TitleStructuring timbre in an octatonic context: the music of Bohuslav Martinu
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsHo, H
Conference NameMusic Theory Society of New York State
Conference LocationNew York, NY

Recent theorists have debated octatonicism's ability to integrate the diatonic and chromatic elements of much early twentieth-century music. While many analyses rely primarily on pitch structure, recent research in the field of music perception and cognition has provided analysts with tools for using timbre as an essential element in delineating form. Timbre is dependent upon a number of variables, including (but not limited to) spectral content, loudness, attack characteristics, and pitch itself. The attractiveness of timbre as an analytical paradigm lies in its potential to permeate an entire musical work as it proceeds in time, perhaps doing for sound what Schenkerian analysis does for pitch in tonal music.In the course of mapping out a terrain in which timbre operates, this paper invokes the Terhardt/Parncutt model of pitch perception, in particular the notions of pitch salience, pitch commonality, and critical bandwidth. The notion of "timbral harmony" as a structural entity is posited. Using three short examples from Bohuslav Martinu's Fourth Symphony and Memorial to Lidice, I examine how Martinu utilizes timbral-harmonic complexes in his orchestration technique as a way of mediating octatonic and diatonic aspects of the music, casting further light on Pieter van den Toorn's notion of octatonic-diatonic interaction.The goal is not to turn musical works into listening exercises, nor to use cognition results to validate any particular way of hearing, but rather to use psychoacoustic knowledge to inform musical readings, and to seek that elusive middleground between what Nicholas Cook calls "attention-driven" listening and perception-driven "pre-attentive" listening.