Stefanie Acevedo/Andrew Aziz

A Romantic Turn of Phrase: Listening Beyond 18th-Century Schemata

The analytical application of schemata to 18th-century music has been widely codified (Meyer, Gjerdingen, Byros), and it has recently been argued by Byros (2009a) that a schema-based listening approach is actually a top-down one, as the listener is armed with a script-based toolbox of listening strategies prior to experiencing a composition (gained through previous style exposure). This is in contrast to a plan-based strategy, a bottom-up approach which assumes no a priori schemata toolbox. The latter is further characterized by Gestalt operations and ‘structural’ decisions that are based solely on one’s real-time perception of a piece. The primary purpose of this paper is to investigate listening strategies for pieces in which the schema toolbox is not yet “well-defined” (as in Gjerdingen and Byros). Thus, the current proposal establishes a strategy that would uncover such a toolbox for 19th-century repertory, employing the 18th-century categories as an initial lens for this discovery. Ultimately, listening must not only follow a script-based approach, in which a schema will be activated during online listening, but also a transformational approach, in which learned schemas will be altered and adapted to fit a new model. The transformations may include, but are not limited to: contour alterations, reharmonizations, expansions, and truncations. The transformational mechanism relies on a network of learned schemata through an ‘idealized’ galant listener; each schema has a well-defined identity but is related to others through equivalence classes (favoring melodic, harmony, etc.). Once the listener forms these classes, he will then use transformations to accommodate the change in style by expanding the lexicon, thereby establishing a new context for interpretation of Romantic works. In summary, the listening strategy is inverted—rather than starting with a schemata toolbox (top-down), one has to build one from scratch (bottom-up) in order to generate new categories.