SMA TAGS: The Implications of Set-Theory Analysis on the Music of Gesualdo

On the 19th April I will be presenting my paper The Implications of Set-Theory Analysis on the Music of Gesualdo at the Society for Music Analysis Graduate Student Conference in Keele. The abstract for the paper is below.

Although the music of Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa (1566 – 1613) was conceived modally, many passages of his music depart from modal rules and others are conceived chromatically. Yet, one aspect that remains constant throughout his compositions is his use of interval structure. Composing using patterns of intervals originating in modal theory and the sixteenth-century understanding of ancient Greek music, Gesualdo carefully controlled his compositional technique through interval structures. One way of elucidating these structures is through a set theoretical analysis.

As set theory considers all pitches equal and modal theory dictates a hierarchical pitch structure, a set-theoretical analysis must be used sensitively in conjunction with more traditional methods. However, it can be used to enhance a modal analysis and to name the interval structures used in composition. The text is the starting point for the composer of a seconda prattica madrigal and specific interval patterns relate to particular semantic fields. Set theory also allows easy distinction between those passages conceived modally, but in harmonic regions exotic to the mode, from those conceived chromatically. This paper examines the implications of a set theoretical analysis and how it can help delineate a hypothetical compositional procedure for Gesualdo’s madrigals.

SMA Theory and Analysis Graduate Students’ Conference 2012

On Saturday 21st, at the University of Southampton I shall be presenting my paper Mercè grido piangendo – A Set Theory Analysis. The abstract for the paper is below:

The music of Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, (1566 – 1613) is often violently chromatic and, although conceived modally, regularly disregards strict modal theory in a manner typical of his time. Yet, one aspect of his music that links this modal ambiguity with modal theory, and indeed to even his most chromatic passages, is his use of interval structure. Composing using patterns of intervals originating in modal theory and the sixteenth century understanding of ancient Greek music, Gesualdo gives a unity to his music through his use of interval structure. One way of elucidating these interval structures is by set-theory analysis.
Despite set-theory analysis being developed as a tool used for the analysis of twentieth and twenty-first century works, its efficacy in describing the interval patterns with which Gesualdo used to compose is evident when applied to Mercè grido piangendo (Book V, 11). This madrigal is the complaint of a rejected lover.
In spite of the fact that the madrigal is composed in the Phrygian mode, there are few indicators of this, until one looks at the interval structures and finds them characterised by Phrygian qualities. Then, in turn these interval patterns play a role in the construction of the chromatic passages right through to the final cadence, constructed almost entirely of semitones. The interval patterns define the entire madrigal giving a unity to the voice of the speaker’s protestations. Through the analysis of Mercè grido piangendo in this paper, I will give an example of how Gesualdo uses interval structure and discuss the implications it has for a hypothesis on Gesualdo’s compositional procedure.