Edward Klorman

Meter as Agency: Performing Metrical Manipulations in Chamber Music

Recent scholarship has departed from a view of meter as a static structure inherent in scores to a view of meter as something people do, in time, while listening to music (Hasty 1997, Dodson 2002, Mirka 2009, Rothstein 2012). While this scholarship has offered a more psychologically rich model of the outside listener’s experience, insufficient attention has been devoted to the performers’ role creating metrical interplay within an ensemble, in time, as they play (cf. Lewin’s [1987] ‘transformational attitude’). This paper presents a new model for the in-time analysis of metrical manipulations as the actions of individual players. By ‘players’, I refer partly to actual instrumentalists - who, quite literally, create or enact all metrical events in performance - but also to their fictional counterparts - characters within the piece whose ‘conversation’ is encoded in the music (Cone 1975; Maus 1988; Klorman 2013).

Since these personas, like operatic characters, perceive themselves to be the self-determining authors of their own utterances (cf. Lewin 2006), it follows that they possess agency to trigger metrical preference rules (MPRs, L&J 1983) either supporting or opposing the prevailing meter - and, more importantly, one another. Metrical manipulations can thus arise not only from neutral conflicts among inanimate musical elements (as in Kamien 1993 and Temperley 2008) but from the purposive actions of musical personas engaged in a witty game of one-upmanship. This study examines passages from chamber music by Mozart and Brahms in which the characters apply their agency toward opposing ends, seemingly in order to surprise, dispute, or tease one another in a lively metrical interplay. This perspective - which reveals some metrical manipulations that are masked by traditional, unitary, end-state perspectives - suggests performance nuances that are consistent with some 18th-century performance treatises and that may inspire more dynamic performances.