Comments for IMSLP Journal Journal of the International Music Score Library Project/Petrucci Music Library - IMSLP Sat, 14 Jun 2014 06:08:26 +0000 hourly 1 Comment on Brief Note: Axiomatic Approach to Theory by Nicholas Lewis Sat, 14 Jun 2014 06:08:26 +0000 Hello, Doug. I can’t agree it’s possible to develop an axiomatic system for music that is stronger than one used in mathematics. An axiom is an assumption, and an axiomatic system is the set of theorems that are logically based on the assumptions. The assumptions in mathematics can hardly be questioned, but the assumptions in music are clearly open for debate. Even the most basic questions, like what sounds good, is subject to culture and aesthetic preference. But the theorems would have equal rigor to those of mathematics because logic is logic.

I am not sure what you mean by the ghost of Schenker. Schenkerian analysis is a highly individualistic system that is used to express the way one person experiences a piece of music. In that light, I think it is more psychological than anything else.

Comment on Brief Note: Axiomatic Approach to Theory by Doug Sun, 29 Sep 2013 15:10:20 +0000 I certainly believe this is not only possible but vital for this sort of work to be, for several reasons which I won’t go into here.

I do believe very possible to develop such a axiomatic system for music, one that is stronger even than that used in mathematics, and have in fact produced one based not on contour but the related concept of musical gesture for my Master’s dissertation.

This seems to work pretty robustly and I have found it to have many pedagogical applications. More importantly, it can serve as a useful meta-theory for composition, something which most music theory proper is quite useless for (beyond typographical and terminological concerns).

Most crucially it is amenable to empirical testing in a deep sense at almost every level and my next project is to do a concert or series of concerts at which such testing can be done with a live audience with music specially composed for this purpose.

In closing, all I can say is I think you are on the right track and I, for one, would be very interested to see the results (and compare them to my own). But be aware that there are many who prefer music to be meaningless and mysterious and thus want theory to be purely descriptive. The ghost of Schenker will haunt us for a while yet.

Comment on Brief Note: Axiomatic Approach to Theory by NLewis Sat, 31 Aug 2013 04:03:40 +0000 Thank you for the comments, and I will address your points from my perspective.

1. Music theory has a lot of denotations and connotations that are derived from the way it is taught and understood. The most important thing to understand about the discipline is that music theory tends to change at a slower rate than music. While many people believe that music theory defines a set of rules for people to follow, the reality is that theorists simply observe trends in music. The most familiar type of theory taught at the undergraduate level and in the AP program deals with the observations made in music during the Baroque and Classical time period. The ‘rules’ for harmonic progressions, voice leading, and the basic phrase are all derived from common practice.

So from this perspective, the purpose of music theory is to create a language that can describe music. Because certain commonalities can be found in music from the earlier time periods, music is very similar (although not the same) as language. It has a certain metaphorical syntax and grammar.

But as we move into later time periods, the common practice expanded. What was once rooted in diatonic melo-harmony became rooted in chromaticism. Try using what is taught in AP class to analyze Strauss or Delius. So the new goal of music theorists had to be to find new commonalities to create a new (or expanded) language to describe what was happening. And the evolution continued… And continues.

So the essence of music theory is really to create a language that people can use to describe music. The problem is that the language used to describe music is only loosely defined and often ambiguous, which can lead to mis-communication in the theory community.

After some elaboration, the purpose of music theory is to create a language to describe music. Without the discipline, most harmonic ideas in music could not really be described. That is the ‘problem’ that music theory seeks to fix.

2. I cannot go into much detail about where to find the axioms, but it seems to me that all music can be described in terms of contour. And axioms can be derived from that belief.

3. It is not so much an implied metaphor: contour describes the “shape” of a musical phrase. This can be mathematically deduced, and you graph all kinds of relationships in music that create the “shape”. So my method is really loosely geometrically based… Which, by the way, also happens to be axiomatic.

4. As described, I believe that music theory as a discipline of syntactical analysis (if we are to describe the interconnection of notes on paper that represent a collection of pitches through time as syntax) can be an axiomized.

Let me know if you have questions or refutations. I bet you will.

Comment on Brief Note: Axiomatic Approach to Theory by Albrecht Wed, 28 Aug 2013 05:53:35 +0000 Having read your comment on axiomatic theory I have lots of questions running around in my brain, which I will list as follows:
1. What exactly do you think is the purpose of music theory? Which problems is it supposed to solve and what sort of questions to answer?
2. By “axiomatic” I assume you mean based on axioms, the way mathematicians work. The problem will be to formulate axioms which everybody–at least a strong majority–will agree with (otherwise what is the point?) and which will yet be precise enough to allow reasoning to take off from them and solve the above mentioned problems. I don’t expect a complete solution to this problem, but what is your idea on where to hunt for axioms?
3. You hint that “contour” has something to do with your solution. I am surprised to see that you have chosen a term originating in the field of visual, not aural perception–a contour can be created by taking a lamp and having it throw the shadow of some object on a sheet of paper, then taking a pencil and following the outline of the shadow. Why choose the term and how would the implied metaphor work?
4. Music theory as currently practiced is multidisciplinary. There is music theory in the narrow sense: harmony, counterpoint, all the stuff a composer needs to have a deep knowledge of. There is the underlying physics (physics is NOT axiomatic by the way, it is empiric). There is music history, there is music sociology, the list is much longer. What sort of music theory do you think can be “axiomated”?
A final thought: Personally I have more joy with practicing music than with theorizing. I use my knowledge of theory–limited as it is–to help me find a way to better understand, better play and more deeply enjoy a composition I am working on (I am an amateur violinist) or listening to. Music to me has the deepest connection with our existence as humans–animals with culture–of all the arts. It resonates with our bodies (literally in the inner ear and also literally in the case of musicians, especially singers); rhythm is the way almost all our physiological processes work, from the firing of nerve cells to the heartbeat, digestion all the way to hormonal and generational cycles, fast and slow, from presto to largo if you will. Music comes from deep inside our bodies; I think this is the reason it makes us feel a community when we play or sing–because deep inside we are all alike. At the same time it requires brains as well. Classical music in particular also connects us with its tradition–in current practice almost 400 years of it and growing. To be human to me is to make music–and thinking about it is decidedly secondary.

Comment on “Steve’s Bedroom Band” – A Justification by Steve Jones Mon, 29 Jul 2013 07:14:24 +0000 Dear David,

It’s great to get a little encouragement from time to time – thank you! Do get in touch again if you think I can provide you with any hints ( It was discovering the Audacity software that opened the door for me about 10 years ago, and I’m constantly amazed at the quantity and quality of near-forgotten chamber music that’s out there. Re Corder’s elegy, I expect you know the story of Victor Harris who came from New Zealand to study at the RAM and tragically died soon after. Quite a memorial for a young boy.

I’m looking forward to exploring your web site – all the best.


Comment on “Steve’s Bedroom Band” – A Justification by David Hackbridge Johnson Sun, 28 Jul 2013 10:13:42 +0000 Dear Steve Jones,
I am full of admiration for the amazing work you are doing! There are many forgotton gems here and your dedication is remarkable – I can hardly imagine the effort involved in learning and recording all these pieces. I guess you are multi-tracking them. Actually your ‘cello’ playing is better than you describe! I found you on IMSLP where I was researching the Corder family. The Fred Corder Elegy is ravishing and really doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. As a composer and violinist (7 string quartets and counting) maybe I should learn how to do this process myself. So I might ask you for a few tips one day!
Once again – many thanks for your work!
best wishes,
David Hackbridge Johnson

Comment on Submit by webpage Sat, 20 Jul 2013 18:14:31 +0000 Incredible quest there. What occurred after?

Comment on iPad app for IMSLP: volunteers sought by Rasmus Ruge Wed, 10 Jul 2013 20:05:05 +0000 i would like to help by tranlating it all to Danish!

Rasmus Ruge.

Comment on Classical Music & Laughter by Albrecht Tue, 21 May 2013 04:51:02 +0000 Although this gauntlet was thrown quite some time ago (and though nobody appears to have picket it up) I’d like to make a comment and illustrate with an example. Laughter in musical life does not have to originate in mishaps; no poor performer has to fall off stage for us to have a laugh (this kind of fun does not depend on music anyhow; it is just as funny (or not, depending on your taste) if a mediocre ham actor falls off stage while trying to show off.
There is however music that is outrageously witty. Haydn is famous for his humor, probably too famous (to me the farewell symphony is serious, the last movement rather melancholy and not funny–though the implied threat of a strike is certainly original and has not been made in this way again. And the surprise in the surprise symphony is not really all that funny).
Here is a very good example: Beethoven’s string quartet op. 18/6. The last movement has a slow introduction with the title “malinconia” which leads many writers of program booklets to suggest that the piece is dead serious. To me the introduction has never sounded tragic, hardly even melancholy. When the allegro gets underway it is clear that all “malinconia” is out the window. The movement is witty. At times it sounds as if the musicians have forgotten the key and are groping their way back to the correct harmony. The title “malinconia” is obviously ironic and part of the fun. Too bad very few quartets play it that way.
Or: from another era: Bach’s d-minor double concerto: Witty again the last movement with its syncopated rhythms and its plaintive melodies that suddenly appear out of nowhere and end just as abruptly.
Of course nobody laughs at concerts and few even hear the humor: We have been programmed to be serious in contemplation of such a piece of cultural heritage. Beethoven felt no such obligation apparently.

Comment on Musical Villain Series: Recordings by Albrecht Mon, 06 May 2013 06:24:55 +0000 I am glad the new villain has appeared on the scene, though a non-human villain is less fun than a real-person-villain.
Having welcomed our new villain I think that recording technology has had more diverse effects, not just introduced a “decline” in artistry through “sterilizing” the music. Some of it I have already mentioned in the discussion on the last villain (Stravinsky), but I’ll repeat it here for completeness’ sake.
1. To be able to listen to one’s own playing has vastly improved people’s technical discipline. You blame the “downfall” you deplore largely on this effect. It is important to note though that there is nothing wrong with a good performance that I also free of technical errors (I have this formulation from a little booklet by Urs Frauchiger, the former director of the conservatory in Bern, Switzerland: “Was zum Teufel ist denn mit der Musik los?”, highly recommended if you can read German).
2. Also at least in part because of this we have much higher quality teaching and people have better and more solid basic technical skills, than people at the same level in the music making hierarchy used to have, from amateurs to top soloists. This is a good thing; it should–among other advantages–help cut down on professional medical problems like tendonitis.
3. It has made classical music accessible to a much larger group of people. Obviously a good thing.
4. Niche markets in the overall market in recordings have been discovered, most importantly the period instrument ensembles, which started out from more academic types, but also included people who could succeed in this more sheltered niche who would be just (more or less sound) average interpreters in the general market. I strongly believe without recording we would still be practically clueless about the baroque (in my youth–not that long ago–Bach and Handel together were baroque music, besides a few unimportant Italian and French composers). I will disclose here that I am sometimes tempted to cast period instrument playing as the villain. But this is a different though related topic.
5. An over-emphasis on technique and–even more–beautiful tone has had bad effects. However, I think we are climbing out of this particular hole; at least for chamber music there are numerous newer ensembles from many countries who have made wonderful recordings (with technical perfection the icing on the great cake).
So: overall I am thinking we should not complain too much about the state of music just now; we are moving in the right direction or at least many performers are moving there these days.