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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.