Sounding Lines: New Approaches to Melody in 1920s Musical Thought
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CitationProbst, Stephanie. 2018. Sounding Lines: New Approaches to Melody in 1920s Musical Thought. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation identifies a new concept of melody that emerged in early twentieth-century Germany at the intersection of developments in composition, music theory, philosophy, the visual arts, and psychology. Focusing on the widespread analogy of the line, which came to encapsulate melody as an autonomous, temporally evolving yet coherently perceived musical entity, the study investigates how theorists unleashed melody from the hegemony of nineteenth-century harmony and theorized its structuring principles independently from vertical ties. Recent theories of visualization frame readings of an interdisciplinary body of sources to illuminate the ways in which the melodic line bridged physical and psychological models of music, temporal and spatial perspectives, and theories of visual and aural cognition.
The first two chapters chronicle the revival and re-conceptualization of the line in the visual arts and of melody in music around 1900 as parallel developments. Chapter I examines how modernist tendencies towards abstraction in visual-artistic practice and theory emancipated the line from its traditional representational functionality and elevated it to an expressive graphical element. By representing the temporal processes of its creation and cognition, the line came to hypostatize cognitive theories of vision and audition. In Chapter II, the example of Ernst Toch’s String Quartet Op. 26 (1919) illustrates how melody became a structurally and perceptually salient parameter in compositions around 1920, which challenges this introduced for printers, performers, and listeners alike, and how different ideological camps contested the rightful application of linearity in music criticism.
Chapters III and IV focus respectively on notions of the single melodic line in Toch’s "Melodielehre" (1923) and the intertwining of multiple horizontal trajectories in Ernst Kurth’s "Foundations of Linear Counterpoint: Bach’s Melodic Polyphony" (1917). I trace a lineage of pertinent inquiries in cognitive psychology and Gestalt theory, from Ernst Mach’s theory of sensory perception (1886/96) and Christian von Ehrenfels’s seminal “On ‘Gestalt Qualities’” (1890/1922) to the work of Max Wertheimer (1912, 1923), and elucidate the ways in which music theorists intuited cognitive and Gestalt-theoretical principles in their linear conceptions of melody by privileging step-wise melodic progressions. Chapter V examines the music-analytical and interpretative potential of the line in graphical depictions of musical compositions by Bauhaus-artists Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Henrik Neugeboren.
My discussion situates an acknowledged turning point in music in a broad cultural and intellectual context. I argue that the interdisciplinary conditions undergirding linear-melodic thinking of this time continue to inform compositional and analytical models and aesthetic connotations of melody and the line today.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41127157
- FAS Theses and Dissertations 
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