Ernst Kurth, in my view, had a more generalized understanding than Schenker of
complex, dynamic flow. Unfortunately, he lacked the tools to explain his ideas precisely. For that
I would suggest that we need to use mathematics in the service of cognitive theory.
Initially, I will devote a lot of attention to a special case, the melodic arch. Although
melodies are not universally arch-shaped, arches are rather common. The study of other shapes
such as varieties of S-curves will be considered later. To motivate our interest in melodic
arches, I will point out their similarity to the narrative arc that is often found in literature. The
course of narrative tension moving in time from exertion to exhaustion, when envisioned as an

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arch, is the spatial analogue of a Classical Greek rhetorical device used in legal and political
arguments (a type of chiasmus), which, according to Apostolos Doxiadis (2012), is the basic form
of a syllogism.

As closed, symmetrical forms, the syllogism, chiasmus, and arch evoke a

subjective sense of certainty. The rhetorical purpose of the forms is to encourage the auditor by
indirect means to accept the truthfulness of what is said.
I will begin with simple ways to characterize melodic motion. The basic objective of the
first chapter, then, is to examine certain mathematical indicators that can be used to compare and
differentiate melodies; and to discuss the significance of the results obtained from applying those
indicators to specific musical examples. From the standpoint of the general theory of complex,
dynamic processes, Fuxs cantus firmi are of interest because they are ideal types, in which
important issues appear in a concise form. They are a microcosm of the universe of arch-shaped,
complex dynamic processes of every imaginable kind, not limited to melodies. Since the cantabile
melody is only a special case of the general problem of complex, dynamic processes in music, we
also want to hint at the larger context of arch-shapes in musical tension curves in general, such as
arise in Lerdahls study of tonal pitch space, and can be derived from the Cooper-Meyer theory of
rhythmic structure, not to mention what may ultimately be discovered through the
Riemann/George/Steblin/Brower sharp-flat principle, Neo-Riemannian theory, Tymoczkos
geometry of pitch relationships or Toussaints geometry of rhythm.
We do not want to delude ourselves into thinking that what we learn about the cantus
firmi automatically establishes universal laws of motion, however. It is important, therefore, to
look at the cantus firmi in a larger context, to gain some impression of what they are and what
they are not. First, we want to see that the cantus firmi are not alone, because they have certain
things in common with the larger world of folk melodies. On the other hand, there are important
differences between Fuxs cantus firmi and certain melodies that bear a general resemblance to
them, such as Jeppesens cantus firmi and doxologies. A lot of space is given in this paper to
Heinrich Schenker because his theory of the Urlinie appears to be directly inspired by Fuxs
cantus firmi. Schenker is an influential figure who must be reckoned with; so, it is necessary to
explain why it will be advantageous to go in a somewhat different direction.
Schenker is such an influential thinker that he and his followers have practically taken
ownership of the word structure, by which they mean a harmonically organized hierarchy of
tones; but, this is not the only sense in which the word is used by music theorists. Cooper and
Meyer (1960) spoke of a hierarchical rhythmic structure. George (1970) referred to relationships
between keys based on the sharp-flat principle as structure. Narmour (1990) talks about structure

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in terms of melodic implications and their realizations. Zbikowski (2002) uses the term to refer to
cognitive patterning in general. Cope (2009) uses the term to refer to musical organization that
can be discovered by computer analysis of music.
The word structure is easily over-used, but hard to avoid when one wants to refer to a
specific musical pattern that contains some degree of internal organization and one does not want
to use the word form, which implies a culturally established schema, such as the standard forms of
the Classical style theme and variation form, binary form, rondo form, sonata form, and certain
mixed types. There is some danger, however, that the word structure may imply a systematic,
rationalized, sanctioned, iconic practice, when one actually wants to refer to something more ad
hoc, and one prefers not to use the word gesture, which has deliberate extra-musical associations.
To minimize confusion, I will use other terms when they are clearly more appropriate: pattern,
organization, relationship, shape, geometry, limit, constraint, and frame, or framework.

t is difficult, if not impossible, for one person to know everything there is to know about music.
Specialized study is necessary to achieve deep understanding of any aspect of music, and it is

inevitable that musical studies will become more and more specialized with time. My own work
depends on the accumulated knowledge of dedicated scholars, and every citation in this paper is a
note of gratitude.
Even so, the process of discovering new ideas does not always follow a straight path that
is confined within a pre-determined specialty. Some facts assert themselves; but other discoveries
depend on what questions are asked, questions that may be posed from outside a given specialty.
Some relationships are uncovered by examination of newly discovered facts. Other relationships
are revealed by competition between ideas that cross accustomed intellectual boundaries.
We listen to music with our hearts and minds, as well as our ears. Furthermore, we hear
music in the context of our own life experience, which takes place within a larger cultural context.
Listening, in the full sense of the word, therefore, is a many-layered psychological process. For
this reason, I would suggest that it is difficult to have a complete thought about music unless one
is willing to cross over the boundaries that divide one habit of discourse from another from the
descriptive to the interpretative, or from the mathematical to the aesthetic, for example. I would
say more than that, for I believe that the identity of a thing is most vividly defined by comparing it
with its opposite and that we obtain a more complete picture of an object when we view it from
alternative vantage points.

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One might take as ones organizing theme a philosophical or political ideology, an


aesthetic or psychological theory, a principle of musical form or structure, the life and works of a
composer or an historical period or style all of these being legitimate topics of musicological
study. Unfortunately, in the last three or four decades, the lines between these topics have become
more sharply divided. The scholarly discipline of musicology has become fragmented, due to the
splitting off of music theory from historical musicology and the advent of the socially conscious
New Musicology. The basic fault-lines of Anglo-American musicology are described by Joseph
Kerman (1980, 1985), Nicholas Cook (1998), and Eugene Narmour (2011). Every reader and
every writer comes to terms with this fragmentation in his or her own way. On the whole, I think
that the issues raised by music are broader and more far-reaching than a fragmented discipline can
easily discuss. I do not imagine that I will be able to reconcile deep-seated ideological differences
of opinion about music, but I do believe that diversity is the life-blood of creative thinking.
There is a creative tension between specialization and generalization, either side of which
can be productive. I prefer to err on the side of inclusiveness, because this is where most of my
ideas come from. Furthermore, I think that this policy helps me to keep my work in perspective.
It reminds me that there is no Holy Grail of musical commentary.
The main emphasis in this paper is on analysis, which I think of as a pragmatic
commonality of the just-mentioned organizing themes. By analysis, I mean analysis in general
reasoned thinking about music, addressing questions about first principles questions concerned
about what we are trying to accomplish when we discuss a piece of music. I do not limit the term
analysis to refer to a specific, established system of musical interpretation, such as the fullydeveloped late-Schenkerian method of Der Freie Satz. The fundamental question the analyst must
ask is what analysis is for. Everything else follows from that. What I mean by the term analysis
is not unlike what Joseph Kerman (who objected to the Schenker-dominated analysis of his time)
preferred to call criticism, with the provision that I have a special interest in a subject not known
to Kerman, the mathematics that describes spatial relationships and dynamic processes in music.
Despite my interest in mathematics, I am not a strict positivist. I believe in using the methodology
that is most appropriate to the subject matter at hand.
The approach to analysis followed here will be analogous to the diagnostic procedure of a
CT-Scan, which builds up a three-dimensional picture of an object, such as the human body, by
assembling two-dimensional pictures that are effectively slices through the object. The procedure,
called tomography, creates images by sectioning. A more accurate analogy because it is as
appropriate to the humanities as to the sciences would be that of an archaeologists exploratory

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trenches, which crisscross a many-layered historical site to obtain a broad overview of the
architectural structures and cultural artifacts that lie beneath the surface.
In principle, the approach I take here is not unlike the Cantometrics project undertaken by
the comparative musicologist, Alan Lomax (1978), discussed by Cook (1987, pp. 199-202),
although my subject matter differs. Lomaxs group compared several thousand songs, selected to
be representative of all the worlds cultures. Correlations were found between measurable aspects
of melody and social structure. The fact that the Cantometrics project required the co-ordinated
efforts of a large group of specialists, however, tells us that my own project will be highly
selective by comparison.
The analysis of musical examples in this paper (which, you will remember, are chosen to
illustrate an underlying theory of complex, dynamic flow) follows a distinctive issue-oriented
methodology or tomography, if you like in which the goal is to identify the salient issues
raised by a musical composition when it is examined from the perspective of a significant binary
opposition of the sort that might be raised by any one of the foregoing themes, such as: ideology,
aesthetics, psychology, formalism or history.

(I will avoid biography, unless it provides a

compelling insight into the music itself. Even if I thought that I could do justice to the complexity
of individual personalities in this space, it is not always clear what the private lives of composers
tell us about the public meaning of their music.) The analysis evolves in a step by step manner,
ultimately leading to results that were completely unanticipated at the beginning of the research. I
hope that showing readers traces of the path that I have followed in getting to the point where I
now stand will help them to understand how I came to my current conclusions.
This paper can be read as a conversation, centered on a small number of especially
pertinent musical examples. The discussion considers a succession of contrasting points of view,
but a persistent theme the cultural significance of complex, dynamic flow, particularly as that
occurs in arch shapes and the related S-curves acts as a connecting thread throughout the paper.
No harm will be done if readers select topics from this paper according to their special interests;
but readers will profit most from the paper if they follow the connecting thread all the way
through.

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Acknowledgements
I am indebted to many others for help and inspiration, none of whom can be faulted for
any flaws that remain in this paper. Leonard Meyer, William Klenz, Iain Hamilton, Robert Cogan,
Ernst Oster, and Robert Marshall listed in approximate chronological order made me aware of
fundamental issues in the sphere of music. David Welland was my principal guide through the
subtleties and rigor of college mathematics. George Welshs insights on the psychology of the
creative process were as enlightening to me as they were informative. This paper would not have
been possible without the many interlibrary loans obtained for me by Jimmy Smith at the local
public library. I am grateful to those who have given me useful advice, helpful information,
encouraging words, or words of wisdom concerning this manuscript (in alphabetical order):
Thomas Fiore, Kyle Gann, Robert Gjerdingen, Robert Marshall, Brian McLaren, Eugene
Narmour, Andrea Porth OConnor, Lyle Sanford, Susan Shields, Nan Shostak, David Smith, and
Dmitri Tymoczko. I have not yet acted upon all of the words of wisdom, but I am still at work,
and I have not forgotten. Robert Gjerdingen and Eugene Narmour deserve special thanks for their
many good-humored and insightful comments concerning an early version of this manuscript..
My undying thanks go to my wife, Jerri, not only for her expert editorial assistance, but
also for her long-standing encouragement.

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About the Author


My earliest musical education took place in Louisville, Kentucky, the home of the
Louisville Orchestra Commissioning Project, which performed regular concerts of new works
during the 1950s. A festival of contemporary chamber music, which I attended avidly, took place
every Spring in the beautiful setting of Gardencourt, then the home of the University of Louisville
School of Music. My instrument was the oboe. I became a National Merit Scholar. Having
placed out of all the undergraduate music theory courses at the University of Chicago, my first
formal instruction in music theory was a graduate seminar in analysis with Leonard Meyer in my
senior year. After obtaining a degree in mathematics at Chicago, I studied Schenkerian analysis
with Ernst Oster and contemporary theory with Robert Cogan at the New England Conservatory.
Back at Chicago, I wrote a dissertation on Mozarts teaching of composition with Robert
Marshall.

Marshall suggested that I look into Ernst Kurths germinal ideas about melodic

structure, a suggestion not immediately acted upon that in retrospect has proven to be remarkably
prescient. In a side-trip to Duke University, I studied counterpoint with William Klenz, and
composition with Iain Hamilton. Klenz taught the Palestrina style from Jeppesen, but his general
recommendations concerning a well-balanced melodic line were not unlike Schenkers. Hamilton
emphasized the importance not only of being open to new experiences but also of being true to
ones instincts. Salvatore Maddi, at the University of Chicago, introduced me to the University of
North Carolina psychologist, George Welsh, whose experimental research on preferences for
visual art stimulated my thinking about the cultural meaning of abstract patterns in general.
It was clear in those days that the computer was going to change the way people think
about things, and I wanted to be part of that.

Professionally, I now work in information

technology as a systems-integration specialist, among other things. I am accustomed to thinking


of information systems as structures that can be turned inside out to match other systems that are
conceived by their originators as being organized quite differently. Understanding is achieved by
looking for mappings that reveal what is invariant in seemingly different interpretations of
structure. The systems-integration point of view is pervasive throughout this book.
Although I am not a professional mathematician, my thinking was profoundly affected by
the study of mathematics. Despite the association of mathematics with the sciences, as Paul
Lockhart points out, mathematics is better understood as one of the arts. Mathematics is an art of
abstract patterns, a potentially complex art, but one in which simplicity is regarded as the
crowning virtue.

I hope I can convey to an audience of non-mathematicians the beauty of

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mathematical reasoning as a method of understanding relationships of all kinds, even in


surprising ways the richness and majesty of music.

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Preface: The music says, Listen! I have something important to say.


Music focuses the mind. In ordinary speech, we do not sustain controlled pitches with
measured durations, as we do in singing. Singing requires greater mental discipline than ordinary
speech. Either controlled pitch (not necessarily fixed pitch), or measured duration (not necessarily
metric rhythm), when attached to a message, comprises a symbol that the message is of great
importance. When we choose to sing a text or tap on a drum while we recite a text, it is because
we believe that we have something worthwhile to say; and we want people to pay close attention.
The symbols of controlled pitch and measured duration convey the importance of our message
even in the absence of words.

Instrumental music lifts the symbolism of important

communication away from concrete meaning into the realm of perceptual, cognitive, and affective
abstraction.
Music is stylized. Music, like any other art form, is more selective than everyday life
experience. We have more control over the content of art than we do over ordinary experience.
Selectivity makes the difference between an ordinary life experience and a message.

The

experience of art differs from the experience of life because art delivers us from distractions. By
delivering us from distractions, art reveals to us a particular view of what is central to our lives.
Life is complex, even in mundane matters. Household appliances work well for a time;
then, they wear out, break down, and stop functioning.

In our careers and personal lives,

fulfillment is mixed with loss. Active struggle alternates with quiet contemplation. Even at rest,
we are never inert. We are not like rocks that have rolled down a hill and lie motionless at the
bottom. We consume food and air just to stay alive. When we stand upright, our muscles make
fine adjustments to keep us from falling down. When we close our eyes, we do not see a flat gray
screen at the back of our field of vision. We see an uneven, fluctuating, granular display. It is
difficult to sit completely motionless for any length of time. If we attempt to quiet our minds, we
are interrupted by stray thoughts. All is pulsation, energy, and vibrancy; light flickers in the
shadows.
When we look around us, in the city or in nature, we see much the same thing. We
contend with the merging, swirling, and interweaving of automobiles on the street. We observe
the leaves in the grass and on the trees moving quietly in the breeze, each contributing a different
movement to the whole, some fluttering quickly on short stems, others swaying masterfully on
sturdy branches.

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If we think about the events of a life in terms of their structure, movement, tension, and
pattern, life, in fact, is not very different from music, except that music only exists in the realm of
sound. In music, brightness, darkness, organization, complexity, movement, quietness, pulsation,
energy, and vibrancy are exclusively qualities of aural perception, cognition, and affect.
It is true that there is nothing in life that corresponds exactly to any particular aural
quality, such as the sound of a perfect fifth.

Conversely, there is nothing in music that

corresponds exactly to the appearance of physical phenomena, such as fire or storms at sea. To
imagine that there exist any specific associations between aural perceptions and physical
phenomena requires, as Coleridge said, a willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which
constitutes poetic faith. This is all true, but we do find similarities between music and life
outside music in the realm of psychological dynamic properties, tensions, and structure that are
common to all affect and cognition, musical and non-musical alike. This is the best explanation
for the fact, which has been verified abundantly by experimental psychologists, that despite
individual differences of opinion people in our culture tend to agree in the aggregate about the
feelings that are expressed by music. See Juslin and Sloboda (2011).
Briefly stated, that is what I believe to be the case. A complete argument, considering the
pros and cons of every variant interpretation, would be exponentially longer. Readers who would
like to explore these issues in more detail will enjoy Meyer (1956), Newcomb (1984), Kivy (1989,
1990), Davies (1994), Hatten (1994, 2004), Robinson (1997), Cook (1998), Scruton (1999, 2009) ,
Lidov (2005), and Treitler (2011). This short list of references will lead the reader into a rich and
complex literature, full of subtle distinctions and invigorating differences of opinion.
Music, in my view, has meaning to the extent that it resembles life in general; and we
recognize and value the resemblances. Music is informative to the extent that it can be understood
as a stylized representation of life in general, which pares away irrelevancies. For this reason, I
believe myself to be justified in holding the opinion that the contemplation of music is an essential
component of the examined life. We understand music by examining its place in the context of
our life experience.
Music, however, cannot arouse affect or suggest meaning until we first have some sense
of what it is. Identity is the basis of meaning. Therefore, the study of musical meaning begins
with the analysis of musical structure.
To think about musical structure in terms of its meaning is to approach music from a
philosophical point of view. The philosophical point of view raises questions about definition and
purpose. For example, what does it mean in analytic terms to say that a piece of music is

xxii

expressive? What does it mean to say that a musical idea is distinctive? What does it mean to say
that a piece of music has a balance of unity and variety? What does it mean to say that a piece of
music is complete, with a beginning, middle, and end?

What is the purpose of coherence,

development, or narrative form? A serious attempt to answer questions such as these requires
close analysis.
To examine these questions closely requires, in my opinion, a mixture of conventional
and unconventional methods. The unconventional methods include some mathematical techniques
that first came into existence in the middle of the twentieth century, techniques borrowed from the
disciplines of information theory and fractal geometry.
The questions that will be asked here are rather different from the questions that are
asked by a physicist. Physics looks for universal laws, such as the law of gravity, and invariant
physical constants, such as the speed of light. It is important to our understanding of music, in
fact, for us to be aware of general laws of perception, cognition, and affect. For example, it is
important to be aware of cognitive biases, such as the primacy and recency effects and the
distinction bias. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to generalize about music. Musical styles differ
greatly from one another, not only from one culture or historical period to another, but even within
the lifetime of a single composer. Furthermore, individual compositions are required by our
culture to be original and unique. In the study of music, the exceptions are as important as the
rules; and variation is as important as central tendencies. What might be considered noise in the
data stream by a physicist might be important information for our studies. As a music theorist, I
am working on the opposite end of the questions asked by the physicist, since my work begins
with the analysis of musical artifacts that are the final product of the composers creativity.
We are not alone in this endeavor, however, because there are other disciplines where
researchers are accustomed to working with data that is hard to explain, either because of random
variation, or because the observed data is the result of complex interacting processes. Like the
biologist, we can identify and categorize the variations we find in our data. It happens that an
equation used by biologists to describe the growth of the population of microbes in a medium can
be adapted to describe the particular, idealized musical processes found in Fuxs cantus firmi.
Like the financial analyst, we can develop batteries of indicators to evaluate our data from
multiple perspectives.

Like the psychologist, we can look for underlying dimensions of

variability.
Also, we can build theoretical models. To build a model is to create a theoretical
representation of a tangible phenomenon. The intention is not to explain every aspect of the

xxiii

phenomenon in detail, but only to capture its broad outlines. We look for a compromise between
theoretical simplicity and explanatory power. We prefer for the terms of the model to have some
concrete meaning. A model is considered useful if it clarifies our thinking and if it leads to fruitful
questions for further research.

In the final analysis, the main objective of this study is to

accomplish what we hope for a model to accomplish.

xxiv

Chapter 1
What is a Distinctive Musical Idea? Taking the Measure of the Cantabile
The vocal style as a norm the Fichtean curve the prevalence of small, falling
intervals and arches in folk song Fuxs cantus firmi, and Schenkers concept
of melodic fluency the prevalence of small, falling intervals in the cantus firmi
an indicator for the cumulative duration-rising with respect to time rising
intervals more common in major cantus firmi than minor the cantus firmi as
arches meaningful discrepancies between modality and tonality an indicator
for melodic smoothness and sinuosity closing motions in Fuxs cantus firmi
smoother than opening motions, suggesting the Urlinie the emergence of
smoothness from the statistics of a random walk and the geometric constraints
of goal-directed motion the Urlinie structural hierarchy Kurth vs.
Schenker.
Leo Tolstoy wrote in the opening of Anna Karenina, All happy families are alike; every
unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Uniqueness or so Tolstoy would have us believe
is inseparable from suffering. The philosophy of life embodied in Tolstoys novel, which I will
take as a benchmark for comparing value systems in general, is that happiness is found, not in the
glitter of fashionable and sophisticated society, but in the simple, unreflective lives of the
peasantry. Tolstoys aphorism states a paradox that is central to life and art, placing into direct
opposition the virtues of simplicity and complexity. The conflict between the two virtues is
fundamental and cannot be resolved. It is true that, whether we are writing a melody or making a
life, there are more ways to go wrong than there are to go right. This would be an argument in
favor of simplicity sticking to the tried and true. One might question, however, the extent to
which we really want to live simple, unreflective lives. Most of us want more freedom than was
experienced by a nineteenth-century Russian peasant.
The character in Anna Karenina who best reflects Tolstoys philosophy is Constantine
Dmitrich Levin. Ironically, Levins life is a complicated spiritual quest. Levin struggles through
a period of dissolute behavior before he discovers his personal understanding of Tolstoys ideal of
simplicity. It would have been artistically impossible for everyone in the novel, even Levin
himself, to have always been happy in accordance with Tolstoys terms. A novel exclusively
concerned with unalloyed happiness would have been meaningless not simply because there

would have been no conflict, and therefore no plot but also because meaning is expressed most
vividly through comparison and contrast. To clearly convey the idea of happiness, one most also
convey the idea of the opposite of happiness. In general, vivid music is not that different in
principle from vivid prose. To make a clear and convincing statement whether musical or
literary is not possible without engaging in contraries.
Pursuing this suggestion, even though the parallels are not exact, let us consider two
examples of simple melodies. The hymn, Amazing grace, and the bugle call, Taps, both
evoke a mythic, primordial sense of unity, strength, and peace. These melodies are rather similar
to each other. They are not elaborate. Both use a limited number of notes in the major mode. The
notes of Taps are entirely confined to a single triad. Amazing grace is pentatonic, but its
principal tones outline the tonic triad. Both are limited to a range of one octave. They employ no
chromatic alteration or dissonant leaps. They have similar wavelike contours, making broad
arches climaxing on the dominant scale degree, primarily differing in how they approach the lower
dominant. These melodies could be considered as representing a single archetype. They are a
happy melodic family, so to speak.
To say that a melody is distinctive, however, is to say that it is unconventional the more
distinctive, the more unconventional. Unconventionality is risky, to a greater or lesser degree.
The norms of melody writing adhered to more closely by some styles of music than others are
primarily intended to make melodies easy to singi. A melody cannot violate these norms without
taking risks. A melody that is risky to the singer raises both psychological and physical tensions.
Tension is expressive.

Risky melodies are edgy or poignant.

So, expressiveness and

distinctiveness are closely allied. Both the expressiveness and the distinctiveness of a melody
depend on the approach it takes to risk-taking.
If a melody is sufficiently difficult to construe, it will appear to be in some sense
mysterious. The other-worldly quality of Gregorian chant, for example, is probably due in large
part to its free rhythm, which does not fall into regular meters. The diminished seventh chord and
the whole tone scale are mysterious, because dividing the octave into equal parts they are
tonally ambiguous. There is a legitimate place for musical expression to be mysterious. A life
without a sense of mystery is greatly impoverished. Without the whole-tone scale, for example,
we would not have Debussys Syrinx for solo flute; and we would be much deprived. The range
of possible musical expression defined by the norms of melody writing is very broad, and every
point on the spectrum has value.

There are at least three ways to think about the distinctiveness of a melody. If a melody
is too irregular, it will be perceived as shapeless, lacking any identifiable feature that makes the
melody different from other melodies. To begin at this point, however, would be to seize the most
problematic end of the question. There are techniques for evaluating the statistical randomness of
a series of events, but statistical randomness is not always the same thing as perceived
shapelessness. A series of notes generated from a list of random numbers will now and then
contain sequences that remind us of common scales and harmonies. Furthermore, to show that a
musical idea is random, we would have to show that it cannot be explained by any conceivable
notion of orderliness. That is, we would be attempting to prove a negative; and we would have no
way of knowing when our task is finally accomplished.
It is possible to think about the distinctiveness of a melody in terms of the distinctiveness
of its parts, identifying especially prominent features belonging to the melody or striking contrasts
found within the melody. To do this, however, we first need to develop standards of reference.
The fastest way into the problem is to begin by identifying what makes a melody
conventional. Historically, the normative melody is vocal in style, whether it is actually sung or it
is performed on an instrument.
The notion of a cantabile line has a role in the history of Western art music that is
somewhat analogous to the representation of the human figure in visual art. The history of the
cantabile is longer than the history of the major achievements of the major-minor tonal system,
since it begins earlier and with a few exceptions, such as works of Richard Strauss lasts longer.
The cantabile can not only be found in plainsong. Schoenbergs atonal melodies are strongly
influenced by traditional notions of the cantabile.
The notion of the cantabile is not, to be sure, a single concept. The long exploratory line
of the Palestrina style is, for example, quite different from the more or less regular cyclical waves
of a dance, strophic hymn, or folk song. The former corresponds to what Ernst Kurth called
Fortspinnung and the latter to what he called Gruppierung (see Rothfarb [1989], p. 33; the term
Fortspinnung originated with Wilhelm Fischer in 1915; see, for example, Swain [2003], p. 184).
The two categories are not mutually exclusive, because great musical compositions can be
appreciated at many levels and from a multiplicity of perspectives. Bach, for example, wrote both
dances and long developmental lines. In his long lines, Bach employed flexibly varying motives,
which are, of course, small, regular groupings of notes. I will introduce the cyclical type of
melody by drawing from David Hurons (1996) study of folk song and the long line by drawing
from Heinrich Schenkers study of Fuxs cantus firmi.

Our experience in singing melodies gives us a deep-seated sense of what is musically


easy and what is musically difficult. As we have seen in Taps and Amazing Grace, all easy
melodies have certain things in common, which tend to make them generic. Easy melodies have a
narrow range; and they move diatonically in predominantly small intervals, with consonant leaps
and regular rhythms.ii On the whole, low notes are easier to sing than high notes, assuming that
one has a flexible technique with equal resonance in all registers. Although there are specific
exceptions, such as dissonant intervals and the falling sixth, it follows that it is, generally
speaking, easier to sing a falling interval than a rising interval. All of these factors have their
influence on melodic shape.
It has been a long time since music was strictly limited by the constraints of vocal
production, of course.

In the violin family, developed in the sixteenth century, cross-string

technique allows the performer to play large leaps easily. The invention of the fortepiano in the
eighteenth century extended the capability for making both subtle and dramatic contrasts of loud
and soft volume at the keyboard. This invention did not lead to a sudden and cataclysmic change
in the kind of music that was written, however. Although the piano is a percussion instrument, the
fortepiano was considered an improvement over the harpsichord in part because its sustained tone
allowed the performer to emulate the style of vocal music. Improvements in the mechanism of the
brass instruments in the nineteenth century made it possible for them to play melodies in the vocal
style using all of the tones of the chromatic scale in every register.
With modern computer software, such as Finale or Sibelius, it is now possible to play
music that no human performer vocal or instrumental would be able to play. There is very
little practical limitation on the styles of music we can make today.
It is understandable that composers do not want to be limited by the standard of vocal
music, but the vocal style still sets an important benchmark by which we evaluate what is
normative and what is distinctive. Since Western music historically originated as vocal music, the
constraints of vocal production have had an influence not only on how vocal melodies are shaped
but also on how instrumental melodies are shaped. We empathize with the singers that we hear,
and we even transfer our experience in singing to our understanding of instrumental music. The
vocal style does not set a limit on what composers can do, but it helps to define a dimension of
variability by which we understand the character of melodies.
Later, we will find it instructive to compare very specialized collections of vocal
melodies cantus firmi by Fux and Jeppesen with similar melodies generated by computer that
are created under varying constraints. Under certain conditions, we shall see that the time series

geometry of a melody tends to induce a certain smoothing effect as a melody approaches a


predetermined goal and the possibilities for expansion are reduced.iii In other words, a melody (or
a segment of a melody that has a closed form) can be modeled as a circumscribed random walk
with diminishing variability (a concept that will be discussed later). In order to carry out this
analysis it will be necessary for us to compare melodies as having relative degrees of smoothness
or sinuosity, a concept of melodic motion that is neither categorical nor hierarchical.
The results of these studies will have implications for our understanding of Schenker. To
the extent that the smoothing effect bears some resemblance to Schenkers concept of the Urlinie,
it implies a somewhat nuanced view of Schenker, because the smoothing effect is not strictly
deterministic. The smoothing effect suggests that, under the right circumstances, there is a logical
basis for the Urlinie; but it leaves room for interpretation by the composer, who has a choice
whether to enhance the smoothing effect (as in Fux), or back away from it (as often happens in
Jeppesen). If the style of the composer is such that the choice to enhance or back away is made
consistently, it suggests that the composer is acting out of fundamental aesthetic values. The
decision to enhance the effect suggests a somewhat rationalistic preference to emphasize the
difference between order and disorder and to assert the dominance of the former over the latter.
The decision to soften the effect suggests a less structured perspective in which order and disorder
are more equally and freely intermingled. From this point of view, the Schenkerian interpretation
of melodic structure arguably represents a rationalistic aesthetic, which may or may not be fully
appropriate for every musical example. It happens that Jeppesen made a deliberate effort to
immerse himself in the style of sixteenth-century counterpoint to a greater degree than Fux, and it
is arguable that Fuxs cantus firmi are more obvious candidates for Schenkerian analysis than
Jeppesens (not to say that it is impossible to interpret Jeppesen in the Schenkerian manner, but
only that Jeppesens closing motions are more variable in smoothness than Fuxs). It is well
known that Schenker had a strong aversion to the sixteenth-century style, however. We should not
expect that Schenkers system of interpretation would fit a loosely structured style quite as well as
it fits a more highly structured style.
Before we go any further, if we are to avoid any misunderstandings about methodology
in the following discussion, we need to distinguish between fact, theory, and interpretation.
A fact can be proved to be either true or false. A theory, in the narrow sense of the word,
is a rational explanation of a body of facts, which in Karl Poppers view, at least cannot be
proved true, but can be proved false. Theory in this narrow sense should be distinguished from
speculative theory, which is primarily concerned with logical analysis of systems of thought.

Poppers understanding of the scientific method has been called into question by Thomas
Kuhn, who distinguished between normal science and scientific revolutions that result from
paradigm shifts. In actual practice, it is possible for rival theories to account for the same facts to
a similar degree of approximation. The evidence for or against a theory may depend on questions
that are difficult to resolve, concerning methodology or the existence of confounding factors. It
follows that the choice between theories may not be as clear-cut as stated by Popper. The choice
between theories may depend on subjective evaluations of their relative simplicity, extensibility,
and explanatory power.
An interpretation is a rational explanation of a body of facts that depends on individual
judgment and is, therefore, inherently subject to differences of opinion. An interpretation cannot
be proved either true or false, but arguments can be presented to justify the reasonableness or
unreasonableness of an interpretation. As the terms are defined here, much of the analytical
tradition that musicians call theory would be better understood as interpretation, because skill,
judgment, and musical sensitivity are required to create an interesting and insightful analysis of a
composition. More objective, scientific knowledge is important if one is trying to resolve issues
concerned with the nature-nurture debate or the underlying psychological motivations of listeners;
but interpretation is essential for critical analysis that is directed toward questions of meaning and
aesthetic judgment. I hope that it will be clear from the context in my own writing when I am
speaking of fact, theory, or interpretation.

Folksong
I will use Charles Adamss (1976) classification of melodic contours, discussed by Cook
(1987, pp. 196-198). See Fig. 1.00. Adams typology is based on the relative pitch height and
location in time of four notes in a melody: the first, last, highest, and lowest. There are only two
or three notes in some of Adamss classifications, because of duplications. In theory, I am equally
concerned with all of the types; but, in practice, I will mainly be interested in the second line of
the chart, which depicts falling, level, and rising arches, and the last line, which depicts falling,
level, and rising Open-Low-High-Close forms. The latest version of my dynamic model, the
Limited Growth Model (still under investigation), attempts to describe both arches and OpenLow-High-Close forms, together with their inversions, and also transitional forms between the
canonical types, for suitably normalized cases.
In the melodies of many cultures, it has been found that falling intervals are more
common than rising intervals.iv With the exception of a small sample of north Indian classical

music, this tendency has been found in Albanian, Bulgarian, Iberian, Irish, Macedonian,
Norwegian, and African-American folk songs, as well as in Australian aboriginal music, Chinese
folk songs, traditional Korean music, Ojibway, Pondo, Venda, and Zulu songs. Since there is an
overall balance between the total rising and falling motion (what goes up must come down), rising
intervals tend to be large, and falling intervals tend to be small.

Fig. 1.00. Adamss classification of melodic contours.

Huron found from his study of European folksong drawn from over six thousand
melodies in the Essen Folksong Collection that the arch-shaped phrase (called convex by Huron)
is the most common type, amounting to almost forty percent of the whole. v Arch shapes are not a
majority of the melodic shapes, but they are a plurality. Arch shapes are four times as common as
their symmetrical opposites, the troughs (called concave by Huron). Ascending and descending
phrases are the next most common types, accounting for nearly fifty percent of all phrases. While
ascending phrases tend to be followed by descending phrases, the opposite is not true.
The preference for arch shapes can also be found in whole melodies. If one represents
each phrase by the average pitch-height of all the notes within the phrase, over forty percent of the
melodies were found by Huron to have an overall arch-shaped contour.
Visual inspection of the graphs provided by Huron suggests that phrases tend to ascend
comparatively quickly at the beginning and to descend more slowly toward the end. (This does
not necessarily imply that the highest note occurs in the first half.) From the point of view of
vocal production, this suggests that phrases are typically constructed to allow the voice to spend
more time relaxing than tensing. We seem to tolerate a quick increase in vocal tension, if we do

not have to sustain it for very long. Perhaps, from a temporal standpoint though not necessarily
from the standpoint of the total expenditure of vocal energy the affect of a typical phrase is
predominately one of relaxation.

Arches
The motivation underlying arches would appear to be more complex. One must take care
in discussing melodic arches to avoid overemphasizing the highest note, or climax. First, this
reduces a potentially complex melody to the attributes of a single note, which is a disproportionate
oversimplification. Second, to focus on the climax is to suggest that the motivation underlying the
arch shape is primarily theatrical, which may or may not be the case. The climax must be
understood in context. The climax is only the most salient feature of a larger pattern.

Fig. 1.01. Gardners depiction of the Fichtean curve (from ingridsnotes.wordpress.com).

It happens that the arch-shaped profiles of Fuxs six cantus firmi (Ex. 1.1) bear a general
resemblance to the course of a novels emotional development (Fig. 1.01) as described by Gardner
(1984, pp. 187-8). Gardner calls this the Fichtean curve, presumably referring to the Fichtean
dialectic between Self and Not Self.

We should not expect a direct, one-for-one causal

relationship to exist between Fuxs melodies and Gardners curve, because Gardners curve is only
an illustration of a general concept. What bears investigation, however, is why there should be
any resemblance at all.
The base-line (a) of Gardners chart, corresponding to the tonic scale degree of an archshaped melody, is described by Gardner as the normal course of action, the course that the
central character would take if he cared only for safety or stability and, so, did not assert his
independent will. The course of action that the character actually does take is represented by a
rising and falling line (b), which is not smooth but moves through a series of increasingly intense

climaxes as the character struggles against odds and braves conflict. Finally, in the denouement,
the curve of the action descends back to normal (c), either because the will of the character has
been overwhelmed or because he has won, and his situation is once more stabilizing.
We expect musical phrases to end with cadences, which establish a greater or lesser
degree of closure. An arch (or its inverse, a trough) is an indirect approach to the cadence. The
broad course of such an arch, and each of the individual short-term fluctuations that occur in the
course of the arch, can be compared to what Meyer (1956, 1973) called a deviation from
expectation, where the concept of expectation is analogous to what Gardner called the
normal course of action.

Meyer thought of music as an essentially autonomous art-form,

however. He argued that musical expectations and deviations ought to be understood in purely
musical terms, as music referring to itself, not referring to external meanings, as would be the case
in Gardners example of a novel, where the central character is in conflict with external forces, a
conflict involving moral choice, and therefore profound meaning.
The meaning of music, admittedly, is abstract. Even representations by music of concrete
events, such as fire or storms at sea, are not photo-realistic. However, the structural parallelism
between the narrative arc of a novel, as described by Gardner, and the arch of a melody, as seen
most graphically in Fuxs cantus firmi, is highly suggestive. The underlying forces governing the
emotional development of a novel and the rise and fall of a melody must be very similar, if not in
specific detail, at least in their general dynamic relationships. In other words, even if the tensions
between the characters in a novel and the tensions between tones in a melody have a different
concrete basis (people being physically different from musical tones) the tensions appear to work
themselves out in similar patterns. For this reason, I question that music is an autonomous artform at its deepest levels.
Correlation, of course, does not prove causation. I would not contend, as a general rule,
that music imitates literature, or vice versa. On the other hand, I would suggest that the narrative
arc often found in literature and the arch shape often found in melody may have a common cause.
This is not the place for a detailed comparison between Fichte, Gardner, and Meyer. I
will only say this: to find a connection between literary form and musical form it is useful to turn
our attention away from the agency of independent actors, such as the central character and his or
her antagonist in a novel. Perhaps, there are special cases where contrasting themes or motives in
a melody might be comparable to independent actors, but not all melodies are constructed like
that. Most instrumental music, for example, cannot reasonably be interpreted as telling a story
about concrete events in the physical world and is, therefore, not best understood as program

music. The point is not that a melody represents a tangible story about events happening in the
real world, necessarily although that might be the case when music is explicitly associated with a
text or program. The point is that both a melody and a story appear to be expressions of similar
psychological processes.
I question Meyers choice of the word deviation, because I think the negative connotation
of the term does not fully convey the underlying motivation for an arch form. We learn from
population biology and technology forecasting that the summation of two terms, at least one of
which is non-linear, is needed to explain an arch as a closed form. One of the terms is expansive,
the other contractive. Although the word deviation can be used to describe the expansive factor, I
prefer the word exploration.

The contractive factor can be called consolidation.

We can

understand a melodic arch as resulting from the combination of simultaneous tendencies to expand
and contract, which I call exploratory behavior.vi Whether we are talking about population
biology, technological developments, the course of a melodic arch, or the plot of a novel, the arch
shape emerges out of important, meaningful struggles, including life and death struggles, over
finite resources, strengths, or capacities.

Somehow, despite radical differences in concrete

circumstances, all of these struggles follow analogous paths.

Fux
Johann Joseph Fux (b. 1660-d. Vienna ,1741), Kapellmeister to three Austrian emperors,
was a prolific composer, best known to us today as the author of a treatise on counterpoint,
Gradus ad Parnassum.vii Published in 1725, the Gradus a successor to earlier works by theorists
such as Zarlino, Artusi, Diruta, Bismantova, Berardi, Banchieri, Zacconi, Bononcini, Lippius, and
Mattheson (see Bent [2002], esp. pp. 561-570) was written in Latin as a dialogue between a
student, Josephus, and his master, Aloysius, who was intended by Fux to represent the voice of
Palestrina. Each era has adapted Fuxs treatise to its own purposes. The Gradus was used by
Franz Joseph Haydn to teach himself counterpoint. W.A. Mozarts father, Leopold, owned an
annotated copy of the work. Mozart himself used the Gradus in teaching, as did Beethoven, who
studied Fuxs method under Haydn, Johann Schenk, and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger.
Albrechtsberger adapted the exercises to major and minor tonalities.

Albrechtsbergers

interpretation of the teaching was influential throughout the nineteenth century, until Brahms
returned to Fuxs work in its original form. The Gradus was used by Richard Strauss and Paul
Hindemith. Heinrich Schenkers (1910) teaching of counterpoint explored the artistic issues
raised by Fux. Knud Jeppesen (1892-1974), best known for his close study of the Palestrina style,

10

recreated Fuxs method in a form that is more faithful to Palestrina. Jeppesen was a composer,
who dedicated his counterpoint text to his teacher, Carl Nielsen.
All of Fuxs teaching is concerned with adding counterpoint to a given cantus firmus.
There are five species of counterpoint, in which different rhythmic values in the counterpoint are
set against the cantus firmus, which remains unchanged: (1) one note in the counterpoint against
one note in the cantus firmus; (2) two against one; (3) four against one; (4) syncopation and
suspensions; (5) mixed note values. Fux gave us six cantus firmi, one in each of the church modes
(Ex. 1.1).

Ex. 1.1. The six cantus firmi by Fux.

The cantus firmus is unusual in the training of a composer because it imposes a compact,
well-rounded form, which, for all its brevity, is complete in itself. Other exercises worked by
student composers are more loosely structured: improvising accompaniments to a numerically
coded, figured bass, for example; and the writing of canons, where one voice follows another in
strict imitation, the form being determined by what makes feasible counterpoint as one measure
succeeds another. In only the last few years, a remarkable exercise of the more freely structured
type has been discovered: the partimento, where the student composer improvises imitative
counterpoint, and even fugue, over schemas set forth in a bass line (see Christensen, Gjerdingen,
Sanguinetti, and Lutz [2010]). Partimento, developed mainly in Naples, was taught to highly
influential composers of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Italy, such as Paisiello,

11

Cimarosa, and Zingarelli. The discovery of partimento reveals that the level of improvisatory and
contrapuntal skill developed by Italian composers of the period was much higher than we might
have imagined. The discovery suggests a fundamental reappraisal of our assumptions about the
craft of musical composition and the mental habits of composers.
For our purposes, the structure of a well-made cantus firmus is of interest, not because
species counterpoint was uniquely important in the education of composers, not because the
structure of Fuxs cantus firmi would have had any direct influence on the structure of free-style
compositions in the repertory, and not merely because Schenker thought the subject was
important. The cantus firmi are of interest to us because they provide us with a laboratory where
we can study the principles of melodic construction. The cantus firmi are not merely lessons.
Although the cantus firmi are as formally constrained as haiku, they are genuine compositions,
which express definite musical thoughts.
Though small in number, this collection of six cantus firmi occupies a pivotal role in our
historical understanding of the concept of a well-shaped melodic line, being written in the old
church modes, but having been adopted by some of the most important of the later tonal
composers for the study of counterpoint. The melodies are simple enough that they allow us to
focus our attention on well-defined issues. At the same time, they are complex enough to raise
challenging questions about the dynamic processes by which a melody is formed. That is why the
cantus firmi have been successful models for teaching, and that is why they are useful for our
purposes. Before we study truly complex melodies, we need to develop a clear understanding of
the analytical techniques that we will employ. For that we need prototypical examples. In
choosing the cantus firmi for my examples, I am joining a long tradition.

Ex. 1.2. Cantus firmus in the Dorian mode by Jeppesen.

Nevertheless, Fuxs cantus firmi are a substantially unique genre.

They are not a

representative statistical sample from any larger body of works. There are even subtle stylistic
differences between cantus firmi by Fux and those by other theorists. In one of Jeppesens cantus
firmi in the Dorian mode, for example (Ex. 1.2), the upper-neighbor B-flat decorates a tone the
fifth scale degree that is approached by a large leap. The effect is much more expressive than
that of the comparable upper-neighbor in Fuxs Aeolian cantus firmus, where the decorated note is
approached by the leap of a third. Jeppesens closing motion contains a descending fourth, which

12

makes it more irregular than a comparable passage by Fux. None of Fuxs closing motions
contain leaps greater than a third.
Fux and Jeppesen tended to follow different developmental narratives. If we follow
Fuxs example, we will be led to a different concept of the ideal of unity, balance, and flow than
we learn by following Jeppesens example. The location of the climax in Jeppesens cantus firmi
is highly variable, covering the complete range of possibilities; but almost half (9 out of 19) of the
high points occur in the first quarter of the melody. In the cases where Jeppesens cantus firmi
reach their main climax early (most commonly in the Dorian mode), the cadences are likely to be
expanded into secondary elaborations.viii Not infrequently, therefore, Jeppesens cantus firmi
appear to be somewhat looser in construction than those of Fux. A stylistic review of Jeppesens
cantus firmi, using Exploratory Factor Analysis, will be found in Appendix B.

Ex. 1.3. Doxology from the Introit of the Mass in the first mode.

Jeppesen was well aware of the possibilities for variety in the construction of melodic
lines. He compared the well-balanced melodic line of Palestrina against the early-climaxing line
of a Gregorian melody and the late-climaxing line of Bach (p. 85). He described the form of
modal music as freer than that of tonal music in several respects, such as the possibilities for
harmonization and the distribution of cadences. The doxologies from the Introit of the Mass that
Jeppesen cited as examples of Gregorian chant (see the Liber Usualis, Benedictines of Solesmes
[1963], pp. 14-16) are distinguished by a tendency to push elaboration outward from the middle of
a formal unit to the beginning and end. For instance, compare the Jeppesen cantus firmus just
cited with an example of a doxology (Ex. 1.3) in the first mode (which corresponds to the Dorian
mode). Jeppesens cantus firmus resembles Fux in style, of course, much more than it resembles a
doxology. What the example by Jeppesen shares with the doxology is a relatively discontinuous
flow through the denouement. The differences are subtle; but, compared to the absolute closure

13

found in Fux, the cantus firmus by Jeppesen and the doxology both show a certain tolerance for
ambiguity. Perfect closure does not appear to be an objective of either idiom.
A doxology is divided into three parallel passages. The middle of each passage is taken
up by the recitation tone. Elaboration is confined to the opening that leads up to the recitation tone
and the closing that leads back down from the recitation tone. It happens that the close of the third
passage, which is the close of the entire doxology, is the most elaborate of all. Notice that the
concluding tonic in the example is approached by leap something that never happens in the
cantus firmi so it is not tied closely to the structure of the melody as a whole. The main body of
the melody and the tonic are as distinct as heaven and earth, the one floating lightly over the other.
We should be cautious in concluding that any particular ideal of the well-made melody is
a universal law. It follows that we should not expect a direct transfer of knowledge gained from
Fuxs cantus firmi to the rest of the musical repertory. True, the cantus firmi can be thought of as
prototypes for the middle-ground lines described by Schenkers theory of structure; and, in this
sense, they raise fascinating questions. Nevertheless, the main purpose of studying Fux is to
develop problem-solving techniques that are flexible enough that we can adapt them to new
circumstances as we find them.

Schenker
The name of Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935) is synonymous with the concept of musical
tonality as an intricate, hierarchically nested, honeycomb structure. Even theorists who do not
agree with Schenker, I think it is fair to say, will agree that he raised some of the most important
and thought-provoking issues that were investigated in the twentieth-century theory of tonality.
Schenker discussed at length in Kontrapunkt I the question of how to write a good cantus
firmus.

ix

Although the discussion appears in an early work by Schenker, some of Schenkers most

important ideas can already be found there in germinal form. Here, we see Schenker struggling
with the difficulty of describing products of the creative imagination in terms of specific rules. He
expressed his ideas in two different forms: narrowly specific prohibitions and general, holistic
guidelines. Both types of statement are crafted to instruct while leaving much to the imagination
of the composer. In this section of his book, Schenker can be thought of as being more concerned
with rhetoric than syntax. In other words, with few exceptions, he is concerned with the effective
presentation of musical ideas (even if stated in terms of strict but otherwise open-ended
prohibitions), rather than specific, prescriptive rules.

14

Schenkers prohibitions actually have characteristics of both syntax and rhetoric. They
resemble syntax in their specificity, but they resemble rhetoric by being open-ended.

The

difference between syntax and rhetoric, for present purposes, is the difference between rules and
guidelines. Syntax is specific; rhetoric is general. Syntax is concerned with correctness; rhetoric
is concerned with effects. Syntax imposes constraints; rhetoric enables.x Neither one is creative
in itself, but they both serve the purpose of paring back irrelevancies and giving focus to the
creative impulse.
The Schenker of Kontrapunk I did not hesitate to express strong views. He criticized the
church modes unrelentingly and at great length. Although Schenker was a galvanizing, epochmaking thinker, those readers who take a broad view of music history will not find Schenkers
arguments against the church modes convincing. It is clear that where there is a discrepancy
between modality and tonality, Schenker would make an unequivocal value judgment in favor of
tonality. If we are to take modality seriously, we cannot avoid questioning Schenkers claims.
Within the realm of what Schenker found acceptable, however, he was surprisingly
indulgent, in my view, when discussing his first love, counterpoint.
At the most general level, Schenker wrote (pp 17-18): We must aim for a complete
equilibrium of the tones in relation to each other, in contrast to the predominance of individual,
independent fragments characterized by rhythmic variety and a harmonic common denominator.
He explained that everything must be avoided in the cantus firmus that would give it an
individual character that is, turn it into a kind of real melody in the sense of free composition.
According to Schenker, the objective in writing a cantus firmus is to create an overall shape
without the internal melodic groupings such as one encounters in free composition (pp. 94-95).
Schenkers list of prohibitions was very long, but we should not think that his
recommendations were primarily negative. Given that one accepts the general aims of a cantus
firmus, Schenker was not prohibiting anything that a composer would strongly insist on doing.
The importance of Schenkers prohibitions, I would argue, is that they are non-directive in the
sense that they establish limits without giving specific instructions.

Schenker was thereby

showing respect for the possibilities of the creative imagination. The combined effect of the
prohibitions allows for a great variety of fully formed cantus firmi.
Schenker actually did make positive recommendations, in addition to those already
mentioned; but first we should review the prohibitions. I have added a few to those listed by
Snarrenberg:

15

All rhythmic variety must be avoided within the cantus firmus (p. 18).

A cantus firmus should not be more than fifteen or sixteen notes long (p. 20).

The cantus firmus must move only within the space of a tenth (p. 41).

No tone shall be presented twice in succession in the cantus firmus (p. 42).

The apex of the melody should not be repeated (p. 100).

Avoid successions of tones that would be conspicuous as an arpeggiation or figuration of


a single chord (p. 19).

Avoid configurations that circumscribe an individual tone by means of its neighbor


note (p. 19).

Chromatic motion is prohibited in the cantus firmus (p 46), but modulation is permitted
(p. 101).

The cantus firmus must avoid all dissonant leaps, either directly or as the sum of a
succession of tones (pp. 52-53, 68, 71, 73).

The cantus firmus must avoid several leaps in different directions, because they are too
expressive (pp. 92-93).

The cantus firmus must avoid several leaps in the same direction, because they would
tend to exceed the permissible range (p. 93).

Give preference to the ascending octave over the descending (p. 79).

The fourth should not be used too often in succession (p. 81).

The closing successions 2-7-1 and 7-2-1 are considered poor (pp. 102-104).
Schenkers rules are consistent with Fuxs practice, on the whole, although there are

exceptions. Fux outlined two complete triads in both the Lydian and Mixolydian melodies. Fux
employed neighboring tones in four of the six cantus firmi. Neighboring tones appear as cadence
formulas in the Phrygian and Lydian modes. We will return to this subject when we study tones
of the scale that have a privileged role in the tonal hierarchy.
Schenkers positive recommendations include these simple rules: the cantus firmus
should begin on the tonic (p. 33) and end on the tonic (p. 102); and the second is the only
horizontal dissonance that melody can use (p. 83). There are two more positive recommendations,
which are stated in general, holistic terms, not as precise rules. These are important ideas in
Schenkers system of thought.
In the Dorian cantus firmus which Schenker considered to be particularly beautiful
Schenker spoke of the unfolding of the D minor triad as the melody moves first from D to F, and

16

then to A (p. 54). This unfolding takes place in the opening motion of the cantus firmus.
Although Schenker did not say so, the closing motion, moving from A back to D, is also an
unfolding of the tonic triad. Such unavoidable aggregates, Schenker wrote, cannot and should
not be subject to any restriction. Schenker only prohibited smaller and more limited aggregates
that tend to form sharply defined subunits within an otherwise homogeneous context. I will
discuss the projection of privileged tones such as the tones of the tonic triad later, when I turn
to a discussion of the tonal hierarchy.
Another important positive recommendation is found toward the end of Schenkers
discussion of the well-made cantus firmus (pp. 94-100). Schenker advocated what he called
melodic fluency, which entails a kind of wave motion. xi Schenkers concept of melodic fluency
led to one of his most significant ideas, the latent line, and ultimately led by stages, according to
Pastille (1990), to Schenkers concept of the fundamental line (Urlinie) as we know it.xii We will
return to these concepts in a moment.
After giving recommendations on how to avoid the dangers produced by larger intervals,
Schenker wrote (p. 94):

Such procedures yield a kind of wave-like melodic line which as a


whole represents an animated entity, and which, with its ascending and
descending curves, appears balanced in all its individual component parts. This
kind of line manifests what is called melodic fluency, and one may confidently
state that the second (cf. 21) as the smallest interval and agent of rescue in
cases of emergency is the primary ingredient of melodic fluency.
Melodic fluency, then, is a kind of compensating aesthetic justice vis-vis the overall shape, within which each individual tone is a constituent part of
the whole as well as an end in itself.

Schenker then went on to say (p. 95) that we desire to see the requirement of melodic
fluency in free composition fulfilled, for example, in a melodic line of a composition for piano
or violin. Such a line may be based on the postulates of polyphony and thus may tend to express,
through itself, several latent voices in a unified fashion. Schenker gave an extended example of
such a latent line (p. 96) in the prelude of J.S. Bachs English Suite in D Minor (Ex. 1.4). The
latent line is essentially what we would now call a middle-ground reduction of the melody. Notice

17

that Schenker normalized the rhythms; so, tones do not occur at precisely the same time in the
latent line as they appear in the original melody.

Ex. 1.4. Schenkers example of a latent line, p. 96.

Schenkerian analysis is concerned with more than the mere mechanics of finding implied
linear connections because the connections could be random. Since every tone of the chromatic
scale lies within a whole step of some tone of a perfect triad, it is a foregone conclusion that one
will find smooth voice-leading connections between the implied harmonies of a melody, as long as
one is willing to disregard register transfers. The most interesting questions of Schenkerian
analysis have to do with the interpretation of the patterns formed by the latent lines, such as the
long line that Schenker called a Zug.

Ex. 1.5. Reductive analysis of the Dorian cantus firmus in the Schenkerian manner.

Example 1.5 shows a reductive analysis of the Dorian cantus firmus, illustrating a few
basic concepts of the Schenkerian method, which Ernst Oster emphasized in his teaching. The
notation is flexible, since it displays both hierarchic (vertical) relationships and melodic
(horizontal) relationships. Notes deemed to be merely embellishing are shown without stems.
Slurs indicate the principal melodic motions.

Notice how the opening motion of a fifth is

articulated into two thirds, and the embellishing tones are connected to the main lines by
subsidiary motions of a third.

I interpret the second occurrences of the notes D and F as

subsidiary, and I interpret the first occurrence of the note G as a passing tone (indicated by the
symbol PT). This interpretation emphasizes the linear ascent that underlies the opening motion.
Special attention is given to the closing motion by assigning its notes white note heads, because of
the special importance that Schenker gave to this schema, the Urlinie, in his mature writings. If

18

the tones of the Urlinie were more spread out, we might want to label them with their scale degree
numbers, to call even more attention to them.
The closing motion in the Dorian cantus firmus corresponds to what we now know as the
fundamental line, or Urlinie, of a free composition. The Urlinie is (1) a latent line which (2)
unfolds the tonic triad in (3) descending (4) stepwise motion (5) ending on the tonic scale degree.
Three of the five criteria just listed are included in the positive recommendations that Schenker
gave for the construction of a well-made cantus firmus. The third and fifth criteria that the
Urlinie descends to the tonic scale degree are implicit in the understanding of the Urlinie as a
closing motion. As the reader will already know, there are three forms of the Urlinie, the most
common form descending from the third scale degree, the next most common form descending
from the fifth scale degree, and an uncommon form descending from the octave above the tonic.
The Urlinie is harmonized by the progression I-V-I, known as the Bassbrechung.

The

combination of the Urlinie and Bassbrechung is called the Ursatz. Since these are specialized
technical terms, invented by Schenker, we usually employ the original German rather than English
translations.
It is reasonable to surmise that Schenker drew his inspiration for the Urlinie from the
closing motions of these cantus firmi. (We should not conclude from this that composers who
studied Fux were influenced by the cantus firmi to write the Urlinie into the deep structure of their
own works in the free style. That is a completely different matter.)
Given the reductive principles of later Schenkerian analysis, the main obstacle to
reconciling Fuxs cantus firmi to the archetypical forms of the Urlinie is that two of the melodies
unfold the subdominant triad rather than the tonic triad. The Phrygian melody is one of these, and
the Mixolydian is the other. This is an inheritance from the practice in Gregorian chant, where C
took the place of B as the dominant in the Phrygian and Hypomixolydian modes, and A took the
place of G in the Hypophrygian mode (see Jeppesen, pp. 59-82). This change took place about the
year 1000 A.D. The change from B to C was presumably made to avoid having such an important
tone as the dominant scale degree be in a tritone relationship with F, and the change from G to A
was a parallelism.
The concept of the Urlinie raises a deeper issue, however. The very name, Urlinie,
translated by Oster as fundamental line, conveys the special importance that has been attached to
this structure. Since the arch, however, is the most prevalent shape for phrases and melodies in
folk song (representing the plurality of shapes, though not the majority), there is a sense in which
the arch could also be considered a fundamental shape. The arch is at least a special case that is

19

worthy of our attention. It may not be possible to resolve decisively the question as to which
shape is more fundamental, the Urlinie or the arch. From the rather broad perspective that I take
on questions of melodic shape, the Urlinie seems to be best understood as a special case. The fact
that the issue can be raised at all, however, suggests that we need to ask further questions about the
classification of melodic shapes and the processes that underlie them. A thorough investigation of
melodic types is a subject for another day. xiii

Rising and falling motion


Consistent with what Vos, Troost (1989), and Huron (1996) found in folk songs,
descending intervals are the majority (60 percent) of the intervals in the cantus firmi by Fux; and
the descending intervals tend to be smaller than the ascending intervals. Since the cantus firmi all
begin and end on the tonic, the sum of all the intervals in each melody (counting each rising
interval as a positive number of scale steps, and each falling interval as negative) is always zero.
It necessarily follows that the ascending intervals are larger on average (almost half again larger)
than the descending intervals.
The cantus firmi are not all alike, however; and the differences between them are
musically important. To sing a rising interval requires an increase in vocal tension, and the
opposite is true for a falling interval. The distribution of rising and falling intervals in a melody
has an effect on the accumulated vocal tension required to sing the melody, which contributes to
our perception of the feeling expressed by the melody. Not only do people prefer to sing melodies
that have a preponderance of falling tension, but listeners may, empathetically, feel that such
melodies are more relaxing to hear.
The ratio of rising to falling intervals varies in Fuxs cantus firmi. The Dorian cantus
firmus has, relatively speaking, more falling intervals than any of the others. The Lydian cantus
firmus stands out in the opposite direction, because it has more rising intervals than falling
intervals and is, therefore, contrary to the norm.
melodies begin and end on the tonic.

This raises an interesting paradox.

Both

In that sense, therefore, they are ultimately flat.

Nevertheless, if we think about the direction of the melodic intervals alone, disregarding for the
time being the sizes of the intervals, the Dorian melody has, in that special sense, an overall
tendency to fall. The Lydian melody, by the same standard, has a tendency to rise.
It is interesting to see how the rising and falling intervals are distributed throughout the
cantus firmi in time. We can do this by constructing a mathematical indicator.

20

Before we proceed any further, I should say a few words about the role of mathematics in
this study. Although the influence of mathematics on music theory is growing, I will assume that
the majority of my readers know more about music theory than they do about mathematics.
Mathematics raises foundational questions. The purpose of mathematics in this study is
to represent musical patterns in a way that clarifies questions concerning musical structure and the
relationship between musical structure and musical meaning. These questions are ultimately
philosophical, in the sense that they are questions about what it is reasonable for us to believe
about large issues. The questions may be empirical as well; but they are not necessarily so,
because the questions concern qualitative cultural ideals as much as they concern quantifiable
observations about compositional practice. Mathematical indicators can show us places where a
composer expresses distinctive preferences. We cannot read a composers mind, but where we
find indications of preferences there is some evidence for at least the appearance of
purposefulness. The appearance of purposefulness suggests the possibility of meaning.
Mathematics, unfortunately, cannot be read at the same pace as ordinary English prose.
The reader who wishes to get a general overview of this text might want to skim through the
mathematics. Those who wish to understand how the formulas actually work are advised to
temporarily make a dramatic reduction in their reading speed. To understand mathematics, it is
necessary to think about the meaning of every word individually and how the meaning of every
word relates to that of every other word. To avoid slowing the pace of the reading too much,
explanations of the mathematics that require either detailed descriptions of calculations or a
relatively high level of theoretical abstraction will be placed in notes.
The first indicator we will discuss is concerned with the relative amount of time devoted
to rising and falling intervals. The duration of an interval is measured as the elapsed time from the
start of the note that begins the interval to the start of the note that completes the interval. Points
are scored for rising and falling intervals. For each rising interval we add the duration of the
interval to the point score, and for each falling interval we subtract the duration of the interval
from the point score. We keep a running subtotal of the scores, adding to the cumulative score of
rising and falling intervals for every note that occurs from the beginning of the melody to the end.
Call this running sub-total the duration-rising indicator, for short.

It is a time-weighted

cumulative total of the rising intervals minus the falling intervals.


To make one melody comparable to any other melody, we will normalize the indicator.
We will divide the running subtotal of the duration scores by the total elapsed time for all of the
intervals in the melody; so, the final score will range between the extremes -1.00 and 1.00. The

21

final score will be -1.00 when all of the intervals are descending, and it will be 1.00 when all of
the intervals are ascending. Furthermore, we will calculate the elapsed time at any given moment
as a decimal fraction ranging from zero to one, starting at the beginning, and then dividing the
time at which each interval is completed by the total elapsed time. The normalized graph shows
the relative elapsed time on the X-axis, and it shows the relative cumulative time devoted to rising
minus falling intervals on the Y-axis.
Since the scores range between -1.00 and 1.00, the possible range in the scores is two
points. It follows that the final duration-rising score is not the same as the percentage of time that
is allotted to rising intervals. To get the percentage, add one to the final duration-rising score and
divide that by two. For example, if the final duration-rising score is -0.20, add one to that to get
0.80, and divide the sum by two to get 0.40. That means that forty percent of the time was
devoted to rising intervals.

Fig. 1.1. Duration-Rising in selected cantus firmi by Fux.

If more time is devoted to falling intervals, as in the Dorian cantus firmus, the indicator
will have an overall downward trend, beginning at zero and ending at a negative number, spending
little time in the positive range. A melody like the Lydian cantus firmus, which spends more time
with rising intervals, will have an overall upward trend, ending with a positive number. This is
shown in Fig. 1.1. The chart also shows the indicator for the Mixolydian melody, which is close
to the average. It can be seen from visual inspection of the chart that the opening motions of the

22

melodies tend to have a mixture of rising and falling intervals, with the greatest concentrations of
falling intervals in the closing motions.

Fig. 1.2. Duration-Rising final scores for all of the cantus firmi by Fux.

Fig. 1.2 shows the final duration-rising scores of Fuxs melodies in order from lowest to
highest. This order does not correspond to the order of the modes (not in the order: Dorian,
Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Ionian). What stands out is that all of the modes with
minor tonics (the Dorian, Phrygian, and Aeolian) have lower final duration-rising scores than all
of the modes with major tonics (the Mixolydian, Ionian, and Lydian). This means that the minor
melodies have a stronger tendency to fall, and the major melodies have a stronger tendency to rise.
The minor mode seems to have inspired Fux to write melodies with drooping contours suggesting
a dispirited lethargy, or melancholy raising the question of whether or not any other composers
would have acted similarly.
It is worth emphasizing that the cantus firmi are almost perfect examples of pure form.
Nevertheless, the propensity toward small falling intervals is a characteristic of melodic structure
which is potentially meaningful in itself, because it shows a preference for relaxed affect, and
which, at least in Fux, is dependent on the choice of mode. The choice of mode, of course, is also
meaningful, since the major mode is traditionally identified as evoking a brighter mood than the
minor mode.

23

Examples of rising and falling melodic lines can be found in both the major and minor
modes in Fuxs six cantus firmi.

The direction of the closing motions is unambiguously

downward. The direction of the opening motions is more ambiguous; but all of the opening
motions, no matter how elaborate, are ultimately ascending melodic lines. xiv
Major and minor triads, of course, have the same total intervallic content. Each contains
exactly one perfect fifth, one major third, and one minor third, the only concrete difference
between them being the order in which the thirds are stacked above the root. Nevertheless, for
reasons that are not entirely clear probably having something to do with the importance of the
major triad in the first overtones of the harmonic series xv tonal frameworks based on major triads
seem more stable than those based on minor triads. Perhaps, major frameworks are more easily
processed by the mind than minor frameworks, because they are more consistent with the
harmonic series. In any case, because of the greater stability of a major tonal framework, melodic
movement in a major mode can be interpreted as circulating with greater assurance around and
between the pitches of the framework, whereas melodic movement in a minor mode has to find its
way through more uncertain surroundings.

Where upward movement in the major seems

uninhibited and aspiring, upward movement in the minor conveys a sense of struggle. Where
downward movement in the major seems assertive or masterful, downward movement in the
minor seems more passive or yielding.
Since rising intervals being more demanding to sing are more adventurous than
falling intervals, which are more quiescent, Fuxs preference for a greater proportion of rising
intervals in the major modes suggests that he was more comfortable with the major than the minor.
We cannot know Fuxs innermost thoughts, but it would seem that the greater tonal stability and
resulting freedom of movement found in the major modes encouraged Fux to take more risks in
the major. Similarly, the relative instability and uncertainty of movement in the minor modes may
have encouraged Fux to be more cautious in the minor.
These combinations of major and minor, rising and falling, are not the only possible
combinations, however. Mode and direction of movement are logically independent. Melodies
with more rising intervals are possible in the minor, just as melodies with more falling intervals
are possible in the major. To be more adventurous in the relatively unstable minor modes might
suggest an atmosphere of emotionality, however, that did not appeal to Fux. To be more inhibited
in the more stable major modes might have suggested to him an excess of caution. Fux chose to
follow specific constraints, which give his melodies an atmosphere of confident rationality that
contributes to the definition of his musical style.

24

Opening and closing motions


Fuxs cantus firmi are roughly arch-shaped in the sense that they all rise from the tonic to
a high note near the mid-point of the melody and, then, fall back to the tonic. However, the
opening motion from the initial tonic to the high note is typically quite different in shape from the
closing motion from the high note back to the tonic.

Fig. 1.3. Comparison of the opening and closing motions in Fuxs cantus firmi.

Fig. 1.3 shows all six melodies centered on their high notes. The vertical axis of the chart
shows the number of scale degrees that each note of a cantus firmus lies below its own high note.
The approach to the high note in the first half of each melody is circuitous and highly variable,
employing a variety of melodic intervals, reversing direction over a wide range of scale steps,
creating a kaleidoscopic contrast of tone color. The specific content of intervals and scale steps
that gives each melody its individuality is concentrated primarily in these opening motions. The
return to the tonic in the second half of each melody is smoother and more predictable,
emphasizing structural coherence over content. In the closing motions, the more salient fact is
always the connectedness of the tones rather than their individual identities.
The arch shape, as realized by Fux, is arguably meaningful, because of specific qualities
of the opening and closing motions. The opening motion, being more turbulent, arouses relative
uncertainty. The closing motion, being smoother, reduces that uncertainty. The closing motion, in
other words, is not only a literal conclusion, it is also conclusive in the figurative sense. The
closing motion is not only what leads the melody to its final tonic. The closing motion, by its

25

configuration, is also a resolution of cognitive dissonance.

Where the opening motion is

expansive, exploratory, differentiating, and information seeking, the closing motion is contracting,
reductive, integrating, and knowledge making, in the sense that it converts raw information into
the perception of coherent understanding. The whole of the melodic arch suggests the form of a
question followed by an answer. In a sense, the process of melodic unfolding found in the
melodies is an allegory of problem solving, a narrative of comprehension, finding simplicity
where there is complexity.
The distinction in quality of movement between the opening and closing motions is
greater than it strictly speaking needs to be, simply to cover the distance from tonic to dominant
and back. For example, if we add up the absolute values of the intervals disregarding the
directions of the intervals we find that the opening motion of Fuxs Dorian cantus firmus takes
ten scale steps divided over six intervals to span a distance, from the first note to the peak, of only
four scale steps. This is more convoluted than is absolutely required to complete the opening. On
the other hand, the closing motion of the Dorian cantus firmus is as smooth as it could possibly be;
but that is not the only way to cover the distance from dominant to tonic.

Ex. 1.6. Alternative Dorian cantus firmus.

To demonstrate, we can write a variation of the Dorian melody in which the opening
motion is smoother than the original and the closing motion is more sinuous (Ex. 1.6). The two
halves of the new melody are similar in complexity to each other. xvi The contrast between the two
halves is more crisp and authoritative in the original by Fux.
The alternative Dorian cantus firmus has a very high proportion of rising intervals: six
out of ten. Sixty percent rising intervals is just outside the range of what is found in Fux, although
it is comparable to the Lydian melody, which has fifty-five percent rising intervals. This fact
illustrates the constraints that are imposed on a composer of cantus firmi. One is not allowed to do
just anything, if one wishes to stay within the style. The simplest way to stay within the style
would be to sing the melody backwards. That changes rising intervals to falling intervals, and
vice versa. If we leave the melody as is, the aspiring quality of the many rising intervals might be
considered psychologically more consistent with one of the modes with a major tonic. On the
other hand, if we keep the melody in the Dorian mode, the psychological complexity of rising

26

intervals in the minor could also be valued for creating a certain atmosphere of mysterious, wistful
poignancy.
Fux made a definite choice to emphasize ascending leaps where the overall trend of the
Dorian melody was upward and to avoid ascending intervals of any size where the trend of the
melody was downward. To make such a clear choice gives an impression of purposefulness,
which suggests that Fux was expressing a distinct idea. The well-defined question and answer
form of Fuxs cantus firmi suggests an idea of rational clarity.xvii
We normally understand tone-painting and program music to be concerned with the
representation of concrete things or events. The cantus firmi do not represent anything concrete.
We value them as allegories of problem-solving, however, because they satisfy a cultural ideal that
we have inherited from the Age of Reason (whether or not this ideal is unique to the Age of
Reason as such). The Age of Reason has taught us to place an exalted value on solved problems.
If the concept of representation can be extended to include the representation of an abstraction, the
cantus firmi are representational in that sense. In any case, they can be interpreted as meaningful,
for the following reasons.
We understand the quest of the melodic unfolding in Fux first of all as being concerned
with ascertaining specifically musical facts having to do with the relationship of selected tones to
their tonic, but the process of exploration and resolution found in the cantus firmi can be more
broadly understood as a general behavior of the inquiring mind that is not limited to music. It is a
short step, therefore, to understand the asymmetrical arch shape found in Fux as an allegory of the
life of the mind in general. This makes the cantus firmi cultural artifacts as much as they are
exercises in strict counterpoint. In my view, they are products of rhetoric and semantics, not
products of a universal grammar.
Fuxs cantus firmi would appear to be commentaries on a view of the world that places a
high value on both confronting life difficulties whatever those difficulties may be and
assimilating oneself to or at least acknowledging ones understanding of, if not actual acceptance
of the observed state of affairs. Confrontation and assimilation are both necessary to this world
view. One is not meaningful without the other, either rhetorically, or in life experience. This is an
edited, idealistic vision of reality, however. There is room for alternative interpretations of life
experience. In a different value system, perhaps one given to more or less existential certainty
perhaps, one attuned to listeners with a different sense of adventure the form of the melodies
might be different, either more or less highly structured.

27

We are so immersed in Enlightenment thought that it may be difficult to recognize Fuxs


cantus firmi for what they are, unless we stand outside of history and observe the Enlightenment in
a much broader context.

On the perception of certainty


According to Robert Burton (2008), our subjective sense of whether or not we know
something to be true is a mental sensation, rather than evidence of fact, which he calls the feeling
of knowing. This sensation stems from the primitive limbic system of the brain, which is
responsible for emotion and long-term memory, among other functions.
The feeling of knowing is a deep-seated psychological phenomenon, which applies to
all areas of human thought. I would contend that this fact supports my claim that music is
concerned with the symbols of possibility and purpose. Music is not only capable of arousing the
feeling of knowing, but, in doing so, raises impressions of possibility and purpose in the world
at large.
Barbara Herrnstein-Smith was influenced by Leonard Meyers theory of music and made
frequent comparisons between the structure of poetry and the structure of music. In her study of
how poems end (1968, pp. 151-158), Herrnstein-Smith discussed the relationship between the
sense of closure, finality, and stability and what she called the sense of truth. Certain special
devices such as alliteration and antithesis, syntactical forms (such as not only but also),
occasional repetition (as in irregular internal rhyme or alliteration, but not systematic repetition,
such as rhyme, meter, or couplet series, which imply continuation), and allusions to death tend to
have the force of closure. When they occur at the end of a poem, they have a quality that is
experienced as imparting a sense of validity, or apparently self-evident truth, that goes beyond
what is positively verifiable. Utterances may have the ring of truth because they have an apparent
tone of authority, suggested by impersonality, brevity, or lack of qualification. These devices are
used not only by poets but also by political and commercial propagandists. The point, according
to Herrnstein-Smith, is not that a poem allows us the momentary entertainment of illusions, but
that it allows us to know what we know, including our illusions and desires, by giving us the
language in which to acknowledge it.
I would suggest that the relatively smooth closing motions in Fuxs cantus firmi are
examples where perceptual closure gives rise to a sense of authoritativeness, or certainty.

28

Furthermore, the symmetry of an arch-shaped melody can be interpreted as the spatial


analogue of a specific rhetorical device from ancient Greece, also intended to create a perception
of certainty.
According to Apostolos Doxiadis (2012), the methods of mathematical proof and the
methods of rhetorical proof, which overlap substantially, both developed in Late Archaic and
Classical Greece from narrative and poetic storytelling. The depiction of cause and effect in
narrative and rhetorical proof corresponds to the demonstration of logical necessity in
mathematical proof. In a classical-age trial (5th-4th centuries BC), forensic rhetoric followed a
four-part template consisting of an introduction, narration, proof, and epilogue. The proof proper
borrowed the forms of poetry for their beauty but kept some of them for their persuasive
effectiveness. The logical structures later theorized by Aristotle as syllogisms are versions, in
their basic form, of two poetic techniques: chiasmus and ring-composition.

Chiasmus is a

symmetric structure of phrases of the form A-B-B*-A*, in which the number of elements can be
extended indefinitely. The elements A, B, and so forth represent words, phrases, or concepts. An
asterisk stands for a repetition of an element or its antithesis, in whole or in part. In ringcomposition, the central pair is replaced by a unique central element, as in A-B-A*. Citing
Rodolphe Gasch and Paul Friedrich, Doxiadis argues that structural symmetry relates to higher
cognitive processes as a form of thought that allows oppositions to be bound into unity and creates
an illusion of a synchronic, monocular vision of an absolute aesthetic truth, usually having radical
closure. (If we do not take the parallelism too literally, the arch-form of a cantus firmus can be
thought of as a spatial analogy of the ring-composition, A-B- -N- -B*-A*, where the opening
motion of the arch corresponds to A-B- , the climax corresponds to N, and the closing motion,
understood as a freely varied, antithetical unwinding of the opening motion, corresponds to B*-A*.)
Reason has had changing roles in the history of ideas.
The sociologist, Max Weber (1911), told the history of Western music as a process of
rationalization regarding the tuning of musical scales, the development of rule-based harmony and
counterpoint, the creation of a written notation allowing co-ordination between complex
combinations of performers, technical improvements in the musical instruments, and the
organization of the symphony orchestra, implicitly comparing the rationalization of Western music
to the general trend toward rationalization found in other spheres of Western thought and social
organization.

29

This issue came to a head at the beginning of the Age of Reason in the seventeenth
century, when questions about certainty appear to have been in the air. According to Albert
Hirschman (1977/1997, esp. pp. 42-56, 132-135), political philosophers had lost confidence in the
capacity of religion and reason to restrain the passions that lead to despotism, and following the
precedent of Machiavelli argued (mistakenly, as it turned out) that the rational pursuit of
material self-interest would lead to more predictable statecraft.
Parenthetically, passion and reason had previously been thought to be antithetical; but, as
the concept of interest was further developed in the eighteenth century, it was thought that interest
would partake of the better nature of each, as the passion of self-love upgraded and contained by
reason, and as reason given direction and force by that passion (Hirschman, p. 43). As the
Enlightenment led into the modern bourgeois industrial state, however, the failure of reason to
accomplish the goal of giving direction to passion was criticized by the Romantics from many
points of view (see Michael Lwy and Robert Sayre, 2002).

Insofar as the end of the

Enlightenment can be given a specific date, Blanning (2010, pp. 9 ff.) marks it with the
publication of Jean-Jacques Rousseaus novel, La Nouvelle Hlose in 1761, followed by his
confessional autobiography in 1782. Blanning argues (p. 15) that the essence of Romanticism was
summed up by Hegel as absolute inwardness. Inwardness is given a systemic explanation by
Mitchell, in his study of Alexis de Toqueville (2013), as a consequence of democracy.

conservative, de Toqueville was concerned that democracy breaks the traditional chain of
connection between citizens that is found under aristocracy and leads each man back toward
himself alone, confined to the solitude of his own heart. Modernism, then, understood as what
followed the gradual loss in the legitimacy of hereditary aristocracy, is the age of the self-created
individual.

Durkheim amplified this concept in his classic study of suicide in 1897, which

examined the social disorder (called anomie) that accompanies social change.

Seemingly

antithetical, Enlightenment and Romanticism are only different paths toward the individualism of
post-aristocratic modes of social organization and expression.
Returning to the early seventeenth century, the Scientific Revolution made increasing use
of mathematics, as, for example, in Galileos work on falling bodies and Keplers work on
planetary motion. The mathematicians Pierre de Fermat (ca. 1607-1665) and Blaise Pascal (16231662) developed the theory of probability, which is the science of certainty and uncertainty. Ren
Descartes (1596-1650) changed the philosophical question of what is true to the question of what
is certain.

30

The question of how one identifies certain knowledge was radically posed by Descartes
in several works, most clearly in the Meditations on First Philosophy, published in 1641. The
Meditations is the subject of a monograph by Janet Broughton (2002). In his lunacy, dream,
and deceiving God arguments and the argument that we are so created by fate or chance that
we are constitutionally deceived, Descartes called into question the existence of things that we see
and touch, the nature of God, and the truth of claims like two plus three equals five. He
resolved to affirm only beliefs that survive this skepticism. He affirmed first that he himself
existed and that he had various states of consciousness, or ideas. From this, he deduced certain
ideas about God, drew out the distinction between mind and body, and affirmed the existence of a
physical world describable in austerely mathematical terms. Descartess method of doubt was
only a strategy, a refutation of skepticism that was already held by others, which was intended to
yield knowledge by uncovering its preconditions.
Generally speaking, the method of deduction from first principals by pure reason may be
termed rationalism.

There are four fundamental alternatives: empiricism, skepticism,

romanticism, and faith. Rationalism was most prevalent on the European continent. The British
in the seventeenth century, with the exception of Hobbes, were primarily adherents to Baconian
empiricism, according to which one learns the truth by experimentation. The British distrusted
rationalism, a method which, in their belief, led to perilous dogmatism. Today, we think of
rationalism and empiricism as complementary; but the seventeenth century was a period of
religious war, in which the stakes were higher. See Alexander (2014, esp. pp. 251-253).
The true skeptic finds peace of mind by suspending judgment. Descartess conclusions
about what truths we can hold certain have been questioned by philosophers on every point.
Paradoxically, the absolute inwardness of Romanticism, with its emphasis on feelings, could be
thought of as an unintended consequence of Descartess more rationalistic method of selfexamination. The two points of view invoke different standards of truth; but they both imply a
separation of the individual from tradition, in which orthodox beliefs and values are no longer to
be taken for granted. For our purposes, what is most characteristic of Descartess thought is that
he applied mathematical standards of proof to philosophical and metaphysical questions, thereby
creating a polarization between skepticism and rational certainty that appears to reduce (if only as
a strategy) the value not only of reasonable belief but also of intuition and the reality of mystery.
The skeptic and the person of orthodox Christian faith disagree with each other
profoundly; but they both accept that the limitation of human reasoning is a prominent feature of
our cognitive landscape, which is to be celebrated rather than lamented.

31

The organization and meaning of a doxology


For example, the organization of a typical doxology is radically different from that of
Fuxs cantus firmi; and that difference in organization arguably implies a different meaning. By
far the most prominent tone in a doxology is the dominant. The tonic, if it appears at all, is one of
the least important tones, other than the importance granted to it by its position at the end of the
melody. The quick, perfunctory descent to the last note of a doxology is by no means an effective
counterweight to the much-repeated recitation tone, which is the focus of a meditation on a text.
The ending leaves the listeners memory still dwelling on the recitation tone and its implications,
which are as much spiritual as they are purely musical. The recitation tone is the heart of a
doxology. The repetitions of the recitation tone, being unmeasured, do not have any predictable
stopping point apart from what is determined by the text.

Having no definite length, the

repetitions can be taken as symbolically pointing toward infinity. The cadence, far from wrapping
up the idea of the doxology in a definite conclusion as it would in a cantus firmus by Fux, is
merely a brief and necessary but otherwise unimportant return to the secular world, which
leaves the listeners mind directed as far as possible toward other matters. Reverberating in
memory, echoing off the walls of the sanctuary, a doxology evokes associations of physical
expansiveness and large spaces. Where Fuxs cantus firmi have closure, the doxologies are more
open-ended. Where the former suggest certainty, the latter suggest mystery. A cantus firmus by
Fux stands with one foot in the remote past and the other foot in the Age of Reason; a doxology,
firmly planted in Medieval culture, places its hopes in things unseen.
As Saint Paul wrote (1 Cor. 13: 10), speaking of the end times, in words that echo Platos
theory of knowledge, for the benefit of a Helenistic congregation:
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away
For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but
then shall I know even as also I am known.

And in a similar vein (2 Cor. 4: 18):

While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things
which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

32

Saint Augustine as discussed by Treitler (2011), p. 33 believed that all knowledge


comes from God, but there are two kinds of knowledge. He distinguished what we can understand
by benefit of our reason from that which we merely believe but do not understand.
A contemplative member of a monastic order is presumably most concerned with
knowledge of the latter kind about matters of the soul, which we can only see through a glass
darkly.

If this is correct, then it would seem appropriate that Gregorian chant would not

necessarily be characterized by rhetorical gestures of definite closure, designed to give an


impression of absolute certainty.
Are the organizational differences between the cantus firmi and the doxologies merely
due to the fact that the doxologies are dependent on a text and the cantus firmi are not? I think the
answer is not that simple. There is more than one way to set a text to music. The symbolism of
the music of the doxologies is consistent with the meaning of their text, but the influence of the
text on the organization of the doxologies is not uniquely determined. The text of the doxologies
could have been set in a manner much more consistent with the style of Fuxs cantus firmi.
Furthermore, as we have seen, the music of the cantus firmi has a symbolic interpretation even
without the presence of a text.
An argument could be made that the characteristics that have just been attributed to the
doxologies are nothing more than a rather abstract sort of tone-painting. If the doxology can be
described as abstract tone-painting, however, the same can be said with equal force about Fuxs
cantus firmi.
I believe that, generally speaking, it is a mistake to draw a sharp line between so-called
pure music and representational music. It is not self-evident that musical organization can be
justified solely on its own terms, without reference to psychological or cultural values, because
representation in music is not limited to the expression of feeling or the depiction of concrete
things and events. It is true that music is not capable of expressing logical propositions, literally
understood; but musical organization can represent cognitive processes that are devoted to finding
order in the midst of disorder. These cognitive processes are part of our mental life in general.
They are not limited to music; and they are, indeed, subject to the variation of personal and
cultural preferences.

An indicator of melodic smoothness


The distinction between smoothness and sinuosity of melodic movement has such
important aesthetic consequences that it is worth our while to spend some extra time thinking

33

about it. In the previous section, we examined the direction of melodic intervals without regard to
their size.

Now, we will examine the sizes of intervals without regard to their direction.

Sometimes, special insights can be gained if we break up a compound idea into its component
parts.
It may help to begin with a little story, a fable about a Purposeful Ant and a Wayward Ant.
Imagine that we see an ant climbing up a blade of grass. Suppose that the first ant we see is very
purposeful. He starts climbing from the base of the blade and crawls all the way directly to the tip
of the blade, without ever reversing direction, or looking back. The length of the path taken by the
Purposeful Ant is exactly the length of the blade of grass. Quantitatively speaking, the ratio
between the length of the path and the length of the blade of grass is equal to one. This is not a
typical ant, however. Most ants meander about in all different directions in a manner that may
have some hidden purpose to them but which seems almost random to a human observer. Suppose
that the ant we see on the blade of grass is a more typical ant, a Wayward Ant. The ant crawls up
and down the blade, frequently changing directions, only to reverse himself again and again. The
Wayward ant would have started at the base of the blade of grass, and he may eventually touch the
tip of the blade; but, when we first start observing him, he may be at any point on the blade of
grass; and, when we stop observing him, he may be anywhere on the blade.

Perhaps, the

Wayward Ant has returned to his original starting point; or, perhaps, he has ascended higher on
the blade or descended lower. The distance between the lowest and highest points on the blade of
grass touched by the ant is a measure of the range of his movement. However, the total length of
the path taken by the ant, which I will call the excursion, is longer than the range perhaps, much
longer depending on how many times the ant reversed himself and how long he continued
crawling on each leg of his travel. So, the ratio between the range of movement and the excursion
for the Wayward Ant will be less than one. The more the ant wanders back and forth, the greater
the discrepancy between the range and the total length of the path, or excursion. The ratio
between the range and the excursion is an indication of the complexity of the path taken by the
ants. A ratio of one indicates that the ant took a very smooth, directed path. This describes the
path taken by the Purposeful Ant. A ratio less than one indicates a convoluted, undirected path,
such as that taken by the Wayward Ant. The lower the ratio, the more complex the path.
This little fable illustrates a way of thinking about directed motion, which suggests that the
difference in linear coherence found in the comparison of the opening and closing motions of
Fuxs cantus firmi can be quantified. What we have just described is perhaps the simplest such
indicator and the easiest to explain the so-called VHF (Vertical Horizontal Filter) of Adam

34

White, a stock market technical analyst. White uses this indicator to evaluate the strength of price
trends, but it can just as easily be used to evaluate the strength of trends in melodic lines or the
paths taken by ants (it evaluates the strength of trends, but not their directions).
The VHF can be considered a formalization of Kurths distinction between ascending
(anstiegend) or descending (abstiegend) developmental motives, on the one hand, and oscillatory
(schwebend) motion, on the other (see Rothfarb, [1989] p. 57). The VHF does not make a
categorical distinction between trending and non-trending motion, because the values of this
indicator vary on a continuum. This is quite appropriate, because Kurth himself regards the three
basic shapes as limiting cases (Grenzflle), ideal boundaries within which countless intermediate
forms arise.
To compute the VHF of a melody (or section of a melody), the first thing we calculate is
the range that is, the difference between the highest and the lowest tones of the melody. Then,
we calculate what I have called the excursion, which is the sum of the absolute values of all of the
intervals between successive tones. The VHF is the ratio of the range divided by the excursion.
(When the excursion is zero, the VHF is defined to be zero.) Since Fuxs cantus firmi are entirely
diatonic, we will calculate all of the intervals in terms of the number of scale steps that they cover,
not the number of half-steps.
If all of the intervals are in the same direction (as in the path taken by the Purposeful
Ant), the range will equal the excursion, and the value of the VHF will be 1.00. By default, if
there is only one interval, the VHF can only have a value of 1.00. If there are reversals in the
direction of the melody (as in the path taken by the Wayward Ant), the excursion will be larger
than the range, and the VHF will be lower than 1.00.
For example, consider Fuxs cantus firmus in the Dorian mode. The opening motion, as
we shall see, is comparable to the path taken by the Wayward Ant of our fable. The melody first
ascends from D to A, which is a perfect fifth, equal to four scale steps. From the note D, the
melody ascends a third, which is equal to two scale steps. The melody then falls back a third, one
step at a time. The total length of the path so far is four scale steps. Next, the melody rises a
perfect fourth, for three additional scale steps, or an accumulated total thus far of seven scale
steps. The melody descends again by a step, and the total has grown to eight. Finally, the melody
ascends a third to the note A for a grand total of ten scale steps. The opening motion has taken ten
scale steps to cover a range of four scale steps from the lowest to the highest note. The range is
only forty percent of the total length of the path, or excursion.

35

Contrast this with the closing motion, which descends one step at a time without
changing direction all the way from A back down to D. The closing motion resembles the path
taken by our Purposeful Ant, even though it is a descending motion rather than a rising motion;
because, the range of the path is identical to the length of the path (the excursion), and the ratio of
these lengths is exactly equal to one.
The lowest possible value of the VHF occurs when the melody moves back and forth
between the highest and lowest tones of the range. In that case, if there are N intervals, the
excursion will be equal to N times the range; and the value of the VHF will be equal to 1/N.

Fig. 1.4. Comparison of the VHF of the opening and closing motions in Fuxs cantus firmi (descending by close).

It happens that the highest VHF of the opening motions of all six cantus firmi (0.556 for
the Aeolian mode) is less than the lowest VHF of all the closing motions (0.600 for the Phrygian
mode). In every case six out of six the close of a cantus firmus has a higher VHF than the
opening of the same melody. This extraordinary fact is shown in Fig. 1.4.

The geometry of a cantus firmus


The strong contrast in character between the opening and closing motions appears to be
unusual; but is it, really? The answer is a bit complex. As we shall see, for computer-generated
melodies similar to the cantus firmi, there is a strong positive correlation between the placement of
the climactic highest note and the smoothness of the closing motions. That is, the later the climax,
the more likely the closing motion is to be relatively smooth. Conversely, there is a strong
negative correlation between the placement of the climax and the smoothness of the opening
motions. The later the climax, the more likely the opening motion is to be convoluted. The
relative smoothness of the opening and closing motions is statistically contingent on the placement

36

of the climax. I will call this the smoothing effect. In other words, Fuxs practice appears to
emerge statistically from the geometry of a cantus firmus, up to a point. Generally speaking, in
computer simulations, the likelihood that the closing motion will be smoother than the opening
motion is about even odds. It is not particularly surprising, then, that any one of Fuxs cantus
firmi, taken by itself, has this property. On the other hand, it is rather unlikely that a small group
of randomly selected simulations will all in every single case without exception be smoother
in the close than the opening. The coincidence that every one of Fuxs melodies has this attribute
is, if not rare, at least atypical enough to suggest that Fuxs process of composition may require a
special explanation. There is an appearance of purposefulness in Fuxs choices that may not
entirely result from chance.

Correlation does not prove causation; but Fux seems to have

deliberately exaggerated the natural statistical tendencies of a cantus firmus, presumably for
aesthetic reasons.
The resemblance of Fuxs closing motions to the Schenkerian Urlinie suggests the
hypothesis that the Urlinie may emerge in a similar way. There may be a certain statistical
probability that the Urlinie will emerge naturally from the geometry of a middle-ground latent
line. Nevertheless, some composers comparable in aesthetic outlook to Fux may go beyond the
statistical probability and deliberately enhance the smoothing effect in their treatment of the
Urlinie. Conversely, some composers more comparable to Jeppesen in aesthetic outlook may on
occasion deliberately mute the smoothing effect. It is a matter of interpretation whether or not any
particular musical composition goes beyond the likelihood implied by its geometry. xviii
In this discussion of the geometry of a cantus firmus, the question of what is cause and
what is effect must be left open. Purely as a stylistic convention, I will usually frame the issues as
if the broad outlines of the melodies were decided in advance and that the notes chosen to fill
those outlines were decided later, with the result that the smoothness of the melodic movement
which depends on specific intervallic relationships between the tones is secondary to the broad
outlines of the melodies, rather than vice versa. In actual practice, however, there is reason to
believe that Fux might have done the exact opposite, fitting the broad outlines of a cantus firmus
to match a previous conception of what type of melodic movement he wanted. Perhaps, Fux was
inspired to create the details and the broad outlines simultaneously, as a complete, well-formed
conception of the whole. In any case, there is a correlation between the number of scale steps to
be filled in a given amount of time and the character of the melodic motion that fills the available
space and time. The main point to be made is not the direction of cause and effect, but simply that
there is a correlation.

37

For purposes of illustration, in order to simplify the issues as much as possible, let us
assume for the moment that all of the motion in a melody is stepwise. Whether the melody moves
up or down, the absolute value of every interval will be one scale step, without any repetitions of
tones. Assume, also, that the melody is a simple arch, which begins and ends on the tonic scale
degree and never descends any lower than the tonic. The broad outlines of the melody could be
visualized as a triangle, where the base of the triangle is the horizontal line connecting the first and
last notes. The range of the opening and closing motions will be exactly the same. Suppose, for
example, that the melody goes from the tonic up to the dominant and back down to the tonic.
Then, the range of both the opening and the closing motions will be four scale steps. Furthermore,
the excursion in any section of the melody will always be exactly equal to the number of intervals
in that section. On the other hand, if the climax occurs later than the midpoint, then, the excursion
of the opening motion will be longer than the excursion of the closing motion. Suppose, for
example, that it takes six intervals to go from the tonic up to the dominant; but, it only takes four
intervals to go from the dominant back to the tonic. Then, the melody will pass through six scale
steps to cover a distance of only four scale steps in the opening motion; but the closing motion
will cover the same distance in only four steps. Somewhere in the opening motion, there will have
to be a reversal in the melody, immediately followed by a counter-reversal that resumes the
upward motion. The closing motion, however, will be perfectly smooth. The converse is also
true. If the opening motion contains four intervals, and the closing motion contains six, then, the
opening motion will be smooth, and the closing motion will be more convoluted. In other words,
the geometry of an arch in this simple case implies that there is a smoothing effect, which depends
on the placement of the high point of the melody. If the high point occurs late, the close will tend
to be smoother than the opening, and vice versa.xix
This case was deliberately oversimplified to illustrate the basic point. In actual practice,
of course, the allowed range of the melody is not so restricted, and the available intervals are more
varied. The distribution of intervals is asymmetrical, furthermore, since small falling intervals are
preferred.
For example, not all of Fuxs cantus firmi fit the description of a triangle described
above, since two of them dip below the tonic. These are the melodies in the Phrygian and the
Lydian modes. Each of these cantus firmi has a unique low note as well as a unique high note.
The low note occurs before the high note; so, I describe both melodies as being in the Open-LowHigh-Close form. The Lydian melody does not dip as far below the tonic as it reaches above it;
so, I would classify it as being both an arch and an Open-Low-High-Close form.

Strictly

38

speaking, one might question whether or not the Phrygian melody should be counted as an arch,
because it extends further into its low register than it does into its high register.
The closing motions of the Dorian and Aeolian melodies are both perfectly smooth
stepwise descents. This is possible, because the number of scale steps from the highest note to the
lowest note is exactly the same as the number of notes in both cases. The Lydian cantus firmus is
an exception, however. There are four scale steps from its highest note to the tonic and four notes
in which to make the descent; but Fux takes an indirect route to the end, leaping downward by
thirds through the tonic triad. In this case, Fux probably wanted to skip over the raised fourth
scale degree because of its problematic tritone relationship to the tonic. The composer is not
required to take the most direct route from the dominant to the tonic. That is only an attractive
possibility.
The Phrygian cantus firmus raises a different issue. There are three scale steps from the
highest note of the Phrygian melody to the final, but there are four notes to complete the descent.
A perfectly smooth closing motion is not possible, given these facts, because one more note is
required than the number of available scale steps. Of course, Fux could have descended directly
from the highest note in three steps by shortening the melody. Then, the question would be
whether or not the closing motion was too short and too smooth to be consistent with the
convoluted character of the opening motion. This is simply another way of stating the issues,
although it reverses the framework of cause and effect.
Similarly, in the closing motion of the Ionian melody, six notes must be forced into only
five scale steps; so, there must be some backtracking (or vice versa, Fux wanted some
backtracking; so, he forced six notes into five scale steps). In the Mixolydian melody, there are
only six notes to fill seven scale steps; so, there must be at least one leap, raising the question of
whether or not just one leap would seem out of place in the context of a long string of steps. Fux
seems to have thought so, because he used three descending leaps where only one was strictly
required by the constraints of space and time.
These observations are not, of course, intended to be taken as characterizations of the
stylistic constraints specific to individual modes, such as the Dorian, Phrygian, and so forth;
because Fux only gave us one example of each mode. Fuxs examples are only used here as
illustrations of the options that are available to a composer of cantus firmi in general.

39

Computer simulation
To make a thorough study of the possibilities and probabilities for melodic shape that can
be created in the form of a cantus firmus, we will need to examine hundreds of examples. Fux
only gave us six cantus firmi, but we can create as many as we like with a computer. The
examples should be comparable in their broad outlines to Fuxs melodies, but otherwise they
should be subject to as few restrictions as possible. It is not necessary that the examples be
artistically convincing or compelling. For our purposes, the procedure that we use to generate the
melodies needs to be as simple as possible, to avoid imposing too many preconditions. We are not
trying to imitate an existing style. To the contrary, we want our procedure to wander through
many possible styles, only subject to the provision that they meet the minimum requirements for a
cantus firmus.xx
Basically, the procedure to be followed has three steps: generation, normalization, and
elimination.
Generation: All of the generated melodies will be the same length in this case, eleven
notes. The intervals (measured in scale steps) will be drawn at random from a pool that lists all of
the intervals actually used in Fuxs cantus firmi. This will insure that the preference for small
falling intervals found in Fux will be reproduced in the generated melodies. The operational
meaning of the term random is chosen by the RANDOM function of a computer program
(where I use all upper case letters to suggest computer code). The significance of the term
random, however, is that decisions are made on the basis of purely local criteria. The decisions
are unpredictable, because they follow no rule having a larger scope. When the intervals are
added together, they make what is called a random walk (remember the Wayward Ant?).
Normalization: All of the generated melodies will begin and end on the tonic scale
degree. It is statistically unlikely that a simple random walk will return to its starting point at a
predetermined time.xxi To avoid throwing away an excessive amount of data, this is accomplished
in our simulations by de-trending the random walks. The average interval size is calculated for
each random walk, and that value is subtracted from each interval in the walk. The results are
rounded to whole numbers. Normalization will distort the distribution of intervals to a small
degree, but we should not expect the proportions of large and small intervals to be changed very
much.
Elimination: We throw away all of the normalized random walks that do not meet certain
minimum criteria. First, the rounding employed by the normalization process will sometimes
result in note repetitions. All of the walks having repeated notes are omitted.

40

The range of the melody will be at least a fifth, but not more than an octave. The highest
note will only occur once. To be an arch, the highest note must be farther above the tonic than the
lowest note is below it. The last-mentioned constraint does not apply if the shape is an OpenLow-High-Close form; but, in that case, the lowest note will only occur once, and the lowest note
will occur before the highest note. For the present, we will only discuss arch forms, because just
one of Fuxs cantus firmi, the Phrygian, is a pure Open-Low-High-Close form.
To be consistent with the cadence formulas employed by Fux, the final tonic must be
approached by step from above, that is, from the supertonic scale degree. The note before that in
other words, the ante-penultimate note must be either the mediant or the tonic scale degree,
because all of Fuxs cantus firmi employ either the 3-2-1 cadence, or the 1-2-1 cadence. The
former is far more common in Fux than the latter. Of the five arches by Fux, only the Lydian
melody has the 1-2-1 cadence. The computer program, however, does not enforce any preference
for one of the two cadence formulas over the other but leaves the choice entirely to chance.
Without the restriction on the ante-penultimate note, about 40 to 60 out of a thousand
normalized random walks will typically meet the minimum criteria for an arch form. With the
restriction, that number is reduced to about 25 to 30. Remember, furthermore, that the normalized
arches themselves represent a small proportion of what would be produced by a simple random
walk without de-trending.
In large samples of generated arches, the 3-2-1 cadence occurs about three times more
often, on average, than the 1-2-1 cadence. Selecting minimally valid arches from thirty samples of
a thousand random walks, the percentage of 3-2-1 cadences ranged from 69.8% at the twenty-fifth
percentile to 78.5% at the seventy-fifth percentile. The proportion found in Fux (four out of five)
is just barely outside that range. The apparent preference for the 3-2-1 cadence in the generated
melodies is not the result of a predetermined rule. It is statistically emergent, resulting from the
geometry of the arch form. It is not necessary to believe that Fux held an actual preference for the
3-2-1 cadence formula; because statistical emergence is sufficient to account for the proportion of
such cadences found in Fuxs arch-shaped melodies, too.
Generating a thousand normalized random walks at a time and selecting only the
minimally valid arches, the median location of the melodic peak in the simulated arches is at the
sixth note, which is the middle of the eleven notes in each melody. The frequency distribution of
the climaxes is arch-shaped. The high note can be found anywhere from the second note to the
ninth note out of the eleven.

41

The correlation of the VHF of the opening motions with the location of the melodic peak
is strongly negative, typically ranging from -0.79 to -0.88. For closing motions, the correlation is
similar, but positive, ranging from about 0.73 to 0.84. In other words, the earlier the melodic
peak, the smoother the opening, and the more sinuous the close; conversely, the later the melodic
peak, the more sinuous the opening, and the smoother the close.
Generally speaking, Fuxs preference for small falling intervals is most pronounced in his
closing motions. Rising leaps are confined entirely to the opening motions in Fuxs cantus
firmi.xxii Since the rising intervals include the largest intervals, the reduction in the number of
rising intervals makes the absolute interval size smaller in the closes. This distinction is virtually
categorical for Fux, but the change in the distribution of intervals for simulated arches is typically
smoother. Plotting the percentiles of the intervals of the simulated closing motions on the Y-axis
against the corresponding statistics for the simulated opening motions on the X-axis yields a curve
that approximates a slightly flattened parabola. The parabola ascends relatively quickly as we step
through the negative intervals, and, then, gradually approaches a maximum as we move on to
intervals greater than or equal to zero.xxiii
As we have seen, the five arches written by Fux are all smoother in the closing motion
than in the opening motion. The question is whether or not this is likely to have occurred by
chance. Ten batches of 10,000 normalized random walks were generated. The valid arches were
divided into groups of five. Examples of the generated melodies will be found in Appendix A.
We are interested in how many groups of five were generated in which all of the closing motions
were smoother than the corresponding opening motions. Practically speaking, we cannot attribute
the difference in smoothness between the opening and closing motions of one simulated arch,
taken by itself, to anything but pure chance. However, the likelihood that a pre-selected group of
five simulated arches would all be smoother in the close than in the opening is a different matter.
Comparing the ten batches of 10,000, the percentage of the groups of five belonging to
any one batch in which the VHF was higher in the close for all five cases ranged from zero to
7.84%. The average was 3.83%. On average, in other words, we can be better than 95% confident
that such a result would not occur by chance. The worst case is that we can be better than 90%
confident that such a result would not occur by chance. Although the numbers vary from one run
to another, this suggests that there is a relatively small chance that five randomly generated arches
would make as strong a distinction between their opening and closing motions as Fux did in his
five arches.

42

The Urlinie
Although I do not always agree with Schenker, he was an acute analyst. We would not
be having this discussion if that were not so. I believe that Schenker did observe something when
he discovered the Urlinie, but it is possible to reframe our interpretation of what he observed. xxiv
Now that we know more about the statistical properties of melodies, it is possible to re-assess the
Urlinie from a completely new perspective, which was not available to previous researchers. This
analysis may demystify in some small way what Pastille (p. 71) has called the enigma, the
sense of mystery that surrounds the concept of the Ursatz.
Presumably, composers who write many melodies will encounter some variant of the
smoothing effect empirically. Whether or not these composers have a self-conscious theory of the
smoothing effect, they may discover that the effect either does or does not satisfy their aesthetic
values. In choosing which melodies they want to make public, they may pick either those that
enhance the smoothing effect or those that mute the smoothing effect. If, like Fux, they prefer
melodies that create a strong sense of certainty and closure, they may choose those with middle to
late climaxes that have relatively smooth closing motions. This choice suggests a narrative in
which uncertainty is overcome by certainty.

Presumably, this choice reflects a rationalistic

aesthetic, an aesthetic that prefers questions that have clear answers. Music by these composers
would tend to fit Schenkers theory of the Urlinie rather closely. On the other hand, if a composer
wishes to suggest a more tragic narrative, in which some issues are never completely resolved, the
approach to the final tonic can be made more indirect as sometimes happens in Jeppesen by
taking the climax earlier, giving the closing motion more time to develop, encountering more
significant deviations from expectation along the way. The analyst should not over-emphasize
structural coherence in such melodies, because these melodies cast doubt on the inevitability of
final closure, giving more emphasis to the struggle that one encounters on the way toward
achieving closure.
Since the composer is free to choose whether the peak of the arch arrives early, in the
middle, or late, the difference in character between the opening and closing motions cannot be
completely explained by one simple, universal law, such as the smoothing effect. The difference
in smoothness between the opening and closing motions of an arch is to some degree statistically
contingent and emergent, resulting from general characteristics of the vocal style, combined with
geometric constraints on melodic motion. To be sure, the statistical tendencies of the arch are not
strictly deterministic. The difference in smoothness also results from a strategic choice that lies in
the hands of the composer.

43

If Schenker was correct that the latent middle-ground lines of melodic structure have the
same melodic qualities as a well-made cantus firmus, the vocal qualities that we have found in Fux
ought to be equally characteristic of middle-ground lines.
If it is true that the Urlinie is to some degree emergent, this would tend to eliminate
certain theoretical anxieties about the Urlinie. The concept of the emergent Urlinie is attractive
from both a pragmatic and a theoretical perspective. If the Urlinie is regarded as a well-defined,
fixed, ontological entity, an explicit, culturally recognized schema, then, any departure from the
pure type such as a missing note, register shift, interruption, repetition, or change of direction
suggests a possible flaw in the foundations of a composition that requires a theoretical explanation
(see, for example, Neumeyer [1987a, 1987b, 1989, 1990]). If the Urlinie is an emergent construct,
however, its status is reversed from a cause to an effect an effect resulting from statistical
characteristics of vocal rhetoric and melodic geometry under the influence of a broadly conceived
value system. In that case, departures from the pure type are only to be expected and do not
require any special explanation. If the Urlinie is emergent, we can think of it as a limiting case
the idealized, sometimes unattainable, goal of a general tendency.
I am skeptical about Schenkers concept of the Urlinie. It is questionable whether or not
the phenomenon is best interpreted as a categorically delimited ontological entity, comparable to
an element of spoken language. It may be that, in special cases, the Urlinie is one schema among
many possible schemas. In general, however, I would suggest that it might be more useful and
simpler to think of the Urlinie as a construct, an idealization of an evanescent, statistically
emergent, aggregate spatial property, occurring under certain conditions in a melodys narrative
arc.
More research is needed, but the idea that the Urlinie is the most fundamental tonal
structure is open to question. We have seen that the relative simplicity or complexity of a melodic
shape ranges across a continuum of possibilities and that the smoothness of the Urlinie is simply
one extreme of that range. Furthermore, we have seen that neither smoothness nor complexity is
inherently more valuable than the other, because either one can be appropriate relative to the
aesthetic context in which it appears.
Good craftsmen know the limitations and latent possibilities of their materials and how to
put these to best effect. The voice of the accomplished artist is at one with the spirit of the
medium in which he or she works. In a piece of music, there is a gray area where self-expression
and purely musical expression are essentially the same, where it is difficult to distinguish the
unique contribution of the composer from the inherent nature of tonal relationships.

44

Consequently, the status of the Urlinie as a cause or an effect is somewhat ambiguous, the Urlinie
being a schema on the one hand, emerging by chance from the time series geometry of melody,
observed in arches, and possibly to be discovered in other contexts of goal-directed motion on
the other hand, subject to the supervening aesthetic taste of the composer; perhaps, in some cases
arising from a subtle preference in the Classical Style for optimistic, late-climaxing, smoothclosing, dramatic arcs. In the final analysis, the question of cause and effect must be evaluated in
every composition according to the logic of the individual case.

Hierarchy
Lerdahl and Jackendoff (1983, 1996) suggest that the Ursatz may be an effect, not a
cause (pp. 139-140). These authors argue that the Ursatz results from tonal principles such as
prolongation of the tonic, the circle of fifths, and stepwise linear motion. They recognize that
reductions of tonally unstable pieces at the most global levels of analysis probably will not result
in a stepwise melodic descent, or even, possibly, a I-V-I progression (p. 140). They propose (pp.
288-289) that archetypal patterns in general emerge as a consequence of the preference rules of
their grammar and that passages in which the preference rules reinforce each other will be heard as
archetypal.

The authors identify certain dimensions of musical structure, such as timbre,

dynamics, and motivic-thematic processes, as not hierarchical in nature (p. 9). They have chosen
not to treat these subjects directly in their theory, although they do take them into account as
contributing to the principles that establish hierarchic structure. Nevertheless, in their advocacy of
what they call the Reduction Hypothesis (and the Strong Reduction Hypothesis), they have
committed themselves to the central tenet of Schenkerian analysis (p. 106).

Lerdahl and

Jackendoff believe that the function of prolongational reduction is to enable us to speak of points
of relative tension and repose and the way music progresses from one to another (p. 179).
Prolongation fulfills a role in their theory that corresponds to what some writers would call
narrative form.
Gjerdingen (1988, chapter 2) disagrees with the interpretation of archetypes by Lerdahl
and Jackendoff. Gjerdingen argues that a reductive, strictly hierarchic, two-way branching tree
structure the characteristic analytical concept employed by Lerdahl and Jackendoff is not
adequate for the description of structural schemas. Our comprehension of musical structure,
according to this author, results from both bottom-up and top-down perceptual processes, which
are better represented using Narmours (1977, ch. 8) network analysis.

The Urlinie, in

Gjerdingens view, is one of the possible schemas; but it is not privileged, and it may coexist with

45

another schema of equal importance in the same network.xxv Although this view is quite different
from that of Lerdahl and Jackendoff, it has the same end result of calling into question the status
of the Ursatz as a unique causative agent.
Hierarchy in the theory of Lerdahl and Jackendoff emphasizes the vertical dimension of
pitch relationships (p. 116). By contrast, Lerdahls later (2001) theory of tonal pitch space, which
allows one to speak of a tension curve in the changing distance of keys from a tonic, emphasizes
the horizontal dimension.xxvi The latter theory, that is, the theory of tonal pitch space, is more
amenable to treatment as a dynamic system, because of its emphasis on the horizontal.
Without the Ursatz as a unique causative agent, the theory of prolongation is left without
a clear large-scale guiding principle. We have already seen, moreover, that hierarchic structure is
not the only way to understand the complexity of melodic shapes and that reductive analysis is not
the only way to understand the narrative of melodic unfolding.
Nevertheless, there is an alternative side to the generative theory.

Lerdahl and

Jackendoff have greatly expanded and reformulated the basic insight of the Cooper and Meyer
(1963) theory of rhythmic structure which was conceived in terms of formal regions to create a
theory of complementary left and right branching tree structures.xxvii Not to underestimate the
ground-breaking importance of Schenkers speculations about deep structure, I would argue that a
theory of rhythmic structure, however formulated, has a stronger claim than the Ursatz to be an
explanation of large-scale form in tonal music; because it is based on comparatively abstract
principles of tonal relationships, rather than a specific, concrete structure. One would think that
the possibilities of generalizing from the concept of rhythmic structure would be limited only by
the imagination. It is true that the Cooper and Meyer system of interpretation makes use of a
forced-choice tree structure, which may at times seem a bit arbitrary. A more informative solution
might be to weight the branches by Copes multi-valued SPEAC system.xxviii

Conclusions
I said at the beginning that we would be concerned with what makes a musical idea
distinctive. This is a large question, which will continue to occupy our minds throughout the
remaining chapters of this study. For the purposes of an introductory chapter, I have chosen to
concentrate on measurable properties of melodies that fall into a well-defined, iconic form. This
form, the form of a cantus firmus, can be understood as representing a microcosm of more
generalized patterns that one might find in much larger narrative forms. The free-form melodies
of the cantus firmi led us to questions about the Urlinie, which in turn led us to larger questions

46

about musical organization. What these melodies have in common with the Cooper and Meyer
concept of rhythmic structure, a subject for further investigation, is that large-scale rhythmic
structure implies a tension curve that is analogous in principle to the tonal tensions of a cantus
firmus.
The original questions raised by the cantus firmi are more limited in scope.

The

unvarying rhythm of a cantus firmus allows us to focus on intervallic relationships: specifically,


the distribution of intervals, associations between them over time, and dependencies on the
constraints of the form in short, unity and variety in the selection of intervals, what is common
and what is unusual, and how that varies with context.
Distinctiveness, at least from a relativistic viewpoint, has to do, partly, with what is
uncommon by comparison with what is more typical of a musical type; but, more generally, it has
to do with freedom from constraint. The things that limit the movement of a melody tend to make
it more standardized. There is more opportunity for distinctiveness, or individualization, when the
melodic contour is moderately convoluted than when it is smooth, or, contrariwise, when it swings
widely between extremes. Smoothness and extremity are both limiting conditions.
I have chosen to emphasize arch-shaped melodies, because this is a common, though not
universal, pattern. The arch represents a plurality rather than the majority of the melodic shapes in
folk-song, for example; but, it is, in that sense, the most common melodic shape of the genre. In
an arch-shaped melody, one can easily distinguish two parts, the opening and closing motions
that which leads up to the high point, and that which leads away from the high point. The arch is a
spatial analogy of a rhetorical device called the ring-composition, a variety of chiasmus, where
symmetry of form leads the auditor toward an impression of certainty.
I have modeled melodic processes as constrained random walks. It is not that actual
musical compositions are random; but randomness is the extreme case of localized decisionmaking, or freedom from constraint. Such a model throws into high relief the effects resulting
from an opposition between local choices and larger formal limits. From the standpoint of
hypothesis-testing, it is highly informative to compare stochastic processes against melodies found
in the literature.
It turns out that the opening and closing motions of arch-shaped melodies may have quite
different properties. We found that the relationship between the unity and variety of intervallic
relationships in arch-shaped melodies is highly dependent upon the location of the high point that
marks the division between the opening motion and the closing motion. To begin with, the shorter
the opening or closing motion, the fewer intervals there will be; and this imposes limits on the

47

variety in the selection of intervals that will be possible. However, an additional peculiarity of the
arch-constrained random walk is that the distribution of intervals in the closing motion, in
particular, is more limited and skewed than that available to the opening motion, rising intervals
being asymmetrically unavailable to closing motions. Furthermore, the shorter the opening or
closing motion, the more likely that it will have a measurably smooth contour. Analysts who are
inclined toward the hierarchical thinking of Schenkerian theory will be likely to interpret a smooth
closing motion as structural; but it is also possible to interpret either a smooth opening motion, or
a smooth closing motion, as emergent from a statistical process.
The opportunity to create a distinctive pattern of intervallic successions depends to a
rather large degree on a choice having been made about the overall contour and timing of an archshaped melody. I have argued that this is an aesthetic choice that is under the control of the
composer. The opening motion is exploratory, comparatively free from constraints, concerned
with the symbolism of possibility. The closing motion is goal-directed, seeking the relative
certainty of perceptual closure, concerned with the symbolism of purpose. The balance between
the two can be interpreted as expressing a judgment about the relative importance of possibility
and purpose.
Since the cantus firmi do not outline chord progressions and they do not modulate,
however, they are only tonal in the most general sense. In this repertory, the gravitational pull of
the static framework of reference pitches belonging to the tonic (or subdominant) triad generates
an observable cross-current of conflicting melodic tendencies;xxix but only the ultimate attraction
of the tonic scale degree has an influence on the broader gestures of melodic movement. The
basic melodic impulse can be described as a meaningful, fluid, developing balance between order
and disorder taking place in the field of attraction of the tonic scale degree. This takes us back to
Schenkers original concern with melodic fluency in Kontrapunkt I.

Although it is highly

instructive to analyze the cantus firmi by means of the hierarchic-reductive method that Schenker
developed in his later, more mature works, we have seen that melodic fluency does not have to be
understood in this way.
Since the human mind presumably has difficulty conceiving a clear understanding of
multiple hierarchic levels simultaneously, the mind must have some ability to conceive of
complexity as such. The concept of complexity as such is a summarizing aggregate (represented
here by the VHF).xxx When we compare the opening motions of the cantus firmi we see that what
they have in common is essential complexity, regarded as a property in its own right, not merely
as a secondary attribute of some independent method of organization. When we contrast the

48

opening motions with the closing motions, we see that the two categories of melodic motion also
differ in their essential complexity, or complexity as such. In a later chapter, we will investigate
how the essential complexity of a melody may result from a dynamic process the composite of
an expansive exploratory process and an inhibiting process that tends toward a tonal center.
The understanding of the cantus firmus that we have just described the cantus firmus
having the contour of a sinuous arch, naturally divided at the climactic peak into two parts, one
leading up to the peak, and the other leading back down from the peak, the contours of the two
parts being relatively more or less sinuous is consistent with Kurths view of musical form,
which he conceived as a shaping process that leads to layers of dynamic waves (see Rothfarb
[1989], p. 191). The degree of relative sinuosity can be considered as an attribute of the whole, or
any part of the whole. xxxi This concept is self-sufficient, standing on its own terms, and is not
merely contributory to a reductive analysis that is somehow more real. In choosing between the
two explanations Schenkerian reduction and Neo-Kurthian wave analysis we are faced with an
interpretive dualism.xxxii
In my view, Schenkerian linear-harmonic reductive analysis though subject to
differences of interpretation is a fascinating and beautiful discipline, fully deserving of the
intense study that it has received. Nevertheless, Neo-Kurthian wave analysis is also a valid and
interesting way to think about musical organization. We are not forced to choose between the two
conceptions of musical organization, because each approach reveals a different set of facts. That
does not mean that every analytical technique has equal power to explain the salient facts of every
musical example for every musical question, however. Each case requires us to select the most
appropriate analytical technique from the repertory of available techniques.
Ironically, we have come to understand the Fux of the cantus firmi as a supremely
rationalistic composer, but the irregularity (the symbolic irrationality) of his opening motions is
essential to the definition of his style.

Alternatively, the irregularity that is often found in

Jeppesens closing motions (especially in the Dorian mode) is also characteristic of his style. It
would not help us to understand either of these composers if we were to attempt to explain away
the irregularities found in their melodies. We need to be able to evaluate irregularity as such, as
something that is real, and not merely a perturbation of something simpler.

To argue that

reductive analysis tells us that the irregularity of Fuxs opening motions and certain of Jeppesens
closing motions is only apparent and that the linearity that implicitly lies beneath the surface of
these passages represents an overriding level of truth, would only obscure the true differences
between Fux and Jeppesen.

49

To understand the true identity of a musical composition, we need to see it as it is,


complete with all of its identifying characteristics, including its irregularities. These irregularities
may very well be essential not only to the definition of the form, but also to the meaning of the
composition.

50

Chapter 2
Texture and Rhetoric in Debussys Syrinx: A Computer-Assisted Analysis

laude Debussys composition, Syrinx, for solo flute (1913), is of great theoretical interest,
because its chromatic, non-triadic harmonies, emphasizing whole tone scales, foreshadow

the atonal procedures of later twentieth-century composers. The issues raised by Syrinx have
broad implications, which go far beyond the original circumstances under which the composition
was created. Syrinx is not merely a transitional work, however, but an important composition in
its own right, arising from a particular time and place, and opening a window on the unique
culture from which it came.

(A performance by Paula Robison can be viewed at

www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbRC3scRYeE.)
The bulk of this chapter is concerned with computer-assisted analysis of the textures and
formal procedures Debussy employed in Syrinx. The textures are defined by descriptive statistics
based on nine time-series indicators, most of which are new. The procedures are conceptualized
with reference to three rhetorical devices: opposition, expressiveness, and symmetry.

The

dynamic process that carries the textures from one moment to the next is described as a current of
well-proportioned distinctions: juxtapositions of contrasting ideas, freely flowing in complex,
judiciously channeled waves. We will be concerned not only with implicit patterns made by the
textures, but also with phase relationships and divergences between independent variables.
I say computer-assisted analysis rather than computer analysis. The computer makes
it practical for us to think about otherwise inaccessible subjects. The computer, however, is not
capable of making fundamental interpretative decisions that require domain knowledge and
musical judgment.
The analysis of Syrinx is a difficult challenge almost a study in contradictions. The
developmental processes of Syrinx overflow the boundaries of its ternary form. The short term
waves of its melodic contour dominate its long term waves, and they are so irregular that they are
better described as anti-persistent, rather than cyclical. The character of the waves changes from
one area of the form to another, so it is difficult to reduce Debussys compositional technique to
rule. For this reason, Syrinx will be viewed abstractly, as a result of dynamic processes. I will not
attempt to explain everything that happens in Syrinx.

I will attempt to convey that the

complexities of the work are coordinated in a manner that supports a basically traditional but
blended, not dichotomous, distinction between development and the construction of cadences
and, furthermore, that the wave properties of the melody are substantially in accord with its form.

51

I will touch briefly on the deterministic version of my Limited Growth Model for
exploratory behavior, which approximates the underlying shape of a simple closed-form melody
(or other time series of musical interest) by an equation of motion (Eq. D1: for time t scaled to
range from zero to one, and appropriately normalized data). The equation is a parameterized,
generic schema, a polymorphous abstraction from theories of melodic shape by Kurth, Meyer,
Narmour, Gjerdingen, Adams, and Huron.

Eq. D1.

x = atC (1 t) btD (1 t) + et + f.

The equation proposes that, for musical shapes in which the deviation from the long-term
linear trend has at most one distinct high point, or one distinct low point, or both, the broad
outlines of the shape can be understood as the product of a single wave-like gesture rather than a
succession of independent incidents that the tendencies of such a musical process to rise and fall,
expand and contract, are present throughout, and that the relative strength of these tendencies
determines the outline of the shape that emerges over time. In other words, to an approximation,
the unifying invariance of the form is to be found in a set of constant dynamic properties, which
unfold at different rates.
Debussy was, no doubt, speaking metaphorically when he wrote, Music is a mysterious
form of mathematics whose elements partake of the Infinite (Jarocinski [1976], p. 95). Although
Debussy was opposed in principle to the standard music theory and analysis of his time, I think it
will be instructive to take Debussy at his word on this point that music is somehow
mathematical, in a way that mysteriously suggests perfect, Platonic ideals that are beyond our
ordinary, limited understanding of the world. I will attempt to make the implicit mathematical
ideals explicit. The scope of this study is rather different, however, from that of Howat (1986),
who argues that some of Debussys musical forms are based on exact mathematical proportions,
which could, conceivably, have been rationally calculated by the composer. The mathematical
relationships described in this paper are only approximations to the directly observable facts, and
of such a subtle nature that I can only assume that Debussy discovered them intuitively.
Although the form of Syrinx is arguably complete in itself, the composition cannot be
fully understood without reference to the text that originally inspired the composition. Therefore,
I will begin with a few words of background.

52

yrinx is a staple of the flute repertory, written as incidental music for the Symbolist play,
Psych, by Gabriel Mourey. The role of Syrinx in the play has been clarified by the

discovery of a manuscript of the composition in Brussels, reported by Anders Ljungar-Chapelon


and Michael Stegemann in the Wiener Urtext edition of 1996. The composition was originally
titled La Flte de Pan. The name was changed when the work was published as a concert piece by
Jean Jobert. The name Syrinx refers to a nymph who was the object of the Greek god Pans
unfulfilled longing Pan, the god of fertility, shepherds, flocks, and wild places longing (as told
by Ovid) for the chaste Naiad, Syrinx, who escaped from Pans pursuit to the River Ladon, where
she was transformed by her Watery Sisters into tall marsh reeds. Pan cut the reeds to make the set
of musical pipes with which he is identified.
There is a chasm between what can be depicted by words and what can be expressed by
music. Since musical textures do not have fixed, concrete meanings, it would be difficult to guess
the specific story that is associated with Syrinx in the play only by hearing the piece performed in
the concert hall, without accompanying words. We have to turn to the text of Moureys play to
discover Debussys intention. This is discussed by Grayson (2001, pp. 132-133) and Ewell
(2004).
The manuscript of the composition suggests that it was originally performed as a
melodrama that is, a musical accompaniment to spoken text. The relevant section of the play is
the first scene of the third act, before the depiction of Pans death, which consists of a dialogue
between a Naiad, or river nymph, and a mountain nymph, or Oread. Ewell has translated the
relevant passages, and matched the text to the music.
Pan appeals to the fearful Naiad off-stage, speaking only through his music, except for
the intervention of the Oread. We perceive a change of consciousness near the end of the piece,
which has been explained by Ewell as representing the entranced Naiads final acceptance of Pan.
Although I will analyze Syrinx as a continuous musical composition, as it would be
performed in the concert hall, the music was interrupted by spoken text at least once, perhaps more
often, when it was used as incidental music. In the manuscript copy that survives, there is an
empty bar marked with a fermata between measures eight and nine of the printed score, containing
a textual cue. Grayson argues that the stage directions permit the interpretation at least as a
possibility that the music was interrupted by dialogue more frequently; and, furthermore, that the
complexity of the music makes it ill-suited to serve as background music to recitation. Ewell
argues for just one interruption, and discusses the text-setting in detail.

53

The question of how the music was originally staged is difficult. I suspect that more than
one staging was actively considered, but that, in the final analysis, it was decided to only interrupt
the music once. I agree with Ewells interpretation, therefore, at least as far as it concerns the
change of consciousness that is expressed near the end of the composition. For reasons that will
be discussed later, I would only comment that the change in consciousness is temporary, and that
it fades away to a state of mind that, in my view, seems rather more equivocal.

yrinx has been analyzed many times, by excellent theorists. An overview of Syrinx is given
by Wilkins (2006), pp. 62-65, 105-6.

Curinga (2001) reviews analyses of Syrinx by

Anagnostopoulou; Austin; Baron, Borris; Cogan and Escot; Delige, De Natale; Larson; Laske;
Mahlert; Nattiez; Seraphin; Tenney and Polansky; and Whitman.

Lartillot (2009) applies

automatic extraction of motivic patterns to the analysis of Syrinx. I will try to avoid repeating
much that has been said before, since my aims in this paper are rather different; but some
observations must be restated, simply to set the stage. My main concern, at present, is with the
textures and rhetoric of the composition, how they are unusual, and how they form a whole.
Most of the formal apparatus of Syrinx is directed toward making a convincing case for
the more unconventional attributes of the sounds: in particular, the musical language which is
virtually atonal the constantly shifting textures, and the unusual ending. Making a convincing
case is the role of rhetoric.
Whether we agree with a composers values or not, an effective composer, like an
effective speaker, employs various devices which may collectively be referred to as rhetoric to
persuade the listener to accept his or her point of view. In this paper, we will be concerned, not
only with the manner in which Debussy appeals to the listeners emotions an important
rhetorical device in itself but also with specific formal techniques used by Debussy, which will
be explained later.
Although Syrinx can be considered a harbinger of modernism because its
unconventional hierarchy of tones is a challenge to traditional tonal syntax Syrinx is still an
example of traditional rhetoric, not a contravention of traditional rhetoric.
The change of consciousness at the end of Syrinx is due to what might be termed a builtin surprise ending. We will be concerned here with the devices by which Debussy makes this
surprise ending seem convincing, and not merely arbitrary. The formal processes of Syrinx are
designed to insure that the piece does not simply stop the final close is a true ending. The
ending, however, also contains in Meyers terminology a deviation from expectation. The

54

surprise is not a mere novelty, because it does not depend on whether or not the listener has
prior knowledge of how the composition comes to a close. Indeed, the surprise is only more
effective as one becomes familiar with the piece, because it is an objective feature of the form,
which follows from the flow of the textures.

ebussy used musical equivalents of three classical rhetorical devices: an appeal to the
listeners emotions, merismus (a juxtaposition of opposites that stands for the whole), and

more than one kind of formal symmetry. This is not to say that Debussy who, though an
extremely well-read composer with many friends in literary circles, was, nevertheless, by his own
account, a highly intuitive composer would have used the terms of classical rhetoric to describe
his music; but, only that, in certain respects, literature and music have similar rationales. With
these rhetorical devices, Debussy was able to create a rich, vivid, well-defined, and (in defiance of
the reality principle) implicitly convincing world of imagination.
The term merismus refers to expressions such as, near and far, rich and poor, and
young and old alike. These expressions explicitly mention extremes, but we understand them to
refer to more than just extremes. They refer not only to outer limits, but everything in between.
For example, the expression young and old alike does not refer to a selection of people who are
only young or old, but people of all ages.
Exemplifying merismus, the opening two measures of Syrinx (Ex. D1a) contain a number
of bold contradictions: The rhythms are both fast and slow, impulsive and hesitant. The hierarchy
of accented and unaccented notes creates a tonality that fuses the intensity of the chromatic with
the relaxation of the diatonic, the one embedded within the other. Small intervals descend from
the bright, ethereal high register of the flute, only to be cancelled out by a large ascending leap
returning to the high register. Tonal ambiguity is framed by its opposite, a closed, recirculating
loop (a formal symmetry), beginning and ending on the same high B-flat above the treble clef.
Paradoxically, the opening idea, though diverse, and even ambiguous in its implications,
is concise and economical in its means of expression. By use of merismus, a few notes in the
opening suggest more than they state. For this reason, the opening is not self-contained or
complete, but ripe for development, as an opening should be. The opening of Syrinx illustrates
what Tovey would call the difference between a theme and a four-square tune.

55

Ex. D1. Incipits of the main sections of Syrinx: a. A, mm.1-2; b. A, mm. 910; c. transition to B, mm. 14-16; d. A, pickup to m. 26-m. 27.

As Curinga has pointed out, considerable differences are found in the way different
theorists divide Syrinx into segments. The division that I am following is not unlike that made by
Austin, Borris, and Cogan and Escot. Since I am primarily concerned with textures, however, and
I gather data one full measure at a time, I will actually follow a somewhat different division made
by Whitman.
In its larger dimensions, Syrinx is in a variety of ternary form (a form much favored by
Debussy, a point that is demonstrated repeatedly by DeVoto [2004]).

At a high level of

abstraction, though not in matters of detail, the ternary form, ABA, is a symmetrical mirror form,
comparable to the classical rhetorical device of the chiasmus. A true mirror form, however, such
as ABCCBA, is symmetrical at every level. It is debatable, therefore, whether or not we should
call the form of Syrinx a type of chiasmus. In any case, the ternary form and mirror form are both
reflective symmetries, differing only in degree as to how much is reflected; and the rhetorical
effects of the ternary form and the mirror form are comparable.
Following the example of other theorists, I will describe the form of Syrinx as AABA.
The A section is an extension of A that serves as a transition into B. Syrinx is 35 measures long.
In my division, A begins at measure 9, B at measure 14, and A at measure 26. Whitman
disagrees with the other theorists about the beginning of B. I follow Whitman, because the texture
changes at measure 14 (other theorists say that section B begins at measure 16). The A section
begins with the pickup to measure 26. This pickup repeats the sustained, high B-flat that was

56

introduced three beats earlier, however (at the end of section B), so the division between B and A
is somewhat ambiguous from a textural standpoint.
With respect to the broad outlines of the pitch contour, a conventional narrative arc
covers B and A. (With respect to other aspects of musical texture, development begins earlier
than that, in the A section.) The arch in pitch contour found in B through A is late-peaking (the
peak occurs two-thirds of the way through the arch) and, therefore consistent with the timeseries geometry of arches is more convoluted in the opening motion than in the closing motion.
Both the opening and closing motions of this arch are convoluted; but the opening motion is more
so, with a VHF equal to 0.095, less than half the VHF of the close, which is 0.235. The
comparatively smoother line of the closing motion is a rhetorical device in its own right, which
contributes to the sense of finality achieved by the ternary form.

he textures of Syrinx can be characterized by certain binary oppositions, each of which


represents the poles of a merismus, the rhetorical device just mentioned that is a

summarizing opposition between extremes. The binary oppositions will be characterized by nine
time-series indicators, which will be explained more fully in a moment. Five of these indicators
are concerned with pitch contour: Duration-Weighted Average Pitch, Pitch Range, Interval
Volatility (the average absolute size of the intervals), Extreme VHF (departures from the central
value of the indicator, discussed previously, called the VHF) and Duration-Rising (the amount of
time given to rising versus falling intervals). Two are concerned with temporal relationships: Rate
of Attack and Metric Hierarchy (a duration-weighted average of the levels of the notes in the
hierarchy of the meter, scaled by the highest hierarchic level achieved). The last two indicators
are concerned with the distributions of pitch classes: Pitch-Class Concentration (a measure of how
the pitch-classes are distributed around the Circle of Fifths), and Pitch-Class Dominance (a
special-purpose, probabilistic indicator created to capture Debussys idiosyncratic treatment of
pitch relationships in Syrinx).
Each of the nine attributes of texture singled out for this analysis is intended to suggest
either an aspect of cognitive-perceptual closure, or affective tension, or some combination of these
traits.
Since the composition is short, it does not provide us very many data points for purposes
of statistical hypothesis testing. The observations recorded in this paper, furthermore, should not
be taken as representative of any larger body of compositions, even other works by Debussy.
Perhaps this study will lead to more studies in a similar vein, and a larger understanding of the

57

relationship between texture and form in the works of Debussy and other composers will gradually
be acquired.

For the present, however, the specific objective of this study is that it might

contribute to our conceptual understanding of the compositional technique evident in Syrinx itself.
In order to accomplish this, the focus in this study will be on visual representations of descriptive
statistics.
To orient the reader, I will precede the detailed discussion of the indicators which can
get rather technical with some general observations.
The complexity of the constantly shifting textures in Syrinx is a consistent feature of the
style. It would not, as a general rule, be possible to tell from the value of an indicator alone where
in the form any particular measure is located. Nevertheless, over the course of time, the central
tendencies of the indicators tend to be concentrated in identifiable channels. Each of the indicators
is reducible to a long-term linear trend and a long wave. Systematic deviations from these patterns
will be found where cadences are formed. Developmental processes will be seen in waves that
move between cadential textures that are not typical of the piece and more typical, transitional
textures.
As we shall see, the flow of the textures in Syrinx runs in parallel with the ternary form,
while overflowing the bounds of the form, thereby contributing to the effect of the composition as
a rounded but continuous whole. For most of the indicators, the long waves are phase-shifted to
lead the long wave of the Average Pitch. Exceptions: The long wave of the Duration-Rising is
virtually flat, so it is not meaningful to speak of a lead time; and the long wave of the Metric
Hierarchy is almost coincident with that of the Pitch. We may also calculate the divergence
between the indicators, subtracting the standard scores of the detrended Pitch from the equivalent
scores of the other indicators. The long wave of the divergence always peaks between the
beginning of the A section and the middle of the B section. The lowest point after the peak that is
reached by the long wave of the divergence occurs anywhere from the end of the B section to the
end of the A section.
An important consequence of the phase-shifting and divergence is that the development
of the musical ideas begins as early as the A section. The process of development in Syrinx,
therefore, results in a blurring of categories. Functionally, this serves to distinguish the end of the
first part of the ternary form from the corresponding passage at the end of the third part of the
form. The first part ends with transitional material; the third part ends with cadential material.
Both of these sections occur in similar registers of the flute near the bottom of descending
melodic lines but their musical functions cannot be confused. The descending line at the end of

58

the first part might suggest that a cadence is approaching, if Debussy had not already begun
developing his musical materials at this point. It would, of course, be fatal to the momentum of
the composition if a cadence were to occur so soon. The effect of the contrast between the two
endings is to avoid anticipating the final cadence prematurely.

ach time-series indicator will be shown in a series of charts, where vertical grid lines will
represent the main divisions of the form. First, the original indicator will be compared with

its long-term linear trend. Accompanying the indicator will be a normalization of the same data,
which is detrended by taking standardized residuals from a regression to the linear trend. The
normalized indicator usually suggests a long wave of its own, to which a cubic polynomial will be
fitted, for heuristic (that is, investigative) purposes.
Since the pitch level is of special interest, it will be used as a basis of comparison for the
other indicators. The data in many of these charts is smoothed to reduce the influence of outliers
and make the graphs easier to understand. Smoothing is always done with centered moving
averages of three measures length (the shortest time-span that will produce a centered moving
average). Special-interest charts will be interjected into the main series of indicators where they
are needed to make a broader point.
The nine indicators considered here are not the only possibilities that one might imagine.
To include more indicators might very well alter our conclusions; but, that is a matter for further
research. The nine indicators that were chosen are useful, because they sample a wide variety of
the attributes of musical texture, with very little overlap.
A disclaimer is warranted at this point. I do not mean to imply by my use of polynomial
curve fitting that I believe that the underlying process by which Syrinx was composed was actually
governed by such simple deterministic mechanisms. No matter how closely the polynomials
might happen to fit the data, I do not claim that the constants of the equations necessarily have
direct causal interpretations. Nevertheless, I have found curve fitting helpful for the purpose of
making qualitative visual comparisons between charts and for guiding my experiments in the
creation of stochastic generative models.

Duration-Weighted Average Pitch


The first time-series indicator we will consider is the average pitch for each measure,
weighted by the relative duration of the notes (Fig. D1). Because of the intrinsic importance of
pitch, I will examine this indicator more closely than any of the others.

59

Pitches are assigned numbers that show the number of semitones the pitch is located
above or below the final note, D-flat above Middle C. Tones below the final note are indicated
with negative numbers (the lowest note is Middle C itself, which is assigned the value of minus
one). The overall linear trend of the pitch level is downward. Before detrending, at major turning
points, the curve makes both lower highs (in A and A) and lower lows (in B and A). The long
wave of the detrended, normalized indicator roughly describes an Open-Low-High-Close form, a
form that we have observed in Fuxs cantus firmi. To illustrate the long wave, a cubic polynomial
curve of the form x = at3 + bt2 +ct +d has been fitted to the data. Curves of this form will be used
extensively in this paper, as a heuristic aid to visual interpretation of the graphs.
The Open-Low-High-Close form could be described as an S-curve, which can be thought
of as either a ternary or binary symmetry. Considered as a ternary form, the S-curve surrounds an
ascent by two descents. Considered as a binary form, the S-curve unites two major reversals in
the pitch level a trough,

, followed by an arch, . The binary pattern can be compared to

one of the seven frieze symmetries, the so-called glide reflection, in which a trough is transformed
into an arch by a combination of inversion and translation through time. The term symmetry,
however, suggests a greater regularity of form than we find here. For this reason, we will look for
a more dynamic interpretation of the shapes that unfold in Syrinx.
It is apparent from this chart that the general pitch level of the A section is transitional
between A and B.

The pitch level is, presumably, arousing; and it suggests an initial

approximation of the overall climax-structure of the composition. (The concept of the climax
implied by Syrinx, I should add, is subtle and goes far beyond the simple notion of going faster,
louder, and higher.)

Fig. D1. Syrinx: Duration-Weighted Average Pitch, with detrended normalization.

60

In a dynamic model, we shift our perspective from symmetry to process or, rather, from
observed symmetry to implied symmetry in an equation of motion. Instead of interpreting the data
as a succession of contrasting, categorical entities such as a descent followed by an ascent
followed by another ascent, or a trough followed by an arch we will view the data as an
unfolding of simultaneous but opposed processes. The deterministic Limited Growth Model is
shown fitted to the data in Fig. D2, using the parameters stated in Eq. D2. A more general form of
the equation is stated in Eq. D1.
To apply the formula, the measure numbers must be normalized to a time-scale that runs
from zero to one. Also, the data stream must be rescaled, using Hursts method, so it begins and
ends at zero. To do this, we first convert the incremental changes in the indicator to standard
scores, and, then, reconstruct the indicator by accumulating the standard scores of the changes.
Rescaling in this manner implies an assumption that the first and last data points are structurally
important, an assumption we may not always want to make.
The formula consists of a binary opposition between two binary oppositions. The term,
(1 t), is the growth limiting factor. This term ranges from one, when t equals zero, to zero, when
t equals one. The term, atC, is the rising expansion factor; and the term, btD, is the falling
expansion factor. These terms are equal to zero when t is zero. The formula, therefore, begins and
ends with a value of zero, creating a closed form. This is why the data must be rescaled to begin
and end with zero.
Fitting the Limited Growth Model to the rescaled, unsmoothed Pitch, the parameters, a,
b, C, and D, are estimated using a computerized numerical method of approximation (see Eq. D2).
The following parameters account for 37 percent of the variance: a = 178.8, b = 157.2, C = 2.69
and D = 2.49. The degree of the equation as a whole is equal to the highest exponent plus one, C
+ 2.69 = 3.69. This tends to confirm that the heuristic cubic polynomial, of degree three, is a
reasonable approximation to the Limited Growth Model. (Since this chapter was written, two
terms have been added to the LGM, which no longer requires that the dependent variable be
normalized. Statistical hypothesis testing, using Monte Carlo simulation, has also been added to
the system.)

Eq. D2.

x = 178.8 t 2.69 (1 t) 157.2 t 2.49 (1 t).

61

The long wave established by the Limited Growth Model resembles the heuristic cubic
polynomial very closely, the most notable difference being that it places the peak of the curve
later. I will continue to use the heuristic polynomial throughout the rest of this study, since it does
not assume that the first and last data points are structural (an assumption which could always be
debated); and it appears to make a satisfactory fit in most cases.

3.00

2.00

1.00

0.00

-1.00

-2.00

-3.00
0.00

0.10

0.20

0.30

0.40

0.50

Rescaled Unsmoothed Pitch

0.60

0.70

0.80

0.90

1.00

Limited Growth Model

Fig. D2. Syrinx: Rescaled, unsmoothed Pitch vs. the Limited Growth Model.

The curve that we see in the chart is the difference between two large, late-peaking arches
that are nearly identical to each other. It may be worthy of notice that the parameters of the rising
expansion factor, a and C, are larger than the corresponding parameters of the falling expansion
factor, b and D that is, a > b and C > D. This is the defining characteristic of an Open-LowHigh-Close curve.
In applying the Limited Growth Model to other compositions, we will want to be aware
of the following: We will assume that the exponents C and D are both positive. If C and D were
equal to each other (the degenerate case), the complementary relationship between the rising and
falling factors would be redundant. To arrive at a unique solution in this case, the factor after the
minus sign should be omitted.

The degenerate curve reaches its maximum (assuming a is

positive) when t = C/(C + 1).


In the general case, where C and D are not equal, the value of the resultant curve x is zero
when the time t = 0 or 1. If the resultant curve is either an Open-Low-High-Close form or an
Open- High-Low- Close form, then x is zero for some value of t between 0 and 1. It can be shown
in this case that t = (a/b)(1/(D-C)). The latter expression is equivalent to ln(t) = ln(a/b) / (D-C). For t
in the range 0 < t < 1, ln(t) is a negative number, because ln(1) = 0. This implies that either ln(a/b)
< 0, or (D-C) < 0, but not both. Since the logarithm of a negative number is not defined, the ratio

62

a/b must be positive, meaning that a and b must have the same sign. From this we conclude that
either a < b and C < D, or a > b and C > D. Assuming a and b are both positive, the former case
produces an Open-High-Low-Close form, and the latter produces an Open-Low-High-Close form.
The opposite is true for a and b negative.

Pitch Range
The Pitch Range (that is, the difference in semitones between the highest and lowest
pitches in a measure) also has a broad descending trend; but, the long wave of the normalized
indicator is a simpler arch-form (Fig. D3a). Although the Pitch Range is presumably arousing, the
peak of the Pitch Range is not directly synchronized with the peak of the Average Pitch, which
occurs at the beginning of the A section. The peak of the Range occurs early, in the A section,
and the indicator makes lower highs from that point on. De-synchronization of the indicators
contributes to the variety of the musical ideas, and it insures that something interesting is
happening in each section.
Given that the Pitch Range makes lower highs from its peak in A, and the fact that the
Range cannot be less than zero, the variation in the indicator is much wider in the first third of the
composition than it is later, where it becomes progressively narrower. This variation contributes
to the improvisatory effect of the A and A sections, distinguishing them from the more considered
character of the B and A sections. The progression from greater variability at the beginning to
less variability toward the end is consistent with the text, which begins with a dialogue between
the Oread and the Naiad, and ends with a long speech by the Naiad. Since the Pitch Range is low
at or near cadences or sectional divisions, high values are also associated with regional climaxbuilding.

63

Fig. D3a. Syrinx: Pitch Range.

The normalized, unsmoothed Range (Fig. D3a) is negatively correlated with the
normalized, unsmoothed Pitch (R = -.0246).

Fig. D3b. Syrinx: Normalized Pitch Range vs. normalized Average Pitch, smoothed.

By visual inspection of Fig. D3b, one may see that the long wave of the normalized Pitch
Range leads the long wave of the normalized Average Pitch. It is apparent that the smoothed Pitch
Range moves in four regional cycles, each peaking inside one of the sections A, A, B and A.

Fig. D3c. Syrinx: Divergence of smoothed, normalized Pitch Range from smoothed, normalized Average Pitch.

Henceforth, the divergence between two indicators will be calculated by subtracting one
from the other. For the indicators to be expressed in comparable units, it is necessary that they
both be converted to standard scores, as we have done in our normalization process.

The

64

examples cited here will all represent smoothed indicators, and the reference indicator will always
be the Pitch. Notice in Fig. D3c that the long wave of the divergence between the smoothed,
normalized Range and the smoothed, normalized Pitch peaks near the boundary between the A
and B sections.
Volatility
As an indicator of Volatility, we take the average value of the absolute interval sizes for
each measure (Fig. D4). The Volatility trends in the opposite direction from the Pitch. However,
direct comparisons between the Volatility and the Pitch not only for the long term trend, but also
for the lead time will be most clearly evident if we invert the standard scores of the Volatility,
multiplying them by minus one. The inverted scale will be called the Continuity.
The significance of the Volatility is primarily local. An arch in the Volatility curve spans
the B section, and an arch of Volatility characterizes the motivic transformations of the last five
measures (described by Mahlert <1986>; see Ex. D3, D5). The very last peak of Volatility in that
section contributes to the unique expressive qualities of the end of the composition.
The data point for measure 33 is arguably an outlier; but, if that is the case, the data point
for measure 25 (which is cadential) could also be considered an outlier. I will accept both data
points and simply point out that the Volatility goes to greater and greater extremes as the piece
continues. The Volatility is low at or near the ends of the three major divisions of the form (in the
A, B, and A sections). The peaks, which show a long-term trend toward making higher and
higher highs, are located within the interiors of those divisions.
The leap of an augmented sixth that is responsible for the peak of Volatility in measure
33, by the way, is not the largest leap in the composition. There is an octave in measure 17 and a
ninth in measure 19, but the averages in those measures are brought down by smaller intervals.

65

Fig D4a. Syrinx: Interval Volatility.

The normalized, unsmoothed Volatility (Fig. D4a), before inversion, has a very small
negative correlation with the normalized, unsmoothed Pitch (R = -0.096).

Fig D4b. Syrinx: Normalized Interval Continuity (inverted Volatility) vs. normalized Average Pitch, smoothed.

The lead time of the Volatility over the Pitch is most clearly visible after the indicator is
inverted (Fig. D4b).

66

Fig. D4c. Syrinx: Divergence of smoothed, normalized Continuity from smoothed, normalized Average Pitch.

The divergence between the Continuity and the Pitch reaches its highest point at the
beginning of the B section.
The long term trend of the Volatility may be functional, even though it is dominated by
short term variation. Large intervals, though arousing, do not according to the Meyer / Narmour
theory of implications imply continued motion in the same direction. Therefore, it could be
argued that except for special cases where small intervals are confined within a narrow range
passages with lower Volatility (that is, higher Continuity), will tend to create a heightened
perception of implicative momentum (a lower expectation of closure). From this point of view,
the long term ascending trend in Volatility found in Syrinx suggests an overall declining trend in
perceived implicative momentum. Declining implicative momentum would, presumably, be one
factor contributing to a large-scale implication of closure toward the end of the composition.

Extreme VHF
The VHF is more variable in the A sections than in the B section. This is shown by
taking the absolute value of the deviation of the VHF from the mid-point, 0.50 (Fig. D5). The
overall linear trend of this indicator, which will be called the Extreme VHF, is upward. The
curvilinear trend makes an Open-High-Low-Close form. In other words, the trends are more or
less the opposite of what we found for the Average Pitch, except for the fact that the Extreme VHF
is highest at or near the ends of the A, A, B, and A sections.

67

Fig. D5a. Syrinx: Extreme VHF.

A low value of the Extreme VHF implies that the melodic contour is relatively complex
and, presumably, stimulating. A high value implies that the melodic contour is relatively simple
either static or linear and, therefore, not very arousing. So, an upward trend in the Extreme VHF
is affectively consistent with a trend in the opposite, downward direction in the trend of the
Average Pitch Level.

Similarly, an Open-High-Low-Close wave in the Extreme VHF is

affectively consistent with the opposite form, an Open-Low-High-Close wave in the Average
Pitch.
Over the short term, the relative simplicity of both stasis and linearity is appropriate for
endings. That explains why we see peaks in the Extreme VHF at or near the ends of sections.
Lower values of the indicator are more appropriate for development. For this reason, low values
are most frequent in the B section and the first half of A.
For comparison with the Average Pitch, the Extreme VHF should be inverted. To
distinguish the original form of the indicator from the inverted form, we may enclose the name in
parentheses as (Extreme VHF) or give it a meaningful name such as, Central VHF.

The

long wave of the normalized Extreme VHF (after inversion) leads the long wave of the normalized
Average Pitch.
The normalized, unsmoothed Extreme VHF (Fig. D5a), before inversion, is positively
correlated with the normalized, unsmoothed Pitch (R = 0.214).

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Fig. D5b. Syrinx: Normalized Central VHF (inverted Extreme VHF) vs. normalized Average Pitch, smoothed.

Fig. D5c. Syrinx: Divergence of smoothed, normalized Central VHF from smoothed, normalized Average Pitch.

The Central VHF is a leading indicator for the Pitch (Fig. D5b). The divergence between
the Central VHF and the Pitch peaks inside the B section (Fig. D5c).

Duration-Rising
We are interested in the amount of time that is taken to move from one pitch level to
another. The next indicator, the Duration-Rising, returns the cumulative amount of time spent in
rising intervals minus the cumulative time spent in falling intervals (Fig. D6). This indicator
differs from a simple count of the relative proportions of rising and falling intervals, because it
compensates for passing notes: for example, it treats a descent through four sixteenth-notes the
same as a descent through one quarter-note.
For example, the first note of Syrinx is a dotted quarter-note, which is counted as having a
duration of 0.750, that is, three-fourths of a beat. The first interval of Syrinx moves downward,

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from B-flat to A. Since it takes three-fourths of a beat to move from B-flat to A, the first entry in
the calculation of the Duration-Rising is minus one times three-fourths, or -0.750. The next
interval takes one thirty-second note to ascend from A to B-natural. A thirty-second note is oneeighth of a beat, so 0.125 is added back into the Duration-Rising score, giving an accumulated
value of -0.625. This procedure is continued throughout the entire composition. The value that is
reported is the accumulated Duration-Rising score for the last note in each measure. It is possible
for trends in the Duration-Rising to diverge from the pitch contour.
Before detrending, there is a strong tendency for Syrinx to spend more time in falling
intervals and less time in rising intervals, a characteristic that is associated with the cantabile
melodic style. True, the Duration-Rising indicator is concerned with the amount of time spent in
rising and falling intervals, rather than a simple count of rising and falling intervals. Nevertheless,
what we find in Syrinx is broadly consistent with the observation (discussed earlier) that folk
melodies from all around the world which we may take as representative of the traditional
cantabile style in general typically have more falling intervals than rising intervals.

Fig. D6a. Syrinx: Duration-Rising.

The normalized, unsmoothed Duration-Rising (Fig. D6a) is strongly correlated with the
normalized, unsmoothed Pitch (R = 0.648). One would like to see future research investigating
the possibility that the Duration-Rising may accentuate the difference in arousal potential between
high and low pitch levels.
The falling trend of the Duration-Rising curve for Syrinx is so pronounced that it is
difficult to evaluate the embedded long wave until the data is normalized and smoothed (Fig.
D6b). After detrending, we can see that the contour of the Duration-Rising curve is similar to the

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contour of the Average Pitch. The long wave of the Duration-Rising is very weak. The DurationRising, therefore, is best interpreted as a regional property of the melody, rather than a global
property.

Fig. D6b. Syrinx: Normalized Duration-Rising vs. normalized Average Pitch, smoothed.

Fig. D6c. Syrinx: Divergence of smoothed, normalized Duration-Rising from smoothed, normalized Average Pitch.

The long wave of the divergence between the Duration-Rising and the Pitch (Fig. D6c)
peaks in the A section, a manifestation of the less than perfect correlation between the two
indicators. The long wave of the divergence makes an Open-High-Low-Close form, counter to the
long waves of the indicators themselves.
This completes the discussion of the indicators concerned with pitch contours. We now
turn to indicators concerned with temporal relationships.

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Rate of Attack
The Rate of Attack (Fig. D7a), presumably an arousing property, is the number of notes
initiated per beat in a measure.

Fig. D7a. Syrinx: Rate of Attack.

The Rate of Attack has a long-term descending trend, like that of the Average Pitch. In
spite of this fact, the normalized, unsmoothed Rate of Attack (Fig. D7a) is negatively correlated
with the normalized, unsmoothed Pitch (R = -0.278).

Fig. D7b. Syrinx: Normalized Rate of Attack vs. normalized Average Pitch, smoothed.

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Fig. D7c. Syrinx: Divergence of smoothed, normalized Rate of Attack from smoothed, normalized Average Pitch.

The discrepancy is partly accounted for by the fact that the long wave of the normalized
Rate of Attack leads the long wave of the normalized Average Pitch (Fig. D7b). The divergence
(Fig. D7c) peaks near the beginning of Section B.

Metric Hierarchy
The remaining indicators are more complex than the preceding, beginning with the
Metric Hierarchy, an indication of the strength with which the metric structure is presented.
Because of space limitations, the following discussion is rather terse. It is provided for the benefit
of those who might wish to replicate this study. Readers who are looking for a broad overview of
the analysis might want to skim through this section.
Toussaint (2013, pp. 67-72) calls special attention to the metric theories of LerdahlJackendoff (1983, 1996) and Keith (1991). My treatment of the metric hierarchy which is based
on the traditional Western conception of meter, according to which certain beats are given more
weight than others, according to their position in a hierarchy begins with assumptions similar to
those of Lerdahl and Jackendoff.
Keiths analysis of the combinatorics of meter and rhythm (pp. 121-139) is full of
valuable information. Nevertheless, I would take issue with Keiths theory of syncopation (pp.
133-135). One example will suffice to make the point. Keith classifies the rhythm of a dotted
quarter-note followed by an eighth-note (where the dotted quarter-note falls on a strong beat) as a
type of weak syncopation that he calls a hesitation. I would argue, to the contrary, that unless
the eighth-note is given more stress than the dotted quarter-note this is an example of a strongly
metric rhythm, not a syncopation.

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In this study, departures from perfect regularity will be distinguished as falling into two
broad classifications: rhythms that confirm the metric hierarchy, and rhythms that counter the
metric hierarchy. My understanding is that a syncopation, according to the traditional view, is a
rhythm where at least one note is more strongly accentuated than would be warranted by its
position in the normative metric hierarchy. There are several ways that a note can be accentuated.
For example, it can be played with a louder attack than other notes or doubled by supporting
instruments or voices. For present purposes, I will be exclusively concerned with another kind of
accentuation: the agogic accent, in which a note is longer in duration than other notes in its
immediate context. By duration, I will mean the length of time between attacks; so a half-note
will be counted as having the same duration as a quarter-note followed by a quarter-note rest. To
be sure, from the standpoint of performance practice, the former case that is, a fully sustained
half note can be considered to be somewhat more accentuated than the latter a quarter-note
followed by a quarter-note rest. (The following statement is now obsolete. Treatment of rests has
been added to the system since this statement was written.) It is impossible to say how much
weight should be given to that factor, however, and the two rhythms can be interpreted as
structurally equivalent; so, I will count them as the same.
The question, then, is the degree to which the distribution of the durations of the notes in
a rhythm is consistent with their levels in the metric hierarchy. For our multidimensional studies,
furthermore, it is important to be able to understand the relationship between duration and position
in the metric hierarchy independently from the Rate of Attack. If we were to simply assign scores
to the notes based on their positions in the metric hierarchy and, then, add up the scores, the
evaluation of a rhythm would be strongly affected by whether the rhythm contains few or many
notes. To correct for this, we will make duration as important as position in the measure. We will
look at the relative amount of time that is given to notes at different hierarchic levels.

Ex. D2. Examples of Metric Hierarchy Scores. Metrically accentuated four-four: a.


1.300; b. 1.179. Evenly divided four-four: c. 1.000; d. 1.000; e. 1.000. Syncopated fourfour: f. 0.964; g. 0.875; h. 0.700. First beat missing in four-four: i. 0.250. Metrically
accentuated three-four: j. 1.111. Evenly divided three-four: k. 1.000; l. 1.000.
Syncopated three-four: m. 0.800. First beat missing in three-four: n. 0.250.

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The Metric Hierarchy indicator that is proposed here distinguishes evenly divided
rhythms from both metrically accentuated and syncopated rhythms (Ex. D2). Evenly divided
rhythms receive a score of 1.000, regardless of how many notes are attacked in a measure. (A
single note is considered to be equivalent to repeated notes of equal length.)

Metrically

accentuated rhythms receive a score greater than 1.000. Syncopations receive a score less than
1.000.
The hierarchy of beats and subdivisions of beats in a duple (or quadruple) measure is, of
course, straightforward: each measure divides into two parts, which are each subdivided into two
parts, and so forth. Depending on where a note falls in a measure, we can assign it a Depth score.
For example, in four-four, we can assign the first beat a Depth of zero. The next division of the
hierarchy occurs at the third beat, which we can assign a Depth of one. Subdividing the hierarchy
again, divisions occur at beats two and three, which we can assign a Depth of two. Half beats not
otherwise accounted for can be assigned a Depth of three. In theory, this pattern can be extended
indefinitely; but, we run into practical limitations because of the complexity of the rhythms found
in Syrinx. Two-four is exactly analogous to four-four. Three-four raises a question, which we will
return to in a moment.
To discover the Depth scores programmatically, we construct what could be described as
a hierarchically layered sieve. We test the location of a note to see whether or not it falls on a
boundary of the sieve, starting with the most open layer of the sieve, and progressively testing the
location against smaller and smaller divisions of the sieve. The more layers that the location
passes through before it is caught, the higher the Depth score that the note receives.
(The following discussion of three-four is now obsolete. In the latest version of this
system, secondary accents are only considered for meters that divide evenly into two parts.)
Three-four is not as symmetrical as four-four and two-four, because the measure does not divide
evenly into two parts. In a three-four measure, the rhythm of a half-note followed by a quarternote is normal, but the opposite pattern would be considered a syncopation. For computational
purposes, therefore, it is convenient to treat the third beat of a three-four measure as being just as
normal as the third beat of a four-four measure.
Putting this all together, it follows that the parser in our metric analysis program can treat
a measure of two-four as an incomplete measure of four-four; and it can also treat a measure of
three-four as an incomplete measure of four-four. This conclusion is surprising. It will be

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interesting to see if it holds up under future testing. As we shall see, the algorithm appears to give
reasonable results when applied to the data from Syrinx.
Syrinx is primarily in three-four, but it has two measures of two-four. In Syrinx, the beats
can be divided into either two or three parts. The half-beats can be divided into either two, three
or four parts; and there are also a number of grace-notes. In the next to last measure, five notes
occur in the time of two quarter-note beats. It would be very difficult to account for all of these
variations programmatically, so the hierarchy of the sieve will have a limited number of levels:
shallowest (at the beginning of a measure), shallow (at two beats into the measure), deep (at either
one or three beats into the measure), deeper (on the half-beats), and deepest (subdivisions of halfbeats).
From the Depth, we calculate a Level score, which is equal to one-half raised to the
power of the Depth. A Depth of zero corresponds to a Level of one, because any number raised to
the power of zero is equal to one. A Depth of one corresponds to a Level of one-half, because any
number raised to the power of one is equal to itself. A Depth of two corresponds to a Level of
one-fourth; a Depth of three corresponds to the Level of one-eighth, and so on. As the Depth
increases, the Level decreases.
We also calculate a Weight, which is the relative duration of the note times its Level.
The relative duration should not be confused with the location of the note in the measure, called
the Time-In-Measure. Whereas the Time-In-Measure is a point in time given in beats past time
zero, the relative duration is a length given as a fraction of the total length of the measure (strictly
speaking, the total length of the notes attacked during the measure). In three-four meter, for
example, the location in time of the three beats is 0.000, 1.000, and 2.000, respectively. However,
the relative duration of notes held for one, two or three beats is 0.333, 0.667 or 1.000, respectively.
Important differences are revealed when we compare a weighted average of the Levels
against an unweighted average of the Levels. An unweighted average of the Levels of the
individual notes in the measure will be called the Aggregate Level. A weighted average of the
Levels will be called the Aggregate Weight. The Aggregate Weight is calculated as the sum of the
individual Weights, because the multiplier for the individual Weights is a relative duration, not an
absolute duration.
When all of the notes in a measure are the same length, the Aggregate Weight is equal to
the unweighted Aggregate Level. When the notes are different lengths, the weighted average will
count more heavily than the hierarchic levels where long notes occur. A comparison of the two

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aggregates will give us information about the relative importance of the hierarchic levels in a
meter.
With one exception that we will address in a moment, the Metric Hierarchy score is the
ratio of the Aggregate Weight divided by the Aggregate Level. In these cases, a value of 1.000
will occur when all of the notes in a measure are the same duration. A value greater than 1.000
will occur when the rhythm is metrically stressed. A value less than 1.000 will occur when the
rhythm is syncopated.
The rule, as described so far, is not complete, because it assumes that a note is attacked
on the first beat of a measure. This is usually true in Syrinx, but there are eleven exceptions (all
but two of which occur in the second half of the piece). Such cases require us to scale the Metric
Hierarchy score. As long as there is an attack on the first beat of a measure, the highest hierarchic
level in the measure is 1.000. If there is not an attack on the first beat, the highest hierarchic level
will be less than 1.000. To adjust for this case, we will multiply the ratio between the Aggregate
Weight and the Aggregate Level by the highest hierarchic level found in the measure.

This

reduces the score substantially, implying that the rhythms are highly syncopated.
For example, suppose that the rhythm consists of two half-notes in common time. Each
will have a relative duration of 0.500. The first note will have a location of 0.000 and a Depth of
zero. Its Level is 1.000, because as was mentioned previously any number raised to the power
of zero is equal to one. The second note will have a location of 0.500 and a Depth of one.
Therefore, its Level is 0.500, because any number raised to the power of one is equal to itself. The
average of these levels is 0.750. The Weight assigned to the first note is the relative duration of
0.500 times the Level of 1.000, which is 0.500. The Weight assigned to the second note is the
relative duration of 0.500 times the Level of 0.500, which is 0.250. The sum of these weights
gives a weighted average of 0.750, which is equal to the average Level. Therefore, the ratio of the
Aggregate Weight divided by the Aggregate Level is 1.000.
By similar calculations, it can be shown that four quarters in common time have an
Aggregate Level and an Aggregate Weight of 0.500; so, the ratio of the two is also 1.000.
A typical metrically accented rhythm would be a half-note followed by two quarter-notes.
In this case, the Aggregate Level is 0.583; and the Aggregate Weight is a larger number, 0.6875.
The ratio between the two is 1.179, which is greater than one.
A typical syncopation would be a quarter-note followed by a half-note followed by a
quarter-note. Here, the Aggregate Level is 0.500; and the Aggregate Weight is a smaller number,
0.438. The ratio between the two is 0.875, which is less than one.

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A typical end-accented rhythm (which implies the perceptual closure one might find at a
cadence) would be two quarter-notes followed by a half-note. The weight-to-level ratio of this
rhythm is 0.964, which is less than the ratio for an even rhythm, but greater than the score for the
last-mentioned syncopation of a quarter-note followed by a half-note followed by a quarter-note.
The rhythm of two quarter-notes followed by a half-note is actually a kind of syncopation, but it
fits the metric hierarchy better than the previously mentioned syncopation.
Similarly, a dotted half-note followed by a quarter-note gets a score of 1.300; and one
quarter-note followed by a dotted half-note gets a score of 0.700.
In three-four, a dotted half-note gets a score of 1.000, and so do three quarter-notes,
because each of these is an even rhythm. A half-note followed by a quarter-note gets a score of
1.111; and the reverse, a quarter-note followed by a half-note, gets a score of 0.800.
If there is a rest on the first beat of either four-four or three-four and the rest of the meter
is filled out by one note, the highest hierarchic level is 0.250 and the score is also 0.250.
The score for a dotted half-note followed by a quarter-note (1.300) is exactly balanced by
the score for a quarter-note followed by a dotted half-note (0.700). Each is equidistant from the
neutral score of 1.000. This is exceptional, however. The Metric Hierarchy scores are not always
so symmetrical (and it is an open question whether or not the scores should be symmetrical). In
both four-four and three-four meters, one can find examples of complementary rhythms that do
not receive reciprocal scores. In four-four, the score for a half-note followed by two quarter-notes
(1.179) is farther from 1.000 than the score for two quarter-notes followed by a half-note (0.964).
In three-four, the score for a half-note followed by a quarter-note (1.111) is closer to 1.000 than
the score for a quarter-note followed by a half-note (0.800). The scores, then, are useful as a
rough guide to the metric structure of a rhythm.
Although any deviation from the neutral value is probably stimulating, metrically
accentuated rhythms (those getting scores above 1.00), will tend to imply a greater sense of
continuity than syncopated rhythms. An accentuated rhythm (Ex. D2: a, b, i) will generally end
with shorter notes that lead into the next measure, whereas a syncopated rhythm (Ex, D2: f, h, l)
may end with a long note that suggests a braking action, or closure.
On the other hand, there are grey areas in the evaluations of rhythms and their
implications, such as the quarter-note followed by a half-note followed by a quarter-note (Ex. D2:
g), where a braking action is followed by an accelerating action. In this case, there is an interior
rhythmic progression that is not well represented by an aggregate calculated over the whole
measure. One needs to take some care in interpreting the Metric Hierarchy indicator.

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The pattern of Metric Hierarchy scores in Syrinx is the familiar descending trend with an
Open-Low-High-Close long wave (Fig. D8a). Before detrending, the majority of the scores are
greater than the neutral value of 1.00. The rhythms, on average, are more consistently metric in
the A section of the piece, least metric at the beginning of the B section, and variable on the low
side thereafter. This suggests a broad tendency to move from high implicative momentum to low
implicative momentum, similar to what was observed with the Volatility.

Fig. D8a. Syrinx: Metric Hierarchy.

The normalized, unsmoothed Metric Hierarchy (Fig. D8a) is negatively correlated with
the normalized, unsmoothed Pitch (R = -0.101).

Fig. D8b. Syrinx: Normalized Metric Hierarchy vs. normalized Average Pitch, smoothed.

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Fig. D8c. Syrinx: Divergence of smoothed, normalized Metric Hierarchy from smoothed, normalized Average Pitch.

The long wave of the normalized Metric Hierarchy is almost coincident with the long
wave of the normalized Average Pitch, leading slightly (Fig. D8b).

The long wave of the

divergence peaks in the A section and troughs near the beginning of the A section (Fig. D8c).
Now we move from rhythmic indicators to indicators concerned with the distribution of
pitch classes.

Pitch-Class Concentration
The Pitch-Class Concentration is an indication of relative diatonicism. It is a spatial
interpretation of the Herfindahl Index, which is used by social scientists to evaluate social
inequality. The Pitch-Class Concentration is calculated as follows:
The pitch-classes found in a measure are arranged around the circle of fifths. Each pitchclass is only counted once per measure. We count the number of fifths between pitch-classes that
are adjacent to each other in the circle, going all the way around the circle to return to the place
where we started counting. For example, if the two pitch-classes occurring in a measure were Dflat and G-flat, there would be two intervals between them in the circle of fifths. One of the
intervals would be equal to one perfect fifth, and the other interval would be equal to eleven
perfect fifths. In other words, the intervals between D-flat and G-flat would be 1/12 and 11/12 of
the whole circle, respectively. To calculate the Concentration indicator, we square each of those
fractions and add them together. The indicator, in this case, is equal to 0.0069 + 0.8403, or
0.8472.
The highest value of the indicator is obtained for a single pitch, which has a concentration
score of 1.000. The lowest possible value of the indicator is obtained when the pitch-class set

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consists of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. In this case, the indicator is equal to 12 times
the square of 1/12. Two twelves cancel out, so the minimum value is equal to 1/12, or 0.0833.
The indicator is considered a measure of concentration, because it gives higher scores when the
pitch-class sets are crowded together in the circle of fifths and lower scores when they are
dispersed far apart in the circle of fifths.
Since the seven notes of a major scale are all adjacent to one another in the circle of
fifths, the Pitch-Class Concentration gives a rough approximation of the degree of diatonicism
found in a pitch class set. Low values of the Pitch-Class Concentration tend to be associated with
relatively chromatic passages.
For Syrinx, the Pitch-Class Concentration (Fig. D9a) tends to be largest near the ends of
the first, third, and fourth sections: A, B, and A. Maximum values of the concentration occur
where sustained single notes appear. The long-term trend is up, because of the distribution of
cadences, which come closer together in the second half of the piece. Since this is a trend away
from tension toward relaxation, it does not contradict the most common trend of the indicators
from an affective standpoint. The long wave of the indicator does not fit its peaks very well,
however. What we have here might be best described as a series of isolated pulses rather than a
trend plus a wave. In other words, it is more like a rhythm than a melody.

Fig. D9a. Syrinx: Pitch-Class Concentration.

The normalized, unsmoothed Pitch-Class Concentration (Fig. D9a), before inversion, is


positively correlated with the normalized, unsmoothed Pitch (R = 0.390).

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Fig. D9b. Syrinx: Normalized Pitch-Class Dispersion (inverted Pitch-Class


Concentration) vs. normalized Average Pitch, smoothed.

Fig. D9c. Syrinx: Divergence of smoothed, normalized Pitch-Class Dispersion from smoothed, normalized Average Pitch.

We should invert the Pitch-Class Concentration before comparing it with the Average
Pitch, in order to match their long-term trends. To designate the inverted indicator, it will be
called the Pitch-Class Dispersion. After inversion, the long wave of the normalized Pitch-Class
Concentration leads that of the normalized Average Pitch (Fig. D9b). The divergence (Fig. D9c)
peaks near the beginning of the B section.
Pitch-Class Dominance
For an extended discussion of Debussys tonality in general, see DeVoto (2004). The
tonality found in Syrinx can be thought of as a condensation of tendencies found in other works by

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Debussy: the importance of absolute pitch, the ambiguous modality, the avoidance of traditional
cadences, and the assertion of tonal centers by emphasis rather than functional harmony.
Debussys selection of pitch classes in Syrinx is different for relatively accented notes
than it is for relatively unaccented notes. Since accentuation is distributed over several hierarchic
levels, the concept of relative accentuation requires definition. The accented or unaccented status
of the first note is determined manually. If a note is at a lower level in the metric hierarchy than
the preceding note, it is deemed to be unaccented, and vice versa. If two notes in succession are at
the same hierarchic level, the second note takes on the accented or unaccented status of its
predecessor.
As can be seen in the star chart that shows the frequency distribution of accented and
unaccented notes, pitch-classes are not by any means equally distributed in Syrinx (Fig. D10). The
most common accented pitch classes in Syrinx lie adjacent to one another in the circle of fifths,
ranging from G-flat through D-flat, A-flat and E-flat to B-flat. The latter, B-flat, is the most
numerous of all the accented pitch classes.

Fig. D10. Syrinx: Frequency of accented and unaccented pitch classes in the circle of fifths.

Syrinx contains allusions to the tonal framework of G-flat major (and E-flat Phrygian in
measures 5-8); but its organizing principles are remote from traditional major-minor triadic
tonality, being more rhythmic than harmonic in conception.

Unaccented pitch classes are

generally more common than accented pitch classes. Two of the more common unaccented pitch
classes (and not the least common of the accented pitch classes) are D-flat and G-flat. The former,
D-flat, is the final pitch class of the entire composition (corresponding to what would be the tonic
in a traditional tonality); and the latter, G-flat, would be the subdominant in a traditional tonality

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of D-flat major. The most common of the remaining unaccented pitch classes are members of the
whole-tone scale ranging through the white-note section of the circle of fifths between B and F.
Except for D-flat and G-flat, there is a tendency for accented pitch classes to be black
notes and unaccented pitch classes to be white notes. The metric hierarchy is used to partition the
circle of fifths into rival, though somewhat overlapping, regimes. This appears to be a highly
distinctive conception of tonality, but more research is needed to place it into historical
perspective.
Pitch-Class Dominance (Fig. D11a) is calculated by taking a duration-weighted average
of the probabilities that the pitch classes found in a measure will be accented or unaccented in the
composition as a whole.

Fig. D11a. Syrinx: Pitch-Class Dominance.

This is another of the charts in which the long-term trend is down and the long wave is an
Open-Low-High-Close form. Before detrending, the lowest values of the indicator are found
toward the end of the piece.
The normalized, unsmoothed Pitch-Class Dominance is positively correlated with the
normalized, unsmoothed Pitch (R = 0.438).

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Fig. D11b. Syrinx: Normalized Pitch-Class Dominance vs. normalized Average Pitch, smoothed.

Fig. D11c. Syrinx: Divergence of smoothed, normalized Pitch-Class


Dominance from smoothed, normalized Average Pitch.

The long wave of the normalized Pitch-Class Dominance leads that of the normalized
Average Pitch (Fig. D11b). The long wave of the divergence (Fig. D11c) peaks in the B section.

Intercorrelation analysis
Next, we will examine the intercorrelations between the nine normalized indicators (that
is, the detrended standard scores).

The Volatility, Extreme VHF, and the Pitch-Class

Concentration are inverted, just as they were in our analysis of phase-shifting and divergence.
Every measure is compared with every other measure. The correlations are arranged in a
square array (or matrix). Table D1 shows a heat map based on the correlations, smoothed to make
the broad patterns easier to understand. The array is symmetrical, because the first row is the

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same as the first column, the second row is the same as the second column, and so forth. I will
call the diagonal that goes from the extreme upper left of the array to the extreme lower right the
main diagonal. In diagonals that move upward from left to right, the values below the main
diagonal are mirrored by the values above the main diagonal.
The smoothing is done as follows: Since the correlations along the main diagonal of the
measure-by-measure correlation table are all equal by definition to 1.00, they do not contain any
meaningful information, so we first remove all of these cells.

The measure-by-measure

correlations are then smoothed by taking a centered 3 x 3 measure moving average the smallest
block that produces a centered moving average. Low numbers are formatted with a darker gray
color than high numbers.

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29
30
31
32
33
34
35

Table D1. Syrinx: Smoothed intercorrelation heat map of detrended indicators. High values are
represented as brighter than low values.

It is visually apparent that the correlations move in waves. A close examination of these
waves will refine our understanding of how the musical form divides into sections. To understand
the basic structure of the waves, we will first examine the averages of the correlations found along
each row (or column) of the smoothed intercorrelation table. We shall find that predominately
dark rows or columns in the heat map represent textures that tend toward the cadential, and
brighter rows or columns represent more developmental textures.
The distribution of the row averages is somewhat skewed (Fig. D12). Similarity is more
common than dissimilarity.

87

Fig. D12. Syrinx: Frequency distribution of the averages by row in the smoothed table of
intercorrelations between detrended standard scores.

The row averages provide us an indication of the Typicality of each three-measure


segment of Syrinx. When the row average is high, that tells us that the row is highly correlated
with all of the other rows and is therefore typical of the composition as a whole. A low average
tells us the opposite. As would be expected, the most typical ideas in Syrinx are developmental in
character; and the most atypical ideas are cadential.
Table D2 shows that there are strong positive correlations between the Typicality and the
Pitch-Class Dispersion, Central VHF, Pitch Range, and Rate of Attack. These indicators are all
concerned with different aspects of complexity and movement that is, tonal complexity,
complexity of melodic contour, pitch movement, and rhythmic activity, respectively. As such,
they are characteristic of developmental passages, but contrary to the formation of cadences.
On the other hand, the Typicality has especially strong negative correlations with the
Duration Rising and the Average Pitch (corresponding to positive correlations with Atypicality).
That is, with an important exception, the atypical, cadential passages tend, on balance, to be high
and rising. This is only true of the internal cadences, however. The internal cadences are best
understood as waiting passages rather than true closes (the concept of a half cadence does not
quite apply in the absence of tonal harmony). The end of the piece is quite different. The
Duration Rising and the Average Pitch are switches that help to distinguish the internal cadences
from the final cadence.

88

Indicator

Correlation

Duration Rising

-0.866

Average Pitch

-0.793

PC Dominance

-0.406

Interval Continuity

-0.137

Metric Hierarchy

0.062

Rate of Attack

0.485

Pitch Range

0.607

Central VHF

0.646

PC Dispersion

0.799

Table D2. Syrinx: Correlations of the normalized, smoothed indicators with


the row averages of the detrended, smoothed intercorrelations (Typicality).

It is revealing to compare the row averages with the Average Pitch. There is a strong
negative correlation (R = -0.793) between the row averages and a correspondingly smoothed
measure of the Average Pitch (centered three-measure moving average of the Duration-Weighted
Average Pitch). This is shown in Fig. D13. To make the association between the two indicators
more vivid, the averages of the rows are inverted (multiplied by minus one) to change the
correlation from negative to positive. The inverted curve is called Cadential, or Atypical. The
two curves are on opposite sides of the zero line at the beginning and the end; but they follow each
other rather closely, for the most part. At the end, they pull apart decisively Smoothed Pitch
ending below the midline, and Atypical ending above the midline.
The result is that the Cadential curve has three main peaks, and the Smoothed Pitch has
only two.

The three peaks in the Cadential curve correspond to the main cadences of the

composition at the ends of the A, B, and A sections (apart from the little cadence that rounds off
the opening theme in measure three and the lesser peak in the Cadential curve near the end of the
A section). The relative prominence of the three main peaks tends to support the interpretation
that the A section is transitional. (Similar observations can be made about the occurrence of
troughs in the Cadential curve.) In effect, furthermore, a switch is thrown at the end that changes
the meaning of the three main cadences: there are two cadences at high levels of pitch, thereby
marked as internal cadences; but a low level of pitch marks the last cadence as final.

89

Fig. D13. Syrinx: Smoothed Pitch and the inverted averages of the rows in the smoothed
intercorrelation table low scores on the latter tending toward the typical and the developmental,
high scores tending toward the atypical and the cadential.

One might expect the opening theme to be highly typical of the piece as a whole,
especially since the theme provides a motivic basis for the rest of the ideas in the
composition (motivic analysis is a subject for another study). From a textural standpoint,
however, the first measures of the piece lie quite near the midpoint of the Typical /
Atypical spectrum. In other words, from a textural standpoint, the opening theme should
be thought of as central rather than typical.
In the body of the piece, descending pitch is associated with increasingly
developmental (non-cadential) textures, and vice versa. This pattern ceases at the end,
where low pitch is associated with more atypical, cadential textures. In order to set aside
the low register of the flute for the final cadence, Debussy has chosen to make the
previous excursion into the low register (in the A and B sections) as developmental (noncadential) as possible.
The indicator most clearly associated with the distinction between cadential and
developmental material is the Pitch Class Dispersion. Three measure moving averages of the
Weighted Average Pitch and the Pitch Class Dispersion are shown in Fig. D9b. Since these two
indicators are negatively correlated, the two curves are usually on opposite sides of the zero line;
but they are both above the zero line at the beginning, and both below the zero line at the end.
Another way to look at the same relationship is to plot the Smoothed Pitch-Class
Dispersion against the Smoothed Pitch in an XY chart (Fig. D14). Here, one can see by inspection
that the timeline explores all four quadrants of the space. It begins in the upper-right quadrant,

90

then explores the two adjacent quadrants, and in a large, sweeping gesture revisits all four
quadrants until it comes to rest in the quadrant opposite the beginning.

Fig. D14. Syrinx: Smoothed PC Dispersion vs. Smoothed Pitch. The start is
marked with an O; the end with an X.

Ex. D3. Syrinx: a. beginning, mm. 1-3; b. ending, mm 31-35.

91

Fig. D15. Syrinx: The beginning versus the ending.

Except for the Duration-Rising, the smoothed indicators are all lower at the end than at
the beginning (see Fig. D15).

The most typical segments, distinguished by texture as developmental


As indicated earlier, if we identify the most typical segments as those having the highest
average intercorrelations between measures, we find that these segments could best be described
as developmental material, neither introductory nor cadential low in pitch, tending toward falling
motions, wide-ranging, having complex contours (neither linear nor static), active, and
chromatically dispersed, but tending to use more recessive pitch-classes (see Ex. D4, Fig. D16a,
Fig. D16b).

The most typical segments occur at mm. 3-5 (the second phrase of A); 16-18

(starting at the low point at the beginning of B); and 29-31 (starting at the time signature of 2/4 in
the close of A).

92

Ex. D4. Syrinx:Tpical textures: a. mm. 3-5; b. mm 16-18; mm. 29-31.

Fig. D16a. Syrinx: Typical textures.

93

Fig. D16b. Syrinx: Path from the beginning to the end through the most
typical textures (omitting uncorrelated indicators).

The paths from the beginning to the end through the most typical textures show a number
of crossings at the beginning, but more dramatic crossings at the end, wider and more consistent
than those at the beginning (see Fig. D16b).

The Pitch, Duration-Rising, and Pitch-Class

Dominance which are all lower than the Range, Central VHF, Rate of Attack, and Pitch-Class
Dispersion in the most typical passages switch to the opposite side at the end. I have omitted the
Interval Continuity and Metric Hierarchy from the chart, because they are essentially uncorrelated
with the Typicality.

The most atypical segments, distinguished by texture as cadential


The two most atypical segments, having the lowest average intercorrelations between
measures, are both associated with major internal cadences (see Ex. D5, Fig. D17a, Fig. D17b).
They are found in measures 6-8 (the last three measures of A) and measures 23-25 (the last three
measures of B).
Except for the indicators that are not correlated with Typicality at all, and also excepting
the Pitch-Class Dominance, which is not consistent in this context, the relative weights found for
the indicators in the most atypical segments are the opposite of those found in the most typical
segments. Pitch level in the major internal cadences is high and rising. These cadences use
relatively small intervals and a selection of pitch-classes rather closely associated in the circle of
fifths. They avoid fast notes and the middle range of scores on the VHF.

94

Ex. D5. Syrinx: Atypical textures: a. mm. 6-8; b. mm 23-25.

Fig. D17a. Syrinx: Atypical textures.

Fig. D17b. Syrinx: Path from the beginning to the end through the most
atypical textures (omitting uncorrelated indicators).

Except for the Pitch and Duration-Rising, which describe arches, the paths from the
beginning to the end through the most atypical textures all describe Open-Low-High-Close forms
(see Fig. D17b). After the beginning, the Pitch, Duration-Rising, and Pitch-Class Dominance are
always higher than the Range, Central VHF, Rate of Attack, and Pitch-Class Dispersion in this

95

selection of segments. The high-valued indicators do fall precipitously at the end, however. This
reduces the divergence between the indicators.

3.0

2.0

1.0

0.0

-1.0

-2.0

-3.0
0

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

Divergence of PC Dispersion from Duration-Rising

Fig. D18. Syrinx: Divergence of normalized, smoothed PC Dispersion


relative to normalized, smoothed Duration-Rising.

Since the normalized, smoothed Pitch-Class Dispersion is higher than the corresponding
Duration-Rising in the most typical (developmental) passages, and vice versa for the most atypical
(cadential) passages, we can get an estimate of the relative balance between developmental and
cadential tendencies throughout the composition by subtracting the latter from the former (Fig.
D18). The trend channel is ascending: it makes higher highs and higher lows. Low points mark
cadences; high values are more developmental. Differences in function seem to account for much
of the regional variation in the textures.
There is a striking reciprocal relationship between the characteristics of the textures that
are used in the major internal cadences (the atypical segments) and those that are used in the
developmental material (the typical segments). Although Syrinx is written in an improvisatory,
almost atonal style, which we think of in retrospect as being advanced, the concept of form is
analogous to that of traditional tonality. The fact that the form is divided into three parts is
confirmed by an alternation between extremes of typicality and atypicality, associated with
development and closure, respectively.
The division of the form based on closure does not exactly correspond to the division of
the form based on thematic material and the pitch contour, however. The first point of high
closure (low developmental) occurs at the end of the A section, not the A section. This fact

96

underlines the transitional nature of the A section. From a functional point of view, one could
conceivably make an argument that the A section is part of the B section that follows.
In any case, the transitional nature of the A section makes a striking contrast with the
closing material. In terms of classical rhetoric, the A section and its reprise though separated by
intervening ideas make a type of anaphora, that is, a pairing of statements that repeat their
beginning clauses. The contrast of the endings makes a delayed antithesis comparison (normally
a juxtaposition) of contrasting ideas in parallel structures. Whereas the first statement of A leads
to a transition, the reprise of A leads to a coda.

ere is the text that Ewell has matched to the last five measures of Syrinx:

O Pan, je n'ai plus peur de toi, je t'appartiens!

O Pan, I no longer fear you, I am yours.

Taken as a simple declarative statement, this text would appear to be unambiguously


positive except for the fact that the text speaks of fear and acquiescence together in the same
sentence. It is reasonable to doubt that, under the circumstances, the Naiads state of mind would
have been as straightforward as a literal reading of the text would imply. The complete mental
image evoked by the text is psychologically ambivalent, as is the accompanying music.
To understand how Syrinx ends, we have to engage Debussy as a colorist. Color in
Syrinx depends on a complex interaction between subjective attributes of form, tonality, intervallic
relationships, rhythm, and timbre.

The change of consciousness at the end of Syrinx is

attributable in part to a breaking up of the melodic continuity (see Ex. D3b, D5). As demonstrated
by Mahlert (1986), the last three phrases (mm. 31-35) consist of transformations each more
expansive than the one before of the cadential motive in measure two, which is developed
throughout the piece, most extensively in section B. The last phrase, furthermore, contains
internal contradictions it bridges two notes that lie a dissonant, augmented sixth apart and fall
into contrasting regions of the flutes timbre. Also very important in this same passage, as
described by Baron (1982), pitches initially heard in the main theme as unaccented embellishing
tones are elevated to prominence, with the result that a previously subordinate form of the wholetone scale comes to the fore. The combined effect of these devices is a weakening of perceptual
closure at the very moment when the larger form calls for a conclusive ending, contributing to a
mysterious, seemingly revelatory sense that what is constrained becomes released.

97

Ex. D5. Syrinx: Contour transformations, according to Mahlert.

The long B-natural in the antepenultimate bar is the most meaningful climax in Syrinx.
This is the crux of the deviation from expectation that is the major objective of the form. A
recessive pitch, normally unaccented and subordinated to B-flat, the B-natural is not only
approached by an isolated, volatile leap, but it is also sustained for more than three beats. This
tone stands apart from its immediate surroundings in a brighter region of tonality and timbre, the
non-tonal equivalent of a Picardy Third, raised a half step above the frequently repeated B-flats.
The B-natural is loosely tethered by a non-diatonic, un-resolving whole-tone scale to the
final, low D-flat. A significant clue to our understanding of the final tone is that this pitch is not
only notated as a flat (rather than the equivalent C-sharp), but produced by a process of flatting the
diatonic scale, and situated in the huskiest register of the flute.

98

The explicit and implicit symmetries of the form and developmental process invite us to
hear the ending as convincing, and even inevitable. This is a paradox, however. The ending
bridges the boundaries of a merismus, contrasting the bright region centered on B-natural with the
dark region centered on D-flat. The B-natural and D-flat imply two spheres of influence and two
loci of meaning. Without knowledge of the text, we are likely to interpret this meaning as
abstract, referring to the heights and depths of human experience in general. The text suggests a
more specific interpretation. One might speculate that the Naiads adoration of Pan despite her
overt declaration to the contrary has not completely overcome her fear, dread or intimations of
abandonment.

It is possible, therefore, to read a certain ambivalence into the music that

accompanies the last line of Moureys text. The ending of the composition juxtaposes bright and
dark colors in close proximity, suggesting by association with positive and negative affect that
the music can be interpreted as a nuanced, if not actually ironic, commentary on the text.

peaking about French music in general, but clearly talking about himself, Debussy wrote,
French music is marked by clarity, elegance and a simple and natural form of declamation;

French music desires, above all, to give pleasure . . . The French musical genius is a kind of
combination of fantasy and sensibility (Jarocinski, p. 103).

To understand Syrinx as an

accompaniment to a Symbolist play, however, Debussys general characterization must be put into
historical context.

Debussy was working in a complex, highly politicized cultural milieu,

described in great detail by Charle (2001). A vivid capsule summary of the spirit of the times is
found in Stphane Mallarms description of the sociological background of the Symbolist
movement, which is reminiscent of Tocqueville and Durkheim: In a society which lacks stability
and unity it is impossible to create an art which is stable and well-defined. It is this incomplete
social structure which not only creates an atmosphere of general intellectual unrest, but is also the
cause of this [otherwise] inexplicable craving for individuality which is reflected directly in the
literary manifestations of today (Jarocinski, p. 31; my editorial amendation). This was a time
when some composers associated with Csar Franck, Vincent dIndy and the Schola Cantorum
wrote what Hart (2001) calls message-symphonies. These composers thought of nineteenthcentury symphonies in terms of a progression from states of darkness to light or doubt to faith, the
meanings they associated with Beethovens Fifth and Francks symphony respectively.
Furthermore, they believed that symphonies could communicate frequently controversial
ideological or moral convictions, with the aid of a printed exegesis, a text set in the work, or the
quotation of familiar melodies. These symphonies were intentionally polemical works, invoking

99

thematic cycles and thematic transformation to depict the metamorphosis of the dark element into
light. Because of the contrast of light and dark found at the end of Syrinx, it is possible to draw a
certain parallel between the expressive purpose of Syrinx and that of the message-symphony,
although it could be debated whether or not Syrinx expresses a simple, uncompromising
ideological concept.
Debussy wrote to Mourey on November 17, 1913, a few days before the performance of
the play, that he had not yet found what was needed for the composition, and had made a number
of false starts. In this letter, Debussy wrote about his intentions concerning the expression in the
composition and the constraints under which he was working. The letter and its translation are
cited from Curinga.
17

Novembre

Mon
Jusqu

13

cher
ce

jour

je

nai

pas

Mourey,
encore

trouv

ce

quil

faut

Pour la raison, quun flute chantant sur lhorizon doit contenir tout de suite son emotion! Je veux
dire, quon a pas le temps de sy reprendre, plusiere fois, et que: tout artifice devient grossier, la
ligne du dessin mlodique ne pourrant compter sur aucune interruption de couleur, secourable.
Dites moi, je vous prie, Trs exactement, les vers aprs lesquels la musique intervient?
Aprs de nombreux essasis je crois quil faut sen tenir la seule flte de Pan, sans autre
accompagnement. Cest plus difficile, mais plus (logique crossed in the autograph) dans la nature.
Affectuesement
Claude Debussy
Dear Mourey, so far I have not found what is needed because a flute singing on the horizon must
at once contain its emotion! That is, there is no time for repetitions, and exaggerated artificialness
will coarsen the expression since the line or melodic pattern cannot rely on any interruption of color.
Please tell me, very precisely, after what lines the music starts. After several attempts I think that one
has to stick to the Pan flute alone without any accompaniment. This is more difficult but more
(logical /crossed out in the autograph) in the nature. Letter by Claude Debussy to Gabriel Mourey
of November, 17th 1913. The original autograph is kept in the Frederick R. Koch Collection,
Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

In other words, Syrinx was difficult to complete because the nature of the subject required
a single, unaccompanied, monochromatic melodic line without time for repetitions which must
contain all the emotion by itself, without resorting to gross artifice. I interpret this to mean that
Debussy understood that his task was to balance intensity of expression with refinement and
economy of means. The measure of Debussys success is that he was able to contain a variety of

100

textures and a high degree of chromaticism within the bounds of a thoroughly cantabile melodic
style, a subtle tonal language, and a many-faceted rhetorical symmetry.
What did Debussy mean by saying exaggerated artificialness will coarsen the
expression? Overly literal tone-painting of Moureys text might have seemed problematic to the
composer, especially in view of Debussys long-standing opposition to Wagnerism. Debussy
might have been tempted toward a more expressionistic interpretation of Syrinx, however, if he
had drawn his inspiration directly from Ovid, rather than Mourey.
In stark terms, Ted Hughes (1997, pp. vii-x) compared Ovids Metamorphoses with
Shakespeare in their common taste for a tortured subjectivity and catastrophic extremes of
passion that border on the grotesque. Hughes says that The act of metamorphosis, which at
some point touches each of the tales, operates as the symbolic guarantee that the passion has
become mythic, has achieved the unendurable intensity that lifts the whole episode onto the
supernatural or divine plane. in every case, to a greater or lesser degree, Ovid locates and
captures the peculiar frisson of that event, where the all-too-human victim stumbles out into the
mythic arena and is transformed.
The transformation of catastrophic extremes of passion into the divine plane, described
by Hughes, can be recognized as an intense expression of Hellenistic Dualism, a philosophy most
familiar to us in Platos Allegory of the Cave, whereby those who are not trained in philosophy do
not see the true forms of reality, but are like prisoners chained in a cave, having no view of the
outside world, who see only illusory images of reality, shadows of the true forms so to speak
cast upon the walls of the cave.

Dualistic sentiments were sometimes carved as funerary

inscriptions in the ancient Mediterranean world.

For example: Weep not, for what use is

weeping? Rather venerate me, for I am now a divine star which shows itself at sunset (see
http://clas-pages.uncc.edu/james-tabor/hellenistic-roman-religion-philosophy/dualism/).

In the

original myth about Pan and Syrinx, the water spirits transformation into reeds, a medium for
constructing musical pipes, is the story of a kind of death and rebirth, transporting the nymph from
the tragic world of human experience into an ideal realm, the realm of melody.
Pan, as depicted by Mourey, however, is not the outright rapist of Greek mythology.
Mourey picked up where the original myth left off, after the water spirits transformation to the
ideal was complete. For this reason, Moureys text does not evoke the same Aristotelian catharsis
of pity and fear as the original myth. The mind of the Naiad in Moureys text is transformed, but
by her own choice, not by magic. The transformation depicted by Mourey is secularized. It is not

101

for nothing that the Symbolists are sometimes characterized as decadent, because the pathological
core of the original myth is presented by Mourey as normal.
Moureys text requires a cooler, more detached, restrained, or sublimated affect than
Ovids. This was provided by Debussy. Although Syrinx can be understood as pure music, it is
not a completely abstract composition. Debussys handling of chromaticism in Syrinx is more
indirect than Wagners less strictly linear but Debussy never fully escaped the influence of
Tristan.

Technically speaking, the apparent sensuality of Syrinx is due to the fact that extreme

chromaticism, when heard in the context of a palpably vocal style, suggests a strong
intensification of ordinary human feelings, the specific reference of which must be inferred from
extra-musical cues.

The soft focus of Debussys tonality, furthermore, combines with the

impulsiveness of continuous motion by predominately small intervals to give an impression of


heightened instability. (Not all atonality is alike: the priorities in Syrinx are quite different from
those found in the wide-melody of Webern and his successors.) If Syrinx is more mysteriously
disturbing than overtly tragic, that may be due, in part, to the subtlety of its tonal structure, which
we have found to be a rhythmic rather than harmonic tonality, in which the chromatic scale is
partitioned in such a way that some pitch-classes are more likely to be accentuated than others.
As I have said before, there is no decisive Aristotelian catharsis of pity and fear in
Moureys text; and the music provided by Debussy makes the ending even more ambivalent. The
music, in my view, addresses an inner domain of unresolved psychological dysfunction, where the
manipulative Pan is unable to win a clear-cut victory for the Naiads soul. As a matter of editorial
policy, I generally avoid interpreting music in terms of self-expression by a composer, on the
grounds that such speculations are usually subject to highly contradictory evidence. Nevertheless,
the facts of Debussys life the composer was a notorious womanizer say nothing to contradict
the interpretation just given. Syrinx as much a product of bourgeois psychology as a reaction
against it domesticates the conflicts engendered by the remote gods of antiquity. The purpose of
the rhetoric in Syrinx, unlike that of a message-symphony, is not to prove a straightforward
ideological point, but to present a complex psychological situation in a convincing manner, as if to
say, This is the way things are. Debussys setting of Moureys text depicts, not a role-model
that we are bound to accept, but an insight into the human condition.

t first sight, one might think that there is a sharp dichotomy amounting to a contradiction
of purpose between the simple, schematic, ternary form of Syrinx and its improvisatory,

nearly atonal style. As we have seen, however, analysis of the flow of the textures shows that the

102

developmental process follows an implicit symmetry in the long waves that parallels the symmetry
of the ternary form.
The opposition found in Syrinx between simplicity of form and complexity of content a
cognitive dissonance, in which extraordinary events are placed into the framework of an ordinary
form gives the work a mixed character of both clarity and edginess. The tension between form
and content in Syrinx is a larger merismus, which can be interpreted as meaningful in itself. The
combination of unresolved harmonic tension and simple form suggests the tensions of turn-of-thecentury Paris, a Pandoras Box society riven by social instability. Pan, like the rest of the Greek
gods, represents amoral forces of nature that exceed the powers of mere human beings to control.
The ternary form and developmental symmetry found in Syrinx are rhetorical devices that impart
an illusion of credibility to the limitless power of Pan, an anthropomorphic intermediary who
invites the listener to identify with a transcendent level of reality.

103

104

Appendix A
Five Groups of Five Simulated Arches

Group

Example

High Note Location

VHF Open

VHF Close

Close > Open

0.75

1.00

TRUE

0.63

1.00

TRUE

0.71

0.45

FALSE

1.00

0.50

FALSE

0.80

0.36

FALSE

Nbr Close > Open True

Close > Open

Group

Example

High Note Location

VHF Open

VHF Close

0.27

0.60

TRUE

1.00

0.45

FALSE

0.75

0.67

FALSE

0.50

1.00

TRUE

0.80

0.43

FALSE

Nbr Close > Open True

105

Group

Example

High Note Location

VHF Open

VHF Close

Close > Open

0.75

0.75

FALSE

1.00

0.36

FALSE

0.78

0.71

FALSE

1.00

0.78

FALSE

0.80

0.43

FALSE

Nbr Close > Open True

Group

Example

High Note Location

VHF Open

VHF Close

Close > Open

0.58

1.00

TRUE

0.88

1.00

TRUE

0.67

1.00

TRUE

0.71

0.57

FALSE

0.86

0.71

FALSE

Nbr Close > Open True

106

Group

Example

High Note Location

VHF Open

VHF Close

Close > Open

1.00

0.42

FALSE

1.00

0.64

FALSE

0.67

0.67

FALSE

0.71

0.56

FALSE

0.80

0.43

FALSE

Nbr Close > Open True

107

108

Appendix B
Analysis of the Cantus Firmi by Jeppesen
Jeppesen wrote nineteen cantus firmi for his counterpoint text: four each in the Dorian,
Phrygian, Mixolydian, and Aeolian modes, and three in the Ionian mode. Because of the small
amount of data, we cannot make broad generalizations about Jeppesens understanding of the
modes. Factor analysis of the aggregate properties of these melodies, however, suggests that
Jeppesen tended to treat the modes as differerent dialects of the cantus firmus type. The
examples in the Dorian and Aeolian modes are rather similar. Surprisingly, the examples in the
Phrygian and Ionian modes are also rather similar, except for the strong orientation toward the
subdominant in the Phrygian mode. The Mixolydian mode is treated as a mixed type.
Four statistical indicators were used to characterize the cantus firmi.
The first is a measure of the relative vertical orientation of the melodies as arches, which
will be called the Orientation, or Arch Strength. The number of scale steps between the lowest
note and the tonic is subtracted from the number of scale steps between the tonic and the highest
note. The difference between the two numbers is divided by the sum of the same two numbers. If
there are no notes lower than the tonic, the difference and the sum will both be equal to the
number of scale steps from the tonic up to the highest note; so, the indicator will be equal to 1.00.
Such a melody will be considered to be strongly arch-shaped. Similarly, if there are no notes
higher than the tonic, the indicator will be equal to -1.00. In this case, the melody will be
considered to be strongly trough-shaped. Intermediate values greater than zero will be interpreted
as representing melodies that are predominately arch-shaped; and, vice versa, intermediate values
less than zero will be interpreted as representing melodies that are predominately trough-shaped.
The second indicator is the Proportion of Rising Intervals, that is, the decimal fraction of
all the intervals between successive notes that are rising. There are no repeated notes in these
examples; so, any interval that is not rising is falling. For special purposes, we will reverse this
indicator and call it Falling Intervals.
The third indicator is the Relative High Note Time, or Late Peaks, the decimal fraction
representing the location in time of the highest note. Each melody has only one highest note.
Time is measured at the beginning (or attack) of each note. Each measure of the melody is
counted as one unit of time. The first note is considered to occur at time zero. The indicator is
calculated by dividing the time of the highest note by the time of the last note. Again, for special
purposes we will also reverse this indicator and call it the Early Peaks.

109

The fourth indicator is the VHF Difference, or Smooth Close, based on changes in an
indicator of melodic smoothness that was discussed in the body of the text. The VHF of a portion
of a melody, it will be recalled, is the ratio between the range of the passage and its excursion, the
latter being the sum of the absolute values of the successive melodic intervals occurring in the
sample. For present purposes, all intervals are measured in scale steps. The VHF Difference is
calculated by subtracting the VHF of the opening motion (that is, from the first note up to the
highest note) from the VHF of the closing motion (from the highest note to the last note). If the
VHF of the closing motion is greater than that of the opening motion, this will be interpreted as
indicating that the closing motion is smoother than the opening motion, and vice versa. When this
indicator is reversed, it will be called the Irregular Close.
The data is summarized below:
Orientation

Percent
Rising

High Note
Time

VHF Diff

D1

1.000

0.250

0.125

-0.500

Minor

D2

1.000

0.429

0.429

0.000

Dorian

Minor

D3

1.000

0.375

0.250

-0.444

Dorian

Minor

D4

1.000

0.286

0.429

0.333

Phrygian

Minor

P1

-0.143

0.250

0.250

-0.065

Phrygian

Minor

P2

0.500

0.625

0.625

-0.229

Phrygian

Minor

P3

-0.333

0.600

0.800

0.571

Phrygian

Minor

P4

-0.333

0.500

0.250

-0.321

Mixolydian

Major

M1

1.000

0.375

0.125

-0.500

Mixolydian

Major

M2

0.200

0.444

0.667

0.444

Mixolydian

Major

M3

1.000

0.250

0.375

0.444

Mixolydian

Major

M4

-0.600

0.571

0.857

0.545

Aeolian

Minor

A1

1.000

0.286

0.143

-0.286

Aeolian

Minor

A2

0.500

0.444

0.667

0.556

Aeolian

Minor

A3

1.000

0.333

0.167

-0.500

Aeolian

Minor

A4

1.000

0.222

0.111

-0.222

Ionian

Major

I1

0.143

0.636

0.091

-0.563

Ionian

Major

I2

1.000

0.600

0.600

0.000

Ionian

Major

I3

-0.200

0.625

0.750

0.375

Scale Type

Tonic Mode

Label

Dorian

Minor

Dorian

There is a moderately negative correlation (-0.572) between relative upward extension of


the range and the percentage of rising intervals. The stronger the arch orientation, the fewer rising
intervals, generally speaking.
There is a moderately negative correlation (-0.523) between relative upward extension of
the range and the location of the high note. The stronger the arch orientation, the earlier the

110

melodic peak, generally speaking. The arch shape seems to be associated with a strong initial
upward impulse that dies out slowly.
As should be expected for arch shapes, the percent rising is moderately correlated (0.614)
with the location of the peak. Loosely speaking, the later the peak, the more rising intervals; but
there are exceptions.
There is a strong tendency (correlation equal to 0.838) for later peaks to be associated
with smoother closes (closing VHF > opening VHF). This is consistent with theory.
Exploratory factor analysis was performed on the correlation matrix using the Principal
Component method, rotating the axes with the Varimax method. The software package employed
was an Excel add-in, called statistiXL.
There is only one strong factor (Eigenvalue equal to 2.61, accounting for 65% of the
variance), which describes the fundamental attributes of the cantus firmi taken as a whole,
regardless of mode. The strength of the upward extension of the range is positively loaded, and
the other three variables are negatively loaded. The strongest loadings are negative weights given
to the Relative First High Note Time and the VHF Difference.

A weak secondary factor

(Eigenvalue equal to 0.88, accounting for 22% of the variance) helps to distinguish the modes
from one another. This has a strong positive loading on Vertical Arch Orientation and a strong
negative loading on the Percent Rising.

Varimax Rotated Factor Loadings


Variable
Orientation

Factor 1

Factor 2

0.298

0.789

Percent Rising

-0.128

-0.921

First High Note Time

-0.834

-0.485

VHF Difference

-0.984

-0.106

A chart of the factor scores shows that the Dorian and Aeolian cantus firmi outline
overlapping areas in the space defined by the two factors. There is also considerable overlapping
between the areas outlined by the Phrygian and Ionian melodies. The Mixolydian melodies
outline an area that overlaps all of the other modes.
The first of the Ionian and Mixolydian melodies, all but the second of the Aeolian
melodies, and all but the third of the Phrygian melodies score high on Factor 1, meaning that they
have early peaks with relatively convoluted closing motions. The other melodies in these modes
the bulk of the Ionian and Mixolydian melodies, the second Aeolian melody, and the third
Phrygian melody have later peaks with relatively smoother closing motions.

111

All of the Dorian and Aeolian melodies and the first of the Phrygian melodies score high
on Factor 2, meaning that they are strong arches with a high proportion of falling intervals.
All but the first of the Phrygian melodies and all of the Ionian melodies score low on
Factor 2 meaning that they are not strong arches, and they tend to have a relatively high
proportion of rising intervals.
The factor scores were calculated by the software package using a refined method; but, if
we are to understand the internal structure of the factors, we need to turn to the original data. To
make each column of data comparable to the others, we first convert all of the values to standard
scores, subtracting the mean of the column from the raw observations in that column and, then,
dividing the difference by the standard deviation of the column.

The columns have been

regrouped and renamed, to give the values a more concrete interpretation that reflects the structure
revealed by the factor analysis.

Each factor is represented by its two most heavily loaded

components. Since the components representing the second factor had loadings with opposite
signs, the signs were reversed on the component having to do with the direction of the intervals in
the melodies. Originally, this was a measure of the percent rising intervals. Now, it is a measure
of the tendency of a melody to have falling intervals.

112

Component Standard Scores


Factor 1
Factor 2
Label

Late
Peak

Smooth
Close

Arch
Strength

Falling
Intervals

D1

-1.068

-1.154

0.830

1.185

D2

0.087

0.045

0.830

-0.014

D3

-0.592

-1.021

0.830

0.345
0.945

D4

0.087

0.845

0.830

P1

-0.592

-0.110

-1.115

1.185

P2

0.834

-0.503

-0.021

-1.334

P3

1.500

1.416

-1.439

-1.166

P4

-0.592

-0.726

-1.439

-0.494

M1

-1.068

-1.154

0.830

0.345

M2

0.992

1.112

-0.531

-0.121

M3

-0.117

1.112

0.830

1.185

M4

1.717

1.354

-1.893

-0.974

A1

-1.000

-0.640

0.830

0.945

A2

0.992

1.378

-0.021

-0.121

A3

-0.909

-1.154

0.830

0.625

A4

-1.121

-0.488

0.830

1.372

I1

-1.197

-1.304

-0.629

-1.410

I2

0.739

0.045

0.830

-1.166

I3

1.309

0.945

-1.212

-1.334

Centroids were computed by taking the average values of the standard scores for each
mode. The components belonging to Factor 1 were sorted by their Late Peak score. With the
exception of the Phrygian mode, the modes with minor tonics have earlier peaks, on average, than
the modes with major tonics. However, the range between the largest and smallest centroids is
less than one standard deviation. This is much less than the range of values found in the scores for
individual melodies, so it would not be possible to determine the mode of a cantus firmus from the
location of the high note alone.

113

Factor 1 Component Standard Score Centroids


Label

Late Peak

Smooth Close

Aeolian

-0.509

-0.226

Dorian

-0.372

-0.321

Ionian

0.284

-0.104

Phrygian

0.287

0.019

Mixolydian

0.381

0.606

Min

-0.509

-0.321

Max

0.381

0.606

Range

0.890

0.927

Here, we show a chart of the complete ranges covered by all of the examples of the
modes on the two components loading heavily on Factor 1. For the sake of simplicity, each range
is represented by a diagonal line running from the minimum values at lower left to the maximum
values at the upper right, that is, from the point (Min(X), Min(Y)) to the point (Max(X), Max(Y)).
The modes are plotted in order of their average value on the Late Peak score. The ranges overlap
considerably on both scales, suggesting that Factor 1 represents a fundamental property of
Jeppesens cantus firmi taken as a complete repertory, rather than the properties of individual
modes. An unusual feature of the chart is that the values tend to cluster more closely together on
the left than on the right.

114

A similar procedure is followed for the second factor. The ranges of the centroids are
about twice as large. Except for the Phrygian mode, the modes with major tonics have lower arch
strength than the modes with minor tonics.

Factor 1 Component Standard Score Centroids


Label

Arch Strength

Falling Intervals

Phrygian

-1.003

-0.452

Ionian

-0.337

-1.303

Mixolydian

-0.191

0.109

Aeolian

0.617

0.705

Dorian

0.830

0.615

Min

-1.003

-1.303

Max

0.830

0.705

Range

1.833

2.009

The ranges of the standard scores for Factor 2, ordered by Arch Strength, appear in the
next chart. Notice that the Ionian mode is off in an area by itself, and the Dorian and Aeolian
modes are also off in an area by themselves. The Mixolydian range overlaps all the others.
Except for its Arch Strength, which is limited at the high end, the Phrygian mode occupies a range
similar to that of the Mixolydian mode. Factor 2 summarizes components that tend to distinguish
the modes from one another.

115

The major-minor distinction to which we are accustomed from common-practice triadic


tonality does not have a straightforward application to the modes, as we find them in Jeppesens
practice. Jeppesen gave the modes somewhat different, though overlapping, characteristics. The
Mixolydian mode does not stand out; but the Dorian and Aeolian melodies are quite distinctive,
and the Ionian and Phrygian melodies also have characteristic traits. Perhaps, the Mixolydian
mode, having a major mediant scale-degree on the one hand and a lowered seventh scale degree
on the other, blends too much of the major and minor to have an individual identity. The Phrygian
mode is a peculiar case. The lowered supertonic scale degree of this mode makes it impossible to
construct a perfect triad on its dominant scale degree. Jeppesens Phrygian melodies reach
downward to the subdominant below the tonic, which gives them an entirely different cast from
the other melodies. Although the Phrygian is a minor mode, its melodies are forced to struggle
upward from the subdominant back to the tonic in a manner that resembles the major Ionian mode.
Traits that can clearly be assigned to our customary major and minor categories distinguished by
their third and seventh scale degrees in particular are limited to the Ionian mode on the major
side (raised third and seventh scale degrees), and the Dorian and Aeolian modes on the minor side
(lowered third and seventh scale degrees).

116

Appendix C
Stochastic Models for Limited Growth and Perpetual Cycles

ccording to the Limited Growth Model, the shape of a simple closed form can be explained
as resulting from a combination of simultaneously unfolding tendencies: tendencies to rise,

fall, expand, and contract. The apparent parts of the shape can be understood, not as successions
of unrelated entities, but as consequences of dynamic properties that are set at the beginning and
remain relatively invariant throughout. An arch, for example, is not merely a rising motion
followed by a closing motion. An Open-Low-High-Close form is not merely a falling motion
followed by a rising motion followed by another rising motion, or, alternatively, a trough followed
by an arch. The Limited Growth Model interprets an arch as what results when an expansive
tendency to rise is countered by a contrary goal-directed tendency to contract back toward the
starting point.

An Open-Low-High-Close form results when the goal-directed tendency to

contract is imposed on an opposition between simultaneously rising and falling tendencies to


expand. The Limited Growth Model is abstracted from theories of melodic shape by Kurth,
Meyer, Narmour, Gjerdingen, Adams, and Huron. In the stochastic form of the model, the
expansive tendencies are represented by parameterized quasi-random walks. Cyclical motion, also
generated stochastically, can be added to an Open-Low-High-Close form to create a more complex
shape.
In realistic stochastic models, state variables would be drawn from tables containing
empirically observed values. For purposes of illustration, however, the demonstration models will
use computed variables.
Fixed parameters used by the Limited Growth generator are shown in Tables C1.1 and
C1.2. All of the pre-set parameters are arbitrary. Two groups of parameters are needed, one for
each of the components of the Limited Growth Model.

Parameter

Value

Range

Contraction Exponent

0.060

>0

Reversal Probability

0.500

0 to 1

Initial Direction

Up

Up or Down

Bias

1.700

>0

Initial Walk

0.000

Fixed

Table C1.1 Fixed parameters for the Limited Growth generator, Primary Curve.

117

Parameter

Value

Range

Contraction Exponent

0.200

>0

Reversal Probability

0.100

0 to 1

Initial Direction

Up

Up or Down

Bias

1.700

>0

Initial Walk

0.000

Fixed

Table C1.2 Fixed parameters for the Limited Growth generator, Contrary Curve.

The generator for the Limited Growth Model creates tables for both the Primary and
Contrary curves, and each row of each table contains the following variables:

Item Number

Time

Contraction Factor

Normal Variates

Absolute Value of the Normal Variate

Reversal Variable

Direction

Step

Walk

The calculations are performed as follows:

The Contraction Factor is calculated by counting down the time backward from
1.000 to 0.000. Experiments were made using sequences of thirty-five points in
time, a number chosen because this study supplements an analysis of Debussys
composition for solo flute, Syrinx, which happens to be thirty-five measures
long.

In these experiments, the tendency to contract imposed by a linear

countdown was too strong, so the countdown was raised to a fractional power,
called the Contraction Exponent.

The individual steps are simulated using a modified normal random variable.
To approximate a normally distributed random variable, one takes the sum of
twelve uniformly distributed random variables, ranging from zero to one. In the
long run, the standard deviation of the sum will tend toward one.

After

subtracting six from the sum, the mean will tend toward zero.

118

We are going to skew the random variable that has just been generated; so, we
take its absolute value. What we do to the absolute value depends on whether
we want the current Step to ascend or descend.

We arbitrarily decide that the direction of the first Step will be up. The direction
of succeeding Steps depends on another uniformly distributed random variable,
the Reversal Variable. The interpretation of the Reversal Variable depends on a
fixed parameter, called the Reversal Probability. If the Reversal Variable is less
than the Reversal Probability, the polarity of the direction is changed to the
opposite of its last state; otherwise, the direction stays the same.

Furthermore, we scale the size of the Step, referring to one more fixed
parameter, called the Bias. If the direction is up, we multiply the absolute value
of the normal variate by the Bias; otherwise, we multiply it by minus one and
divide by the Bias. A Bias of one is neutral. Values of the Bias greater than one
will tend to make the Walk ascend, and vice versa.

The first value of the curve (the Walk) is arbitrarily given a value of zero.
Subsequent values are calculated by adding the most recently calculated Step to
the last previously calculated value of the Walk.

This sum is multiplied by the Contraction Factor.

The last value of the

Contraction Factor will be zero; so, the last value of the Walk will also be zero,
returning to its initial value.

The Resultant Curve is calculated by subtracting values of the Contrary Curve from
corresponding values of the Primary Curve.
More research is needed to evaluate the full range of effects of the parameters. All of the
parameters are assumed to be positive. Values of the Bias greater than one tend to produce arches;
lower values tend to produce troughs. The smaller the Contraction Exponent, the later the peak of
an arch (or the bottom of a trough).

All other things being equal, the lower the Reversal

Probability, the larger the range.


The accompanying illustrations (Fig. C1.1-C1.5) show the variety of shapes that can be
generated using a fixed set of parameters. The parameters are chosen to generate late-peaking Scurves from combinations of late-peaking primary arches and early-peaking contrary arches. In
every case, the Initial Direction is up; and the Bias Coefficient is 1.70. The primary curves have a
small Contraction Exponent of 0.060 and a relatively large Reversal Probability of 0.500. The

119

contrary curves have a somewhat larger Contraction Exponent of 0.200 and a small Reversal
Probability of 0.100. Each chart shows the first, second, and third quartile of the generated values,
measure-by-measure, from a sample of twelve generated curves of each type.

Primary

Contrary

15.0

15.0

0.0

0.0

-15.0

-15.0

Q1

Q2

Q3

Q1

Q2

Q3

Resultant
15.0

10.0
5.0
0.0
-5.0
-10.0

-15.0
1

11 13 15 17 19 21 23 25 27 29 31 33 35

Q1

Q2

Q3

Fig. C1.1.

Primary

Contrary

15.0

15.0

0.0

0.0

-15.0

-15.0

Q1

Q2

Q3

Q1

Q2

Q3

Resultant
15.0

10.0
5.0
0.0
-5.0
-10.0

-15.0
1

11 13 15 17 19 21 23 25 27 29 31 33 35

Q1

Q2

Q3

Fig. C1.2.

120

Primary

Contrary

15.0

15.0

0.0

0.0

-15.0

-15.0

Q1

Q2

Q3

Q1

Q2

Q3

Resultant
15.0

10.0
5.0
0.0
-5.0
-10.0

-15.0
1

11 13 15 17 19 21 23 25 27 29 31 33 35

Q1

Q2

Q3

Fig. C1.3.

Primary

Contrary

15.0

15.0

0.0

0.0

-15.0

-15.0

Q1

Q2

Q3

Q1

Q2

Q3

Resultant
15.0

10.0
5.0
0.0
-5.0
-10.0

-15.0
1

11 13 15 17 19 21 23 25 27 29 31 33 35

Q1

Q2

Q3

Fig. C1.4.

121

Primary

Contrary

15.0

15.0

0.0

0.0

-15.0

-15.0

Q1

Q2

Q3

Q1

Q2

Q3

Resultant
15.0

10.0
5.0
0.0
-5.0
-10.0

-15.0
1

11 13 15 17 19 21 23 25 27 29 31 33 35

Q1

Q2

Q3

Fig. C1.5.

Stochastic Cycles
The following is, loosely speaking, a stochastic interpretation of Simple Harmonic
Motion. In this model, random motion is tailored to resemble the action of a body in motion under
the constraint of a restoring force that tends to bring the body back toward a central value. The
motion cycles about the central value indefinitely.
The Perpetual Cycle generator uses its own collection of fixed parameters, shown in
Table C2. Again, all of the pre-set parameters are arbitrary.

Parameter

Value

Range

Min Standard Deviation

0.000

0 to 1, < Max

Max Standard Deviation

1.000

0 to 1, > Min

Min Probability Reversal

0.000

0 to 1, < Max

Max Probability Reversal

1.000

0 to 1, > Min

Initial Direction

Up

Up or Down

Bias Base

16.000

>1

Initial Bias

1.000

>0

Amplitude

6.000

>0

Initial Walk

0.000

Fixed

Table C2. Fixed parameters for the Perpetual Cycle generator.

122

Like the Limited Growth Model, the stochastic cycle generator creates a table, but the
table is somewhat more complex. Each row of the table contains the following variables:

Item Number

Standard Deviation

Normal Variate

Absolute Value of the Normal Variate

Reversal Criterion

Reversal Variable

Direction

Bias Exponent

Bias

Step

Relative Amplitude

Interpolation Factor

Walk

We begin, as before, by generating random variables that approximate a skewed normal


distribution.

As an approximation to the behavior of velocity in Simple Harmonic Motion,

however, we want to make the Walk move more quickly through the middle of a cycle than it does
near the reversal points. To do this, we will control the Standard Deviation of the Normal Variate
by obtaining feedback from the generated Walk. We will also control the probability that the
Walk will reverse direction, in a similar manner. This refinement helps to maintain persistent
motion through the middle of a cycle.

The rows of the table are numbered consecutively. Each row represents a Step
of the Walk. Each Step depends on all of the variables discussed below.

The Walk is initialized to zero.

The Relative Amplitude is the value of the Walk, divided by a pre-determined


Amplitude. In the present examples, we will use an Amplitude of 6.00.

The Interpolation Factor is the absolute value of the Relative Amplitude,


truncated to a maximum value of one.

The Standard Deviation is a linear interpolation between pre-set minimum and


maximum values. To calculate the interpolation, we first take the product of the

123

Interpolation Factor and the difference between the minimum and maximum
allowed values for the Standard Deviation. We then subtract that product from
the maximum.

When the Walk is at zero, nothing is subtracted from the

maximum value of the Standard Deviation. The wider the deviation of the Walk
from zero, the larger the Relative Amplitude (up to a maximum of one). The
larger the Relative Amplitude, the smaller the Standard Deviation. When the
Relative Amplitude is at a maximum of one, nothing is left of the Standard
Deviation but the minimum allowed value.

The interpolated Standard

Deviation, therefore, will be high near the middle of a cycle and low near the
extremes. In our examples, we will use a minimum Standard Deviation of zero
and a maximum of one.

Calculation of the Normal Variate begins with the second row, since it depends
on a previously calculated value of the Standard Deviation. Values of the
Normal Variate approximate a normal distribution. Each estimate is the sum of
twelve uniformly distributed random variables in the range from zero to one.
This sum will have a standard deviation of one. We subtract six from the total
to center the range and multiply the difference by the Standard Deviation
calculated for the previous row.

The Absolute Value of the Normal Variate will be needed later. We will divide
the Normal Variate into two parts, which can be treated differently.

The

Absolute Value will serve for the calculation of either part.

The Reversal Criterion governs the probability that the Walk will reverse
direction. The Reversal Criterion is intended to be low near the middle of a
cycle, but high near the extremes.

The Reversal Criterion is a linear

interpolation between a minimum and maximum value of the Reversal


Probability, which we will set to zero and one, respectively. The calculation of
the Reversal Criterion is similar to that of the Standard Deviation, except that
they vary in opposite directions. The product of the Interpolation Factor times
the difference between the maximum and minimum probabilities is added to the
minimum probability.

The Reversal Variable, as before in the Limited Growth Model, is a uniformly


distributed random number between zero and one. This variable is first needed
in the second row.

124

The Direction is calculated from the Reversal Variable and the previous value of
the Direction, as before. A value of one signifies upward motion, and a value of
minus one signifies downward motion. If the Reversal Variable is less than the
Reversal Criterion, the Direction is changed to the opposite of its previous value,
otherwise the Direction stays the same.

The restoring force of Simple Harmonic Motion is simulated by the Bias. This is one of
the most important features of the model. It is used to skew the steps of the Walk, to bring the
Walk back toward the zero line if it strays too far afield. We will calculate the Bias from a Bias
Base and a Bias Exponent. In the present examples, we will use a Bias Base of 16.00.

The Bias Exponent is simply the negative of the Relative Amplitude.

The Bias, after an initial value of 1.00, is equal to the Bias Base raised to the
power of the previous Bias Exponent. The Bias is used to calculate the Step.

The Step is initialized to zero. From that point on, if the Direction is up, the
Step is equal to the Absolute Value of the Normal Variate multiplied by the
Bias. If the Direction is down, the Step is equal to the negative of the Absolute
Value of the Normal Variate divided by the Bias. Both upward and downward
motion can take place with any value of the Bias. If the Bias is equal to one,
upward and downward motion will balance each other, on average. However, if
the Bias is greater than one, upward motion will be augmented and downward
motion will be diminished. If the Bias is less than one, the opposite will occur.
Limits are imposed on the Step size. It is truncated to fall between plus or
minus half the Amplitude.

The Walk is simply the sum of the Step and the previous value of the Walk, as it
was in the Limited Growth Model.

The next set of examples (Fig. C2.1-C2.5) shows stochastic cycles added to curves
resulting from the stochastic Limited Growth Model. The cycles are arbitrarily multiplied by three
before they are added. The charts are stacked area graphs, in which cycles are built on top of
Limited Growth curves.

125

Fig. C2.1

Fig. C2.2

Fig. C2.3

126

Fig. C2.4

Fig. C2.5

The results shown here are not necessarily typical. As often happens with stochastic
processes, there is considerable variation between examples.

127

128

Suggested Reading
Amir D. Aczel (2005). Descartes Secret Notebook: A True Tale of Mathematics, Mysticism, and
the Quest to Understand the Universe. New York: Broadway Books.
Amir D. Aczel (2012). Complete Business Statistics, 8th ed. Morristown, NJ: Wohl Publishing.
Excel templates can be downloaded from http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/
0073373605/student_view0/excel_templates.html.
Charles Adams (1976). Melodic Contour Typology. Ethnomusicology 20: 179-215.
Amir Alexander (2014).

Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the

Modern World. New York: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Girous.
Carol K. Baron (1982). Varese's Explication of Debussy's Syrinx in Density 21.5 and An Analysis
of Varese's Composition: A Secret Model Revealed. The Music Review 43: 121-131.
Benedictines of Solesmes, eds. (1963). The Liber Usualis, with Introduction and Rubrics in
English. Tournai: Descle Company.
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139

Notes
i

For a broader perspective on how we understand music, see Gjerdingen (1988), Zbikowski

(2002), and Huron (2006). For a thorough, sometimes provocative, analysis of the cognitive
constraints on our comprehension of music, see Lerdahl (1988a).
ii

See Mann (1943), p. 34, n. 1; p. 79, n. 7. According to Fux, melodies should be written for vocal

performance. Therefore, augmented, diminished, and chromatic intervals are to be avoided. The
only intervals larger than a fifth to be used are the octave, and the ascending minor sixth. The
range should rarely exceed the limits of the staff that is, a ninth, assuming an appropriately
chosen C clef for the voice type. As a consequence of the range limitation, Fux also has rules for
the proper treatment of skips. Skips should not follow one another in the same direction
although we see occasional exceptions to this rule in Fuxs cantus firmi. One should compensate
for skips subsequently Fuxs cantus firmi occasionally leave gaps unfilled, but pitches gravitate
toward a center, so skips do not result in a melody that begins in one register and ends in another.
iii

The basic issue raised by what I am calling time series geometry is the behavior of a random

walk where there are reflecting barriers (a random walk is the trajectory of successive random
steps). The influence of reflecting barriers on a random walk is a large subject discussed by Feller
(1968), pp. 342ff. Also, see the third and fourth chapters of Berg (1993) on diffusion to capture,
and diffusion with drift.
In general, we are concerned here with the aggregate properties of random walks under
geometric constraints. A shape such as a melodic arch can be thought of as the union of two
wiggly lines, the details of which are hard to predict. We are interested in the aggregate properties
of wiggly curves whose gross contours suggest lines, angles, and zig-zags. Since the smoothing
effect of goal-directed motion on a random walk depends on the interaction of a number of
different constraints, the most practical way to study this effect is through computer experiments,
rather than formal mathematics. The purpose of these experiments is to discover the possibilities
and probabilities for melodic motion in cases that are sufficiently similar to cantus firmi by Fux
that there is a meaningful basis for comparison between the artificial melodies and the composed
melodies. The intention is to learn what is really distinctive in Fux, and what emerges from the
given logical properties of his musical materials.
To coin the term time series geometry seems necessary because the most appealing
alternative terminology has already been used for other subjects. The term stochastic geometry
refers to the study of random spatial patterns. Antecedents for this theory can be traced to the field

140

of mathematics known as geometric probability (which is concerned with such problems as


Buffons needle the probability that a needle dropped on lined paper will fall on one of the
lines). The concerns of stochastic geometry can be distinguished from those of fuzzy geometry,
which is the geometry of inexact measurements.
We must distinguish time series geometry from stochastic geometry in general because
time series are not directly commensurate with patterns in the two-dimensional Euclidean plane.
The dimensions of a time series (in this instance, pitch and time) are not measured with
comparable units. In time series analysis, we can speak of the rate of change of a variable with
respect to time; and, it is permissible to compare ratios between values on the different scales,
because ratios cancel out the units of measurement. It is not permissible, however, to make direct
comparison between values measured in different units. For example, it would not be meaningful
to compute the distance between two tones in pitch and time using the Pythagorean Theorem,
which would involve taking the sum of the squares of distances measured in two different units.
For that reason, the subject matter of the current study is not the same as what is normally
designated by the term stochastic geometry. What the two concepts have in common is that they
are both concerned with randomness and geometry.
iv

Vos and Troost (1989); Huron (2006), pp. 75-77.

Huron (1996); Huron (2006), pp. 85-88.

vi

Generally speaking, the concepts of the climax and the dramatic arc can be traced back through

Gustav Freytags analysis of the five act drama to Aristotles tripartite theory of tragedy. In the
context of Romantic music, the notion of musical form as a developing process can be interpreted
as specifically Hegelian (see Schmalfeldt [2011], pp. 23-30, especially p. 269, n. 19).
vii

Mann (1943), pp. vii-xiv.

viii

Jeppesen treats modes with major and minor tonics differently. 75% of Jeppesens cantus firmi

with minor tonics climax early, that is, in the first half. With a standard error of 12.5%, this
proportion is statistically significant at the 95% level of confidence. The most common location
of the melodic peak for minor tonics is in the first quarter of the melody. The distribution of peaks
is more irregular for major tonics, but the most frequent area for the location of the climax is in the
third quarter of the melody. In the ideal types, the affective distinction can be interpreted as
follows: major tonic bright, confident, and certain; minor tonic dark, yielding, and uncertain.
This distinction parallels what we find in Fux, although the manner in which the distinction is
made differs.

141

ix

Schenker (1910); Federhofer and Mann (1982); Snarrenberg (2005).

See Narmour (1977, ch. 11) and Gjerdingen (1988, ch. 1 and 3) for a discussion of archetype,

schema, style form, style structure, and idiostructure. These are complex subjects, but roughly
speaking grammar is concerned with style forms (particular features, regarded as abstract forms,
such as triads) and style structures (the regular combinations of features that distinguish a style,
such as cadence formulas). Rhetoric, as I am using the term, is concerned with the other, more
high-level concepts, particularly idiostructures. Idiostructures again, roughly speaking are
large, relatively freeform gestures found in individual compositions, which are as much process as
they are form. Style analysis, in the sense of that which is concerned with describing or defining a
musical style, is primarily concerned with style forms and style structures.

This is to be

distinguished from critical analysis, which is more concerned with style structures and
idiostructures. In this study, we are primarily doing critical analysis, although we are also doing
style analysis in the sense that we are concerned with the differences between musical styles from
a critical point of view. The critical analyst, in my view, needs special techniques to help see the
forest beyond the trees. As a critical analyst, I share Zbikowskis (2002, pp. 96-134, esp. pp. 12426, 132-34) view that a theory of music is made up of a number of conceptual models, changing in
response to circumstances, which guide understanding and reasoning, provide answers to
conceptual puzzles, and which simplify reality.
xi

Schenkers description of wave motion in this place uncharacteristically bears a certain

resemblance to Kurths conception of musical form. See Cook (2007), pp. 263-264.
xii

The concept of the Ursatz is fully formed by the first two volumes of Schenkers Das

Meisterwerk in der Music (1925-1926), but the concept is nearly complete by the fifth issue of Der
Tonville (1923). See Pastille (1990), pp. 79, 81.
xiii

In the current work in progress, a melodic typology adapted to the wave paradigm has been

used to describe the distribution of arch types in the cantus firmi. (The wave typology differs
from but does not contradict Narmours well-known implication-realization typology [1990,
1991, 1992, 2000].

Narmours melodic typology is genuinely interesting, but it serves a

completely different purpose; and research on the subject is still ongoing.) In the wave typology,
arches (and complementary troughs) are distinguished according to whether or not the first and
last notes make a rising, level, or falling motion. They are further distinguished according to
whether their top (or bottom, in the case of troughs), occurs at the mid-point, or early or late
relative to the mid-point. The wave typology can be extended to include compound forms, such as

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the open-low-high-close form, or the open-high-low-close form. Applying information theory to


the typology, we can evaluate the unity and variety of melodic ideas in the abstract that is,
without regard to the identification of specific motives in the traditional sense. An interesting and
unexpected finding the technical details of which are to be explained more fully in a later
installment is that there is an approximate power law relationship (which appears linear in a loglog chart) between the relative frequencies and the rank orders of the basic arch types in a
composite data collection from all of Fuxs cantus firmi, segregating the opening motions from the
closing motions. The exponents of the power laws for the opening and closing motions differ,
reflecting the greater variety of arch types in the opening motions. This power law is comparable
to Zipfs Law (Zanette, 2006).
A model of Zipfs Law is proposed, based on the cognitive bias known as the distinction
bias (Hsee and Zhang, 2004). It is hypothesized that if we always take the most preferred member
(arbitrarily selecting one member where the utility is similar, even when the advantage is small, or
non-existent) of a (uniformly distributed with replacement) random selection of alternatives, for a
range of trial depths, the resulting distribution will approximate a power law. The exponent of the
power law is related to the maximum trial depth, a larger maximum trial depth representing a more
selective decision procedure.
xiv

Cooke (1959, pp. 102-110) discusses examples of rising and falling melodic lines in both the

major and minor modes.


xv

For a discussion of the difficulty of drawing theoretical conclusions from the overtone series,

see Lerdahl and Jackendoff (1983, 1996), pp. 290-294.


xvi

In terms that are developed in the following section, the VHF of the original Dorian cantus

firmus was 0.400 for the opening motion, and 1.000 for the closing motion. The contrast in the
alternative melody is theoretically nonexistent: the VHF is 0.667 in both cases. For this reason,
the alternative is especially suitable to be put into retrograde motion.
The VHF belongs under the umbrella of fractal geometry. I used a somewhat more
complicated fractal indicator in my study of Haydn minuets (Chesnut [1996]). The ancestor of
these indicators is Hursts rescaled-range analysis, which Hurst used to study flows of water in
the River Nile. In a parallel study, Duane (2012) uses information theory to examine the nature of
melody. Fractal geometry and information theory are complementary. Each has its advantages
and disadvantage, depending on the context, and what one is attempting to accomplish. Fractal
geometry is concerned with spatial relationships (presumably invoking the right brain) in which

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there is a measure of distance between entities (such as the intervals between pitches, or
differences in loudness).

Information theory is concerned with language-like conceptual

categories (presumably invoking the left brain) in which there may not be a well-defined measure
of distance between entities (it is difficult to make exact comparisons between themes or motives,
the timbres of musical instruments, or the relative darkness and brightness of major and minor
keys). Music consists of both spatial relationships and conceptual categories.
xvii

The groundwork has not yet been laid for us to discuss narrative form in general, but a few

remarks are in order. The general plan of Fuxs cantus firmi could be called the argument and
conclusion model, since it is analogous to the procedure by which one demonstrates the solution to
a logical problem. As an intellectual method, the demonstration of logical conclusions traces back
to Euclid and Aristotle, so there is no reason to think that pieces of music built on the argument
and conclusion model are limited to the Age of Reason, as such. At an abstract level, the
argument and conclusion model could be considered the basis of Aristotles concept of plotting in
tragedy, so this is a ubiquitous plan.
The smoothing effect is most pronounced when the climax of a melody occurs relatively
late. It can be reduced by placing the climax earlier. The placement of the climax influences the
degree of contrast between order and disorder in a melody. This has implications for narrative
form, where order represents comprehensibility, stability, or fate, depending on the extra-musical
context.
A precedent for the general plan of Fuxs cantus firmi is found in the aria, When I am
laid in earth, from Purcells Dido and Aeneas. The repetitive (theoretically unending) ground
bass that accompanies the melody can be interpreted as tone-painting, representing inexorable fate.
The organization of the melody as a whole is rather turbulent, containing a variety of different
kinds of movement. The repeated notes at the words Remember me are themselves tonepainting. Like the ground bass, these repeated notes again suggest infinity, in this case the
perpetuity of memory. The climax of the melody is placed very late, and the closing motion is
very direct. Given the subject matter of the text, and the fact that the melody is in the minor mode,
the organization of the melody can be interpreted as representing Didos prolonged struggle with
fate, and the ultimately overwhelming victory of fate. Presumably, Purcell could have chosen to
place the climax anywhere, but the choice that he actually made a late climax which enhances
the smoothing effect resulting from the constraints of the impending motion to the final tonic and,
therefore, enhances the contrast between uncertainty and certainty was the most dramatically

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effective choice that was appropriate to the text. Purcell used the smoothing effect as a rhetorical
device in the service of dramaturgy.
Although I have argued that the argument and conclusion model is rationalistic, the tonepainting that saturates Purcells opera is evidence for a more empirical point of view, since it is
based on close observation of nature. On the whole, Purcells world view can be interpreted as
being consistent with Baconian empiricism. For this reason, it is ironic that tone-painting is
denigrated in the modern, scientific age, since Purcell could just as well be admired for the
acuteness of his observations, just as we admire Galileo. We live in times when revolutions in
mathematics and physics such as non-Euclidean geometry, the theory of relativity and quantum
mechanics have led to radical reassessments of the meaning of mere facts.
xviii

The project would have to address methodological issues, because Narmour (1977) and

Gjerdingen (1988) have argued forcefully that the hierarchic structure of tonal melodies is subject
to multiple interpretations.
xix

The possible paths between two given notes can be ordered by their lengths, but not uniquely,

because some paths will have equal lengths. The question of how many different ways a path of a
given length can be partitioned into intervals of different absolute sizes is a classic problem in
combinatorial number theory, which was most notably addressed by Leonhard Euler (1707-1783).
xx

Highly sophisticated algorithms for analyzing and generating music outside the scope of this

paper are described by Loy (1989), Bidlack (1992), Cope (2001, 2005, 2009), Nierhaus (2009),
and Xenakis (2001). There are several ways to influence the course of a random walk. For
example, as an alternative to the algorithm described in the body of this text, arch-shaped melodies
(as well as troughs) can be generated by a stochastic interpretation of a well-known difference
equation, the growth-limited logistic equation.

The logistic equation has been useful in

algorithmic composition because it generates deterministic chaos when it is overdriven. See


Nierhaus (2009), pp. 132-133, 146, and Bidlack (1992).
The tendency of the standard deviation of a random walk to increase with the square root
of time is explained in the first chapter of Berg [1993]. This result follows from the defining
terms of a random walk: (1) that the sizes of the steps are fixed, (2) that the direction of the steps is
not biased to one side or the other, and (3) that each step is completely independent from all the
others. The rate of expansion could be other than the square root of time in a type of random walk
called Fractional Brownian Motion. In order to generate a non-standard random walk, however, it
is necessary to modify one or more of the defining terms. For example, instead of making a

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random choice between upward and downward motion, one might make a random choice between
continuing in the same direction as the previous step, or reversing direction. If the choice is biased
toward moving persistently in the same direction, the walk will tend to expand more rapidly than a
standard random walk, and vice versa.
xxi

See Feller (1968), pp. 76-78. In 1000 random walks based on the pool of intervals drawn from

Fuxs five arch-shaped cantus firmi (before normalization), about 7.5% return to the starting point
after ten steps. In repeated trials, the range varies from approximately 5.5% to 9.5%, implying a
standard error of about 1.0%.
xxii

For an advanced treatment of relative statistical distributions, beyond the scope of this paper,

see Handcock and Morris (1999).


xxiii

The frequency distribution of the intervals occurring in the opening motions of the generated

arches has negative kurtosis, meaning that it is flat topped, with short, fat tails. The corresponding
frequency distribution for the closing motions has positive kurtosis, meaning that it is more
peaked. The distribution for the closes is also more strongly skewed due to the relative lack of
ascending intervals in the close - and therefore has a long thin tail on the right. The result is that a
plot of the cumulative relative frequencies of the intervals in the closing motions (on the Y-axis)
against the cumulative relative frequencies of the opening motions (on the X-axis) is curved.
Since repeated notes are not allowed, there are gaps in the frequency distributions at the zero level,
which causes a bit of a hip in the resulting plot.
xxiv

I cannot do justice here to either Schenkers views, or the controversies they have raised. The

suggested reading list highlights a few of the key ideas. For readers who wish to make an in-depth
study of these issues, there are excellent bibliographies in Cook (2007) and Pankhurst (2008).
xxv

Network analysis was essential for Gjerdingen because he needed to be able to do close

analysis of the role of a particular schema based on the progression of the scale steps, 1-7-4-3
in a great variety of musical contexts. This is just one of a number of schema that Gjerdingen
(2007) found to be characteristic of the galant style. Gjerdingen has shown by an exhaustive
statistical analysis that the 1-7-4-3 schema developed gradually in the early eighteenth century,
peaked in the 1770s, and then dissipated. In other words, the prevalence of the schema follows an
arch.
xxvi

For more on tonal tension, see Lerdahl (1996), Smith and Cuddy (2003), and Cope (2001,

2005, and 2009). Riemann (1882, [1915] 1992), George (1970), Steblin (2002), and Brower
(2008) are concerned with the sharp-flat effect, which is complementary to Lerdahls concept of

146

tonal distance. The two views of tonal pitch space can be reconciled if we recognize that there are
at least two dimensions of affect, where valence (brightness) is independent of arousal (see for
example, Russell (1979).
For a broader overview, see Tymoczkos (2011) geometry of tonality. The type of
analysis done in the present study requires a measure of distance between musical entities; or, at
least, that we be able to compare them in a rank order. As Rings (2011, p. 13) points out, not all
transformational theories provide such measures.
xxvii

A tree structure compares the stability, tension, or hierarchic dominance of pairs of elements.

The relationship between the two elements is diagrammed as an inverted Y, in which the dominant
member of the pair is given the longer branch. Rising tension is shown by a right-branching tree,
in which the tail of the Y extends to the right. Falling tension is shown in the opposite manner.
xxviii

For an introduction to the subject, see Cope (2001), pp. 129-137; Cope (2005), pp. 224-243,

and Cope (2009), pp. 205-215. SPEAC is an acronym for statement, preparation, extension,
antecedent, and consequent.

SPEAC analysis allows notes and chords to vary in meaning

according to their context. SPEAC identifiers follow an A-P-E-S-C kinetic order with the most
unstable function to the left, and the most stable function to the right. A and P require resolution,
while E, S, and C do not.
xxix

For more about the tonal hierarchy, see Krumhansl and Kessler (1982) on key profiles, Lerdahl

on basic pitch space (1988b, 2001), and Thomson on the tonal frame (1999).

A detailed

discussion of the manner in which the tonal hierarchy is realized in the cantus firmi is a subject for
another occasion. To summarize, evidence that a melody has a tonal framework is that some of
the scale steps are privileged, in the sense that they occur more often, or they are more likely to be
approached or left by leap, or they are more frequently allowed to be embellished by neighboring
tones. Where the roles just described are reversed, upending these privileges, the effect tends to
be expressive.

The phonological theory of markedness, which is discussed by Lerdahl and

Jackendoff (pp. 296, 313-314), has a role in explaining the reversal phenomenon. To model the
motions of a melody in the tonal hierarchy would get into the difficult subject of algorithmic
composition, which will not be addressed here. The motion of one free-floating note in the fields
of three fixed attractors is probably best understood as chaotic; but more than that, in free
composition, there is a short-term memory effect such that a note tends to harmonize with recent
occurrences of itself, and those harmonizations are subject to rhythmic and syntactical constraints.

147

To that has to be added tendencies toward embellishment, and motivic redundancy, not to mention
the constraints of phrasing and larger form.
xxx

Complexity as such can be modeled by mathematical tools drawn from information theory and

fractal geometry. The VHF, as we shall see, is a simplified version of an indicator of fractal
complexity. Information theory and fractal geometry provide fundamentally different conceptions
of complexity, both of which I have found lead to interesting conclusions when applied to Fuxs
cantus firmi.
xxxi

What I am describing here bears a certain resemblance to what Mandelbrot (1999) called a

multifractal. The degree of complexity changes with time, just as the complexity of the worlds
coastlines (Mandelbrot [1967]) changes from region to region. The revolutionary impact of
Mandelbrots world-view does have a profound impact on my work, but a formal discussion of the
subject must be postponed.
xxxii

The dualism issue can also be raised in the interpretation of tree structures. The tree structures

of tonal music as analyzed by Lerdahl and Jackendoff are conspicuously arch-shaped in their
general outlines. These arch shapes require an aesthetically plausible explanation. A rule is
needed for collapsing the trees into intensity curves (showing the flow of hierarchic depth) that are
analogous in shape to a cantus firmus. See the discussion in Lerdahl and Jackendoff on p. 116 of
the trade-off between the verticalization of discrete events in a hierarchy versus voice-leading.
Something like the column graphs though inverted that Lerdahl and Jackendoff use for the
analysis of metric hierarchy (Chapter 2) could be the basis for a non-hierarchical analysis of tonal
process. In other words, hierarchy and process can be understood as equivalent, inter-penetrating
structures.
An explanatory model for the process in question is currently under investigation by this
author. One might be tempted to model an arch as a segment of a sine wave plus an arbitrary
number of harmonics, but a sine wave is theoretically infinite in duration. We need to model a
finite closed form, with a definite beginning, middle, and end. A variation of a well-known
equation, the logistic equation that is used by biologists to model the growth of a population of
bacteria in a medium (using a power law xa instead of an exponential variable ax), can be used to
model an arch as the confluence of two opposed non-linear monotonic processes (a driver and a
damper).

The psychological motivation behind the two monotonic processes based on

Csikszentmihalyis (1990) theory of optimal experience can be summarized under the rubric of
exploratory behavior, that is, the tendency to simultaneously pursue a search for new information

148

together with the tendency to achieve cognitive integration of that information over time. In other
words, the basic arch of tension in tonal structure is consistent with an aesthetic that is rationalistic
in its broad outlines.
The model of exploratory behavior fills out a missing element of Meyers theory of
deviation from expectation. Meyer tended to emphasize the return to a norm after a deviation,
without clearly identifying the information-seeking force that tends toward divergence from a
norm. Other models would be necessary to describe music based on different aesthetic principles.

149